Recently, the president and CEO of the Associated Press, Gary Pruitt, implored the international community to consider making the killing or kidnapping of a journalist a specific war crime. According to the article, "Last year was a particularly deadly year for the AP—four of the news cooperative's journalists were killed on assignment. Globally, 61 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2014, bringing to more than 1,000 the number who have died since 1992."
I understand Pruitt's concern. During research for my forthcoming novel, "Cogar's Crusade," I read a great deal about journalists being targeted by the Assad regime. This isn't unique to the Syrian War, either. Often, dictators and extremist leaders rely on controlling the narrative of their country or the conflict in which they're involved, keeping people misinformed to rally support for their cause and undercut their enemies' efforts. Journalists, at least those not working on behalf of those extremist leaders, are a threat; they ask difficult questions and probe for the truth, a truth most dictators want to keep buried. So clearly, there's a problem.
It must be frustrating to recognize one's helplessness in the face of the death of one's employees. Pruitt is taking action the only way he knows how. Through legislation. But naturally, there's a problem with attempting to legislate something outside the realm of the governing body's control. Murder is and has been universally illegal since antiquity. Murder of a non-combatant, whether medical professional, NGO, or journalist, is in direct violation of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention:
"Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture."
So, if this has already been violated by the murder of these hundreds of journalists, what's the purpose of putting a finer point on an international law already in existence, and one already being disregarded? Even Pruitt admits this isn't likely to have a noticeable impact on the number of journalists killed. His argument is, despite the fact that this wouldn't keep journalists from being killed, it would help to reinforce the notion that journos should be afforded the same protected status as medical professionals.
But journalists have been getting killed abroad since the first reporter set foot on the battlefield; why this admittedly symbolic gesture now? Apparently, because it's needed more now than it ever has been before. According to Pruitt, "Journalists are increasingly becoming targets of extremist groups because such groups don't need media organizations to deliver their message—they can use social media instead. The larger world, however, needs us. They need us to get the real facts out or the complete story out. Not just one side as they want to tell it."
I agree that journalists today face a unique set of challenges apart from those of past decades, but aside from the symbolism afforded by this effort, it isn't going to offset those challenges. It's feel-good legislation to its core. My take? You want your employees to survive a war zone? Train them in survival and evasion, brief them on the regional risks before they leave, and if you're feeling really magnanimous, hire bodyguards or PMCs to protect them.
Finally, accept that anyone who enters a war zone runs the risk of being killed. It doesn't matter how pure their motivations, bullets are flying and artillery is dropping. Risk is part of the game. Perhaps consider high-risk pay and death benefits for those journos and their families, instead.
(Featured image courtesy of nationalgeographic.com)