(18.04.2003) US troops were preparing to attack the regime’s last stronghold, Tikrit, just a few days ago. But the first shots fired involved Iraqi positions and... a TV crew. It might’ve passed for just another unfortunate incident if it hadn’t been for the fact the journalists had armed guards with them.
Encouraged by the US military, "embedded" journalists have been wearing army clothing and travelling in jeeps almost identical to those of the troops. Now they’re virtually carrying weapons, which risks making them indistinguishable from soldiers. The Tikrit incident recalls the picture of a journalist from another network, announcing his departure for Afghanistan by brandishing an firearm.
Some will say carrying a gun and the idea of self-defence are not seen the same way on both sides of the Atlantic. You could also cite the well-known precedent of World War II correspondents travelling with US forces and wearing regimental uniforms and having the rank of officers.
Except that 60 years on, after many more wars and a changed approach to news in crisis situations, you might assume journalists were leaning more towards being, well, journalists, witnesses, observers, analysts and commentators.
Must we - by claiming news in wartime is never impartial - accept journalists being reduced to mere assistants in military action conducted by governments ? It isn’t the most promising road for democracies to take.
This war, where international rules and conventions have often been trampled on, definitely calls for new efforts to strengthen legal norms applying to civilian populations, prisoners of war, aid services and also journalists.
There’s plenty of disagreement about this in the media. Perhaps it’s too early. But a review is urgently needed of the conditions journalists worked in during this war. Maybe then a clearer picture will emerge of what the international status of a journalist might be in wartime, a status that would protect them.
Something to look forward to by the citizens of democracies who aspire to something more than the crude old forms of propaganda and disinformation.