Journalists in war zones tread a fine line between safety and freedom of speech



File 20170619 26255 11ajri1
Free speech exists in war zones, even if there is a need to take into account the sensitivities of military operations.
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Simon Levett, Western Sydney University

Journalists are increasingly threatened and assassinated in conflict zones worldwide. But could the need for their protection be causing harm to free speech, and increasing the production of one-sided journalism?

Reducing access over time

For journalists, the Vietnam War was the halcyon days of conflict reporting. The media – far from being a target – had access to both parties in the conflict.

Concern about journalists’ safety entered the official discourse with the United States’ 1983 invasion of Grenada. Inspired by similar British operations during the occupation of the Falkland Islands in 1982, the US successfully imposed a media blackout. Journalists – waiting on nearby Barbados – were prohibited from reporting on Grenada for 48 hours. After that time, they were progressively given permission to enter.

The US State Department suggested that a key reason for excluding journalists was that their safety couldn’t be guaranteed. At any rate, the media’s absence meant the main excuses for the invasion – such as the much-hyped rescue of students – went unexamined.

Backlash at the media blackout led to a reversal of policy, but the motivating principle remained the same. In 1984, the Sidle Commission planned greater journalistic engagement through pooling reporters in combat situations. This, it was said, would protect both operational security and journalist safety in future conflicts such as the Gulf War.

The option of embedding journalists with armed forces coincided with increasingly dangerous and protracted conflicts in which journalists were becoming targets. The embedding of journalists began in 1995 with the British in Bosnia. This practice continued in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

Embedding with the military is a more immediate and practical solution. But critics say journalists inevitably become partial to their military hosts, and the diversity of journalism suffers.

The proliferation of one-sided journalism had been flagged as a concern in war zones even before the rise of embedded journalism. In pursuit of a much-vaunted “objectivity”, “parachute” journalists reporting on armed conflict can rely too much on accessible official sources._

Can international law help?

Countries have broad powers under international law to organise and restrict journalistic access to information if there are concerns about safety. This is regardless of the impact on free speech.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the criteria are simply that the exercise of power be “not arbitrary”, and that it is “necessary and proportionate to the goal in question”.

International human rights law regards the diversity of journalism as critical, because the journalist’s watchdog function is vital to democracy. This invokes the public’s right to receive information in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, even in the European Court of Human Rights, where the need for a plurality of information has received much attention, the judges do not favour one sort of journalism over the other as a human right. In one hate speech case, the European Court said:

… it is not for this court, nor for the national courts for that matter, to substitute their own views for those of the press as to what technique of reporting should be adopted by journalists.

International human rights law mainly talks of free speech values in terms of rights. Duties are also relevant, but generally underdeveloped. The “duties and responsibilities” clause in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is an exception to the rule.

The original “duties and responsibilities” clause was inspired by the mass media’s abuses of power. One example relates to excessive concentration of media ownership. The drafters of the European Convention were concerned about:

… the powerful influence of the modern media on expression upon the minds of men and upon national and international affairs.

The clause has now been applied to a range of situations where journalists have “overstepped the bounds”. These include defamation, incitement to violence and hate speech, whistleblowing, and safeguarding source protection.

Could the “duties and responsibilities” clause be indirectly applied to promote an ethical approach to diversity in the media in wartime?

In relation to a case concerning the disclosure of a leaked document, the European Court of Human Rights suggested, in connection with journalistic duties, that:

… steps taken by journalists to verify the accuracy of the information may be one of the factors taken into consideration by the courts.

The ConversationHow the duty for “accurate and reliable” journalism translates in modern war zones is a matter for future decision-makers, though the decision is a trend away from one-sided journalism towards a broader debate about ethics. In the meantime, a code of conduct for journalism in war zones might be useful to clarify free speech priorities in a safety-conscious environment.

Simon Levett, PhD Candidate, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Should governments provide funding grants to encourage public interest journalism?



