Responding to INSI initiative, British military recognises issue of journalist safety
28 February 2006
Brussels - The British military has formally recognised the issue of journalist safety in war in its media operational procedures.
This follows an INSI-led initiative by major news organisations concerned over the mounting death toll of news media staff on the modern battlefield.
For the first time, the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) "Green Book" of working arrangements with the media, contains a chapter on journalist safety.
Critically, the British recognise the right of correspondents to move freely in the battle space in present and future wars.
"The MOD recognises that correspondents are free to look for information in the area of operations and to communicate it back to the public," states the book, written for the guidance of military personnel and the news media.
"The MOD recognises and understands the concerns of correspondents working in operational areas and other hostile environments regarding their own safety and protection."
And it pledges that "UK forces on operations will never deliberately target either individual correspondents or civil media facilities."
INSI, supported by the London-based News Security Group, began talks with the MOD and submitted a list of suggestions aimed at improving news media safety in war when it became known almost two years ago that work had started on an updated version of the venerable Green Book of media operations. The book hitherto had made no specific provision for the safety of journalists.
"We did not get everything we wanted, but basic recognition of the issue of journalist safety in war and of the freedom of movement of journalists in the battle space was key for us," said INSI Director Rodney Pinder. "I believe this is the first time a major military power has inscribed in its bible of media-military operations important procedures to help make war coverage safer for journalists.
"The MOD is to be congratulated -- especially on its pledge that journalists will never be targeted by the British armed forces. We would like to see other militaries follow this lead."
In the conventional opening phase of the Iraq war, between March and October 2003, the news media suffered proportionately the second biggest death toll, after the Iraqi army, according to statistics compiled at the time by the private Australia-based Global Risk Awareness & Safety Programs.
Twenty dead amounted to one per cent of the news media numbers then in the area, compared with 1.4 per cent for the Iraqi military, 0.4 per cent for Coalition ground forces and 0.03 per cent for Iraqi civilians.
Most of the media dead were "unilaterals" working independently outside the Coalition's procedures for embedding some journalists within their own forces.
The INSI-MOD talks began with the question of why the military should do more for journalists than embed them. While embedded news teams are protected by the troops around them, it was clear the exposure of non-embeds and freelancers had to be brought to the military's attention and openly addressed for this and future conflicts.
The MOD accepted that there will be independent journalists in the battle space seeking to balance the reporting of the embedded journalists and then moved to meet some of the concerns of INSI and the NSG, which comprises the BBC, ITN, Sky News, Reuters, APTN and the US networks CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS. The Guardian newspaper, a member of INSI's Advisory Board, also joined the initiative.
The Green Book safety chapter also contains caveats for independent war correspondents.
It says the recognition that reporters are free to report in the battle area does not imply any specific obligation by UK forces to protect individuals or installations beyond their obligations to civilians as set out in the Geneva Conventions.
It stresses that reporters who gain access to operational areas on their own initiative do so at their own risk.
And although UK forces will not target journalists, media representatives need to recognise that war creates extremely hazardous environments and mistakes "resulting from misidentification, weapon systems failure or mal-location" may result.
The British urge that correspondents should be thoroughly trained in preparation for war coverage. "Too often, correspondents' lives are placed in danger through their own lack of understanding or knowledge," the book says, in a remark echoed by INSI.
Hundreds of correspondents from around the world turned up to cover the Iraq war without the most basic training on what to expect or how best to survive.
"Far too often, journalists are the only untrained professionals on the battlefield, lacking essential survival skills and proper safety equipment," Pinder said. "War reporting will never be safe but we can -- and must -- make it safer."
INSI, a charity supported by leading news organisations and journalist support groups, seeks to raise money to provide basic safety training free of charge to journalists who are unable to afford their own. So far almost 500 news media staff in 10 countries, including Iraq, have received this training.
INSI is a network of news organisations, journalist support groups and others focused on making conflict reporting safer. It publishes safety information for the news media on its website www.newssafety.com
The Green Book is available on the MOD website:
For further information about this news release or INSI contact Rodney Pinder, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. +44 7334 709267