Europe, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Journalists ‘First Target’ in Conflicts, IFJ Says

Niccolo Sarno

BRUSSELS, Dec 22 1999 (IPS) - Following NATO’s intentional bombing of Serbian media in April, the spread of information from conflict zones has been seriously compromised, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said here Wednesday.

“We have entered a period in which, wherever there is a conflict, journalists and those who work with them are becoming the first targets for the political and military strategists involved in any conflict,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White told a news conference.

White presented the release of a year-end report by the IFJ and the International Press Institute (IPI) to the press.

The IFJ, the world’s largest journalists federation, and the IPI, a worldwide organisation representing editors and publishers, said in a joint report that 86 journalists and media staff were killed or murdered during 1999.

According to their report, 25 journalists and media workers died in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, “of which 16 were victims of the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) bombing of the Radio- Television Serbia building in Belgrade in April.”

However, ‘the systematic oppression of independent media by the Belgrade regime” of Slobodan Milosevic was not diminished by NATO’s “misguided and reckless decision to target media” during the bombing campaign, says the report.

White said that the bombing “did not end the problem of propaganda, (and) did not end the problem of the pressure from the Milosevic regime on independent media.”

Furthermore, he said that immediately after the NATO bombing in Belgrade, “we were most disturbed to note that in the (nearly 50- year-old) conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, for the first time, there were two distinct instances of both countries taking action against media specifically from the other countries.”

White also said that when the Russians began to attack Chechnya and its capital, Grozny, “We noticed too – it began with attacks directly on the Chechen radio and television facilities.”

“So, what we are very concerned about is that ‘taking out the media’ is going to become the first imperative of any conflict that we get into, and this is very dangerous,” he added.

IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said in the introduction to the report that “journalists are being slaughtered at a time when the public need impartial information most: during times of war and conflict.”

Most of the journalists who were killed in 1999 “were cut down in waves of violence” in the Balkans, Colombia, Russia and Sierra Leone – caught up in the conflicts they were reporting on. But the deaths of many others remain unexplained.

“These deaths are the tip of an iceberg of physical assaults, jailings and disappearances that affect journalists every year,” according to the report.

It also said that in terms of violent attacks on and targeted killings of journalists, 1999 has been the second worst year ever, surpassed only by 1994, “the worst year on record” with massacres in Rwanda, Algeria and Bosnia.

“There is too much impunity as far as the killings of journalists are concerned. We often find that there are no proper investigations into killings of journalists and media workers,” said White.

“In fact, the dangers to journalists today are greater than they’ve ever been, and all the evidence we have is that they’re going to increase in the future,” he noted.

“There is not even, in many cases [of murder], the beginning of an enquiry which will satisfactorily establish” who were the journalists’ killers, said White.

Pointing to the fact that there are several international declarations and Conventions on human rights that would protect journalists, White said: “the problem is that putting these into effect requires political will ]; at the level of the United Nations we must seek much more consistency and (place) many more demands on [UN] member states to meet the fundamental rights that they signed up to.’

“We would hope that political institutions like the European Union and its member states will not trade with, [and] will not encourage cooperation with countries where that respect for human rights is not maintained,” he added.

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