File 20170619 17384 o2335t
Publicly funded grants could help journalists break and cover important stories.
Shutterstock

Andrew Dodd, Swinburne University of Technology

Whether government should fund public interest journalism in Australia is a question a Senate select committee is currently being asked to consider. It’s a question that’s both simple and hard, as it raises all sorts of issues about the relationship between government, the media and consumers.

There’s an important reason for asking. There is now clear evidence that the market is failing us. There are gaps in coverage and no sign that they are going to be filled anytime soon.

Courts, local councils, state institutions, and even state parliaments are now missing out on proper coverage. The arts are under-covered. The regions are not properly represented, either to themselves or to the rest of Australia. Entire communities are missing out on local news services.

A cynic might say that some of these were never covered all that well by the news media. However, it’s certainly true that things have become much worse. This is mostly a result of digital disruption and the breaking of the model in which advertising paid for editorial content.

The ads have moved online, to Google and Facebook – which do not have an imperative to serve local communities, at least not with news and certainly not with public interest journalism.

There are several ideas about how to tackle this. These include creating a form of charitable status for news organisations, as well as tax incentives to encourage greater philanthropy. Together these could help sustain existing media players or encourage start-ups. They might help create a culture in which people donate to fund journalistic investigations.

Another way might be to provide publicly funded grants for journalism.

The Public Interest Journalism Foundation, of which I’m a board member, has made a submission to the Senate inquiry calling for an Independent Production Fund for public interest journalism. Its principal function would be to help make important journalism happen.

Along the way, it might encourage experimentation and new forms of storytelling, while fostering coverage of neglected topics or regions.

Imagine if a freelance reporter – or even one working for a larger media company – could apply to the fund for financial support to develop an important story. Imagine if the fund was focused on supporting the type of journalism that was in the public’s interest.

Immediately this might conjure an image of undue government control, or of Big Brother intervening in the editorial process. Or you might ask: what government would hand out funds to a journalist working on a story about, say, government corruption?

The answer is it’s happening already. The government already funds journalism at SBS and the ABC. It does this through triennial funding and in a way that ensures the national broadcasters retain editorial control. A raft of conventions and a healthy editorial culture ensure both organisations are free to report critically on the federal government and any other institution.

And the government already does it through bodies like Screen Australia, which funds films and documentaries. It doesn’t set editorial parameters on those funds by insisting that certain things get taken out or left in.

But all of these examples are for screen-based journalism, not text – or what used to be called print – reporting.

Print media companies have not generally received grants to support journalism, although there are exceptions such as The Australian newspaper, which once accepted subsidies to fund its Australian Literary Review. Other literary/journalism publications, such as Meanjin, have also been supported over the years through government grants.

So, the concept has already been tried. Now might be the time to expand it to cover several forms of journalism, across all mediums and specifically for public interest reporting.

Perhaps this could be funded by revenue derived from taxing media conglomerates like Google and Facebook? After all, they’re the companies that have contributed to the problem by taking away advertising revenue without any concomitant requirement to provide news for consumers. Nor are they currently compelled to pay much taxation in the jurisdictions in which they operate.

I’d like to see a production fund with a clear vision and a sense of adventure about what it can achieve. It doesn’t need to be weighed down by corporate structures or old costly modes of production.

This could fund projects from across public, commercial and community media, and it could play an important role in nurturing young investigative reporters, audio storytellers and videographers – many of whom are now missing out on the opportunities and mentoring that were traditionally provided by established media companies.

Imagine if an Independent Production Fund encouraged reportage on important issues that are not well-served by the established media, and if the national broadcasters and commercial media companies opened their doors to publishing the content created.

As a journalism educator, I know how much a keen graduate can do with a cheap video camera, some off-the-shelf editing gear, and a small grant to kick-start a great idea. As a member of the New Beats project tracking the progress of Australia’s many redundant journalists, I know how much older reporters still have to contribute and how financial support can make great things happen.

The ConversationSo yes, there is a role for governments to play, and providing small grants to encourage public interest journalism has definitely got merit.

Andrew Dodd, Program Director – Journalism, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.