Killing of Journalists and Media Targeting Spark Congress Anger in Athens

The International Federation of Journalists today opened the first plenary session of its XXV World Congress in Athens with a unanimous call for an end to the “reckless disregard” of journalists’ safety which is to blame for a sharp rise in media killings in recent months.

Chris Cramer, Managing Director, CNN International and INSI President opened a powerful debate on media safety by reminding the Congress of the dangerous place that the world is for journalists. Cramer referred to the fact that at least 43 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. Cramer called for the journalism community and media organisations to work to ensure that all journalists are protected to the highest standards.

“We are, quite simply, targets these days,” said Cramer, “It’s hunting season against the media-and for some people it’s a round the year sport.”

Delegates at the Congress raised serious questions over the role of media in conflict zones, and called for more solidarity among journalists to meet the challenge of news safety, legal protection and training in an increasingly hostile environment.

“Media and journalists groups are waking up to the need for sensible and professional safety policies,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “The newly-formed International News Safety Institute (INSI) can now provide unprecedented opportunities to make safer journalism a reality – even in the most dangerous areas.”

Cramer also highlighted the unprecedented level of cooperation between networks, where commercial pressures have been put aside in order to ensure the safety of staff working in the field.

Jeremy Dear, General Secretary, NUJ UK, welcomed such solidarity between global unions and media organisations in the quest for safety in the field, however he raised the need to engage in real industrial dialogue between global unions and certain media corporations.

The debate was propelled forward by journalist and author, John Pilger, who raised questions of the truth to the statement that all journalists are neutral. “Journalists are never neutral and the truth is that governments are killing us and we are being targeted,” said Pilger.

The vulnerability of freelancers in the field is central to the discussion on safety in journalism. Åsne Seierstad, acclaimed freelance journalist made the point that freelancers are “not afforded the luxuries of the full protection offered by global media organisations”. “You can never be safe in a war zone,” said Åsne.

Knut Dörmann, Deputy Head of ICRC Legal Division, raised the issue of the legal rights of journalists in conflict situations, enshrined by the Geneva Convention and the subsequent protocols. He said the current rules may be enough to provide protection, but the problem is one of enforcement and whether governments are ready to follow up on violations of international law when they occur. The main issue is the recognition of attacks against journalists in conflict situations as an international war crime. Dörmann stressed the “need for training, dissemination and implementation of laws in the field”.

The IFJ is calling on all media organisations to ensure that their employees are well prepared before entering a conflict zone and that they receive proper safety training and insurance coverage. “Journalists must observe safety guidelines and recognize the fact that no story is worth dying for”.

“Today we have seen the need for urgent and decisive action to protect journalists throughout the global media community,” said White. “Solidarity among journalists is just as important as campaigns for justice and better safety at work”.

Another perspective came from award-winning Greek journalist Ioannis Diakogiannis of Ta Nea, who talked vividly of his experience covering wars from Bosnia and Belgrade to Iraq and Afghanistan. Like Seierstad he recognised that more can be done to protect journalists, but much still depends on luck, timing and the uncontrollable circumstances in which media staff find themselves.

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