If we allow journalists to be used by the war machine, they will become enemy targets.
The other day a BBC News executive told me about an incident that took place during the Iraq war involving one of their embedded journalists.While on the frontline with British troops, the reporter saw a truck heading towards them at breakneck speed. He alerted the commander in charge who promptly ordered one of his tanks to fire at the truck. Within seconds the truck and all its contents, human as well as material, were obliterated.The journalist was aghast both at what had happened and at his apparent complicity in the event ...On 2 May, James Miller, a cameraman, was shot dead by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip. According to eyewitnesses, Miller and the rest of the crew had clearly identified themselves as journalists ...These are two stories that have nothing to do with each other - except that they both bring into sharp focus the issue of journalistic neutrality.It's an issue of particular saliency now. The presence of a large number of 24-hour rolling news channels has clearly strengthened the view among protagonists in a conflict that the coverage of a war is a part of the war effort itself. The "right" story reaching foreign troops can lower morale, while stories reaching the home audience can play a crucial role in maintaining support or otherwise for a war. As an instrument to attack the enemy or pursue a war aim, broadcast news has an arguably greater effect than most conventional weapons.Other developments are also driving this argument forward: such as the way broadcasters like Fox News covered the war or the debates calling into question the need for impartial news. What this does is challenge the idea that the job of broadcast journalists is to cover conflicts as disinterested reporters.It's a challenge that requires resistance. That journalists continue to be seen as "civilians" is important and vital. It allows not just movement between opposing sides but also acts as protection. If some broadcasters begin to sanction one-sided reporting then it will be equally legitimate for "enemy" soldiers to see journalists working for that broadcaster as part of a war machine. The danger is that all reporters will be put in harm's way. And the murder of James Miller, which looks suspiciously like troops no longer accepting the idea of journalistic neutrality, could be part of a new policy rather than some "accident".- Samir Shah is managing director of Juniper Communications.