SPECIAL WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY. For the past 15 years or so, journalists working in zones of conflict have found themselves not worrying about deadlines and spelling mistakes, but wondering where a bullet and a bomb will struck them and take away the truth of what exactly happened in the battlefield into the grave.
Syria, Libya, Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Mexico, Afghanistan, DRC, Nigeria. These are some of few zones of conflict, where several journalists have been deliberately targeted for doing their job. Analysts say this is called the worst form of media freedom violations, analysts say.
Raymond Louw, South Africa’s award-winning media rights campaigner, speaks exclusively to Moon of the South about this burning issue.
Moon of the South: Have journalists have become number one target of armed conflicts?
Raymond Louw: “No, obviously the enemy is regarded as the number one target, but the importance of journalists as a target for one side – and sometimes both sides – in military operations has, as you point out, risen as a priority as combatants realise that the information war in a conflict is often a vital factor. Journalism is becoming one of the most deadly, if not the most deadly, civilian occupations, and this of course applies to war zones where journalists are non-combatants.
Moon of the South: It seems as if journalists covering the war zone have become easy prey for the warring parties. Besides fighting among each other, the enemies are also fighting against the media. What do you think could be the motive behind this?
Raymond Louw: The motive is to prevent information about what is happening in the fighting, who is winning and who is losing, what tactics are being used especially against civilians, indeed all information that places a combatant in a bad light, from being conveyed to the public at large in the combat zones and outside.
Moon of the South: Some say deliberately targeting journalists to prevent them from disclosing the truth is a worst form of media violations. What are your comment on this?
Raymond Louw: Military attacks on journalists are indeed the worst form of attack on media freedom. This applies to any attack where journalists can be killed by weapons. Military attacks on journalists are driven by the intention to kill and prevent the journalist from acting as a messenger for ever.
Moon of the South: We have seen a new trend being developed whereby the military are preventing journalists from entering the war zone, saying that it was for their own safety. The French and Malian armies did it recently in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. Do you believe that? If that is indeed the case, then media freedom only exist in times of peace, then becomes meaningless in times of conflict?
Raymond Louw: Preventing journalists from covering a combat zone by barring their entry may save journalists lives, but it also prevents first-hand accounts of what is going on, and how the war is progressing from being published outside the war zone. It is an unacceptable position for journalists whose purpose is to try to find out what is going on and will give rise to the manufacture of rumours and lies.
Moon of the South: As a former reporter of several media outlets during apartheid, did you come experience such situation? How can a journalist handle himself/herself in zones of conflict?
Raymond Louw: The apartheid authorities tried to prevent the publication of information about the worst aspects, and consequences, of apartheid but they did not resort to killing journalists, though some died. The main rule for the journalist in a conflict situation is to stay alive so that he/she comes alive to tell the story. They should take adequate measures to protect themselves – keep out of gunshot range if they can, wear protective clothing though that could be problematical, be aware of what’s going on around one and sometimes embed oneself with one of the forces though that has its difficulties.
Photo by CBC.