The British military has become the first armed forces of a major power to formally recognise the issue of media safety in war and pledge that it will never deliberately target journalists.
It follows an International News Safety Institute-led initiative by major news organisations concerned over the mounting death toll of news media staff on the modern battlefield. In Iraq, more than 100 journalists and media staff have been killed.
The Ministry of Defence "Green Book" of working arrangements with the media now contains a chapter on journalist safety that acknowledges the right of correspondents to move freely in the battle space in present and future wars.
"The MoD recognises that correspondents are free to look for information in the area of operations and to communicate it to the public," states the book, written for the guidance of military personnel and the news media.
"The MoD recognises and understands the concerns of correspondents working in operational areas and other hostile environments regarding their own safety and protection."
And it pledges that "UK forces on operations will never deliberately target either individual correspondents or civil media facilities."
INSI, supported by the London-based News Security Group, which comprises the BBC, ITN, Sky News, Reuters, APTN and the US networks CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS, began talks with the MoD and submitted a list of suggestions aimed at improving news media safety in war when it became aware that work had started on an updated version of the Green Book. Previously, the book made no specific provision for the safety of journalists. The Guardian, a member of INSI’s advisory board, also joined the initiative.
INSI director Rodney Pinder said: "We did not get everything we wanted, but basic recognition of the issue of journalist safety in war and of the freedom of movement of journalists in the battle space was key for us.
"The MoD is to be congratulated — especially on its pledge that journalists will never be targeted by the British armed forces. We would like to see other militaries follow this lead."