The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned both the Iraqis and the coalition forces of the dangers of breaching the Geneva Convention by allowing the broadcasting of pictures of prisoners of war.
Advances in broadcasting technology, particularly since the last Gulf War, have made it easier for news reports to contribute to a breach. The part of the third convention that affects broadcasters is the decree that “prisoners should not be exposed to injury or public curiosity”. News reports, designed specifically to satisfy such curiosity, pose a problem in keeping signatories within the bounds of the convention.
“The difficulty with television now is that it can follow conflict in much more detail,” said ICRC spokesman Ian Piper. “It is no longer just a matter of prisoners being paraded to boost morale or propaganda. By putting the prisoners of both sides on TV they are, in effect, exposing them to public curiosity. But, of course, it is a matter of interpretation.”
Piper added that intent was a factor in determining whether a breach occurs and that pixelating the faces of prisoners was a way of avoiding this.
He warned: “Broadcast organisations are also bound by the rules of the convention – it doesn’t just apply to the military.”
In the UK, Sky News was the first broadcaster to show video footage of the US soldiers captured by the Iraqi army, followed by BBC News 24. ITN showed still pictures.
lThe NUJ has asked the Government to justify the bombing of the headquarters of Iraq TV on Tuesday.