Protection Of Journalists and News Media Personnel In Conflict Areas

Journalists and Media personnel have always been effectively responsible to society for correct communication and information leading to awareness and sensitization. Be it the horrifying 26/11 attack or the legendary US presidential elections, nothing and nobody eludes the sharp eyes of the media. They have almost become an elixir to our fast-paced and extremely transitory lives; irreplaceable and indispensable, in all probability.


World over journalists and media personnel, owing to their ability to sensitize public opinion, question the authorities regarding any injustice, expose acts of human rights violation etc, are being victimized by assaults, intimidation, persecution and even detention.

Alarmingly, statistics say it all. Killing of journalists increased by 26 per cent in 2009, since the year before. It is shameful to see that 157 journalists and other media professionals were forced to seek exile in other nations, in 2009, owing to the spate of their kidnappings. Adding to our shock, perpetrators of these offences have enjoyed total impunity in 94 per cent of all cases, while in only 2 per cent of the cases have the offences been tried before the competent authorities and the perpetrators and instigators prosecuted. Corruption, selfish and greedy motives of the government, leading to unscrupulous acts and then the “urgency” to shield them from the lights of the media cameras and public infuriation, play the entire dirty game. Some incidents, throwing light on this grave issue are:

•    June 10, 2010- Just one year after the Presidential elections, journalists were imprisoned and prosecuted. This forced a whopping number of journalists to flee to Turkey where they live as refugees. All channels of communication are jammed; internet connections and telecommunication signals slowed or shut completely.

•    July 10, 2010- A Burundian journalist, Jean Claude Kavumbagu, was detained and persecuted on charges of treason, for his article in which he criticized Burundi’s security forces and questioned their ability to defend the country against attack, from Somalia.

(Reference- Human Rights Watch)

Apart from the post conflict/crisis killings, the number of journalists covering the war and killed during the military campaign, is saddening.  The recent conflict in Iraq is largely responsible for that toll. During the military campaign there, the proportion of casualties was higher among journalists than among the ranks of the coalition armed forces.

Effects at large:

Will the journalists, after all these unreasonable brutalities and injustices, continue to report unedited and undistorted facts and figures???

The answer to this question is a saddening NO.

Pressurized by the authorities and with a threat to their life, these poor messengers will start serving and favoring the government, upon which they rely for information and the public, on whom they rely, commercially. Loopholes in the political system, corrupt acts of the government, rights and duties of the public – will never cross the newsrooms and never will they touch the newspapers and televisions. Gradually and rather unalarmingly, the global village will turn into a huge tyranny with arrogant kings and docile subjects.

Freedom of the press has become a grave concern, both political and personal, gripping all the economies and their media personnel, on the face of the earth. These ruthless killings, kidnappings, assaults and detentions are very clearly uprooting the basic ideologies of democracy, liberty, justice and equality. Here, injustice is done both to the victimized journalists, their families and to the public at large. Why is the media being oppressed, so much, if reporting undistorted news and influencing the masses (for good) is considered to be its fundamental right and duty??

The right to access correct information, along with clear and strong opinions, is being outrageously violated, courtesy some “greedy power lords.”  It needs to be understood that a free and independent press is essential both for personal and societal growth and development; growth – which is devoid of any fears, insecurities and any prejudices.

The road ahead:

We, as citizens of the global village, need to look into the matter seriously and take effective measures to safeguard the lives of the journalists, so as to prevent the world from turning to a tyranny.

Resolution 1738, of the Security Council – drafted in 2006, highlighted the gravity of the situation and urged all the countries to take tough steps to curb such violent practices. It needs to be underscored that article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) have obligated all the states to respect freedom of expression, refrain from  violence against people who exercise their freedom of expression and also providing remedies to the victims.

However, a mere reiteration of all the conventions and protocols, in all probability, does not suffice. All the countries need to devise effective mechanisms to protect journalists and news personnel against attacks: during war and hostilities, during and also after any conflict/terrorist attack /crisis. Safe-guarding mechanisms, both by the troops and the government, first aid facilities etc are needed to protect the journalists covering the war. Also, states need to check cases of impunity, particularly where public authorities are involved – the main cause of such repetitive attacks.

Undoubtedly, a vigorous, systematic and transparent investigation and a strict and unbiased prosecution of the offenders, is the need of the hour.

After all, media is the mirror of society – a crashdown of which will disfigure and dismantle us completely.

Nikita Dhingra

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