Targeting journalists should be made a war crime says IFJ

At least 91 journalists and media staff were killed during 2003 – a rise of 21 on the previous year – according to the International Federation of Journalists.

The war in Iraq and continuing insurgencies in Colombia and the Philippines provided most casualties in a year the IFJ said was marked by growing anger over the targeting of journalists and the indifference of governments.

“War, regional conflict, organised crime and government indifference are the greatest obstacles to justice for journalists and their safety,” said Aidan White, IFJ general secretary.

“We see journalists being targeted for their work in many parts of the world, but many governments simply don’t care about what these tragedies mean for democracy and free expression.”

The IFJ has called for independent investigations into seven of the 18 deaths in Iraq.

They include ITN’s Terry Lloyd, who was travelling with cameraman Fred Nérac and translator Hussein Osman, both presumed dead, who died in a firefight near Basra in March; José Couso and Taras Protsyuk, who were killed after a US tank attacked the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad; Tareq Ayoub, who died when a US missile hit the offices of Al-Jazeera in Baghdad; and Mazen Dana, the cameraman who was shot dead by US troops while on assignment in Baghdad after the war.

The IFJ has declared that 8 April, 2004, the first anniversary of the Palestine Hotel attack will be an international day of protest and mourning over these killings.

It has also called for changes in international law to ensure that targeting of and negligence in the protection of journalists are made war crimes. The IFJ also wants independent inquiries whenever journalists are killed in conflict zones.

Although Iraq dominated the headlines in 2003, the IFJ said killings in the Philippines and Colombia had been equally worrying. Seven journalists were killed in Colombia and there were three confirmed killings of journalists in the Philippines. In both countries journalists have been targeted for trying to expose political corruption.

“In far too many instances the problem of impunity, and the failure of officials to properly investigate killings of media staff, remain a persistent obstacle to justice,” said White.

The IFJ’s annual report also refers to James Miller, the British cameraman killed by Israeli forces in the Palestinian territories, whose death was internationally condemned and forced an extensive Israeli investigation.

The rising death toll of journalists led to the establishment of the International News Safety Institute in 2003, an industry-led initiative, supported by media companies and unions.

“At last, the media industry is recognising that it must do more to reduce the risks to reporters and news teams, and particularly to freelances, who are among the most vulnerable,” said White. “Now the message must be driven home to governments that they, too, must do more to bring the killers to justice.”

By Jon Slattery

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