Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), Just as journalists play a vital role in peacetime, their role in conflict zones is at least as vital. They do not only inform the world of developments, but just as the Security Council noted in its resolution 2222 of 2015, they can serve as an early warning mechanism in identifying and reporting on situations that could lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law.
In the chaos of conflict zones, reliable access to information is highly valuable.
This is why they are especially at risk of violence and intimidation. Yet as civilians, their role is detached from active hostilities, and therefore journalists are not legitimate targets, especially not in the course of doing their job.
States must not only avoid putting journalists in a more vulnerable position, for instance by instrumentalizing the media to incite violence, but they have the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of journalists in conflict zones.
Nothing encapsulates the subversion of this obligation better than the Russian strike on the Kyiv TV Tower in March last year, which comes in the context of shootings that severely injured and killed journalists in Ukraine.
In Russia, meanwhile, journalists and bloggers are facing a wholesale crackdown on reporting in an effort to censor and monopolize information emerging from conflict points. The refusal to accept the recognition of journalistic accreditation has all but continued to cement Russia’s status as a pariah state with little regard for the obligations incumbent upon a democratic government.
Its blurring of the lines between journalist and zampolit, those working closely with armed groups for propagandistic purposes, only serves to entrench the endangerment of journalists working genuinely to report the news.
The work of journalists has nothing to do with military propaganda wings, especially those used by terrorist groups who use the media to spread disinformation, instigate violence and intimidate their enemies, who may even be civilians.
In this respect, the war in Gaza risks setting dangerous precedents for independent journalists working in conflict zones, whose hard-fought credibility hangs in the balance. It risks being tarnished by the increasingly hostile statements that move away from the existing obligation to protect the life of journalists. On the contrary, they encourage further harassment and violence.
This obligation rests primarily with states who must ensure the safety of journalists by taking all plausible steps, no matter how fraught the conflict becomes. Needless to say, war zones are the most dangerous places on earth. But the importance of assuring the protection of journalists in this context is commensurate to the importance of their work.
States, as well as international bodies, have to fill an increasingly widening deficit for the safety of journalists. In concrete terms, it can mean something as basic as ensuring personal protective equipment (PPE). But a more meaningful resolution is that the protection of journalists as an international obligation is taken more seriously, once and for all.
Journalists have been killed in shocking numbers in the ongoing war. This is totally unacceptable and we need to take a firm stance that much, much more needs to be done not just to mitigate the loss of innocent lives, but to actively establish better protections for those working in the media.
What we are seeing today comes in the context of a rising risk to journalists all over the world, a stark backdrop of rising impunity for violence against journalists and for the crimes they expose. So it is still shocking, but not surprising, that journalists are facing some of the most dire conditions ever.
To allow the status quo to subsist would not just be a further condemnation of the innocent lives in danger right now, but a blunder to the health of our very democracies.