Open Letter on Iraq Crisis

Sirs, Madams,

With the prospect of a new war in the Persian Gulf the International News Safety Institute (INSI), an unprecedented coalition of more than 100 media companies, journalists, press freedom groups and international organisations, is urging all sides to respect the safety and integrity of journalists on the field of battle.

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in the numbers of news media personnel killed and persecuted in the course of their work. Some 65 journalists and media staff were killed on duty last year. Many others suffered violence from groups who felt threatened by their reporting. A possible war in Iraq will put hundreds more journalists in the line of fire.

While some news media staff will travel with and under the protection of the forces deployed, many more will operate alone. Upon all of them falls the responsibility to provide fully independent and uncensored accounts of the war and its impact on ordinary people. And that makes them potential targets, as we have witnessed in the Palestinian territories, where cameramen especially have been shot and beaten, and in Afghanistan, where more journalists than soldiers were killed in the two weeks of land war.

The International News Safety Institute, of which we are the founders, is a global network established to counter attacks on journalists. These assaults are not just personal tragedies; they damage democracy and erode the flow of news and information around the world.

INSI reminds all armies and their commanders that news media staff are non-combatants working under the protection of international law. The Geneva Conventions demand respect for the human rights of journalists in time of conflict. They are classified as civilians entitled to protection from violence, threats, murder, imprisonment and torture.

In particular, neither journalists nor the civilian places where they gather to work, whether newspaper offices, broadcasting centres or non-military buildings, are acceptable targets.

When it comes to war there is always a fog of deception, misinformation and manipulation of media. That is why it is crucial to have independent reporting of what happens in Iraq – before, during and after war. We appeal to journalists and media staff to be professional and be safe and we call on all sides to publicly acknowledge their commitment to the safety of journalists.

Chris Cramer

Honorary President, International News Safety Institute (INSI)

Rodney Pinder

Director, International News Safety Institute (INSI)

Johann P. Fritz

Director, International Press Institute (IPI)

Aidan White

General Secretary, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)