How we’re all targets now; journalists increased killed by state actors

Being a war reporter was also dangerous but the risks are increasing. Here’s a powerful piece by the always interesting David Carr in The New York Times:

The setting at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel on Tuesday represented the height of refinement, but Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian, reminded the black-tie crowd at the annual dinner for the Committee to Protect Journalists of something it knew all too well: in many parts of the globe, its profession is under murderous assault.

“Targeting journalism has become a trend, and now the people who are harassing and killing journalists include governments as well as the people you would expect,” said Mr. Rusbridger, who, along with others, was honored at the gathering in New York.

Journalists who dig into murky and dangerous corners of the world have become accustomed to being threatened and sometimes hunted by drug lords and gangsters, but now some governments have decided shooting the messenger is a viable option. The C.P.J. reports that government officials and their allies are now suspected of being responsible for more than a third of the murders of journalists, a higher proportion than killings attributed to terrorist groups or criminal enterprises.

On the same day as the Waldorf event, three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.”

So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as “relevance to terror activity.”

We have entered a very different era of information management in contemporary conflicts. As my colleague Noam Cohen reported last week, both sides in the Gaza conflict used Twitter accounts to fire verbal shots back and forth in an effort to shape perception in the outside world.

The good news is that, unlike in 2008, foreign correspondents were allowed to enter Gaza and see for themselves. The bad news is that they were entering a place where some journalists already there were considered targets, making a dangerous situation all the more so.

Mahmoud al-Kumi and Hussam Salama worked as cameramen for Al-Aqsa TV, which is run by Hamas and whose reporting frequently reflects that affiliation. They were covering events in central Gaza when a missile struck their car, which, according to Al-Aqsa, was clearly marked with the letters “TV.” (The car just in front of them was carrying a translator and driver for The New York Times, so the execution hit close to our organization.) And Mohamed Abu Aisha, director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio, was also in a car when it was hit by a missile.

Human Rights Watch spoke up in protest, saying in a statement, “Civilian broadcasting facilities are not rendered legitimate military targets simply because they broadcast pro-Hamas or anti-Israel propaganda.” Reporters Without Borders, another advocacy group, called the killings a “clear violation of international standards.”

Israeli officials have said Hamas was using journalists and their operations as “human shields,” and a press officer for the Israeli Defense Force warned in a Twitter post that reporters should be wary of the company they keep: “Advice to reporters in #Gaza, just like any person in Gaza: For your own safety, stay away from #Hamas positions and operatives.”

While it is true that news media operations have become one more arrow in the quiver of modern warfare, a direct attack on information gatherers of any stripe is deeply troubling. And such attacks are hardly restricted to Israel: recall that in the United States assault on Baghdad, television stations were early targets.

A distinction needs to be made. The battle over ideas — over who owns the truth in a given conflict — should be fought with notebooks and video cameras, not weapons of war.

 

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