Journalists in wartime: a legal view

In the past few weeks we have twice addressed the subject of claims made by BBC journalists – and in particular by members of the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau – that Israel deliberately targeted members of the media during Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’. Some were quick to afford journalistic status to members of terrorist organisations who happened to have some sort of connection to the profession, even if only by title. 

Those articles can be read here and here

A short article on the Oxford University Press blog by Sandesh Sivakumaran, Associate Professor and Reader in International law at the University of Nottingham, casts some light upon the subject of the legal status of different categories of journalists.

“The law of armed conflict distinguishes between different types of journalists:

  1. Journalists who work for media outlets or information services of the armed forces.
  2. Journalists who accompany the armed forces and are authorized to do so, but who aren’t members of the armed forces, e.g., the embedded reporter.
  3. Journalists who are undertaking professional activities in areas affected by hostilities but who aren’t accompanying the armed forces, e.g., the broadcaster who is presenting from a conflict zone but who isn’t embedded with the troops.

The first category of journalists constitutes members of the armed forces. Accordingly, they don’t benefit from the protections afforded to civilians and their deaths don’t constitute a violation of the law.”

Whilst Mr Sivakumaran does not relate specifically to the category of Journalists working for media outlets belonging to terror organisations with an organized armed wing, such as Hamas, one presumes that Al Aqsa TV journalists such as Mahmoud al Kumi and Hussam Salama are more likely to belong to category one than any of the others.  

danahar tweet AA

Davies AA TV

The article also relates to the subject of the targeting of media buildings.

“One particularly controversial area of the law is the targeting of TV and radio stations. Civilian broadcasting services are protected from attack. They may be legitimate targets, however, if they constitute military objectives. In legal terms, this refers to objects that, “by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.” “.

danahar media buildings

Read the whole article here.  

66 comments on “Journalists in wartime: a legal view

  1. Pingback: Journalists in wartime: a legal view | Blogs about Israel aggregation

  2. Reporters Without Borders condemned Israeli air strikes targeting news organizations in Gaza City.

    “These attacks constitute obstruction of freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. RSF reminded the Israeli authorities that, under humanitarian law, the news media enjoy the same protection as civilians and cannot be regarded as military targets. Even if the targeted media support Hamas, this does not in any way legitimize the attacks. Attacks on civilian targets are war crimes and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.

    • The Foreign Press Association in Israel declared it was concerned at the attacks by the Israeli IDF on buildings housing journalists in Gaza, including Sky News, AFP, MBC, ARD, Al Arabiya, ORF and other European broadcasters.

      On the 23 December 2006 the UN Security Council, some of whose permanent members had media organisations which were in the buildings targeted, unanimously adopted resolution 1738 which ‘condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations.

      “Unanimously adopting resolution 1738 (2006), the Council recalled, without prejudice to the war correspondents’ right to the status of prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention, that journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such”

        • Gnat, you made the accusation previously that Israeli plce had deliberately killed an unarmed Palestinian 16 year old, presumably for sport.

          The video has now been released of the incident, clearly showing the 17 year old (not 16) attacking the policeman. It was also not a toy gun, as you alleged, but a lighter made to look like a gun, which apparently he produced before attcking the policeman (and continued to hold in his right hand throughout his attack).

          Will you apologise?

          • Adam, it is the third time that you are asking this and the third time that I asnwer the same: I NEVER said that “Israeli police had deliberately killed an unarmed Palestinian 16 year old, presumably for sport.”

            As you know libel is an offense under both Israeli and American law. You may want to consult a lawyer.

          • Dear Mr Levick, what I find interesting is how annoyed you become at anyone who tries to instill some good sense based on FACTS, contradicting what you write.

            This is what professional journalists, like those working for BBC, YNet News, Jerusalem Post, Maariv… do: they base their reporting on FACTS.

  3. RWF condemned the attacks not long after they occurred. It turned out that this ‘condemnation’ was somewhat premature, because later it came out that the people from the Al Aqsa team who were hurt were all Hamas operatives, working multiple functions as propagandists and operating /maintaining the Hamas communication channels. This being so, these people were legitimate targets as per the normative wartime Rules of Engagement (see above).
    The strike on the other press building was surprisingly surgical, removing just the Hamas comms tower from the building’s roof, and was deliberately performed in the small hours of the morning, when there was least possibility of harming anyone – and indeed, no-one WAS harmed. Under the legalities explained above, this was therefore also a legitimate strike.
    If the groups involved are still pushing this matter (and I don’t believe they are any more, since the truth came out, but do correct me if you know better), then clearly they remain somewhat ignorant of the Rules of Engagement as they apply to Journalists. Which would constitute something of a significant oversight for those working as war correspondents, I would have thought.

    • How ironic to read on these pages of the latest game played by apologists for Israel’s crimes and misdemeanours.
      It’s called ‘Pick ‘n Mix’.
      Out there there’s this thing called ‘International Law’ full of all sorts of goodies
      ( although there are some nasties in there as well!).
      So Israel signs up for the ride but then just pulls out the goodies.
      The one drawback to this game is the inordinate amount of time Israel requires to explain to people who don’t understand the ‘rules’ of the game.
      Alternative versions of the game (and perhaps easier to understand) are:- ‘Make it up as you go along’ and ‘Excuse me while I move the goalposts’.

      • And there you go again, denying rthe facts as presented to you, without providing any evidence whatsoever to support your own claims.

        • You need to go back to the history classroom .UN resolutions ( who they?)  international ( whats that?) Geneva Convention ( come again?) Perhaps they can’t see the weiting on the documents because of all the blood on their hands? Yorkee


          • Meaningless phrase. Your’e living in the past. Were not talking about antsemitic tropes here.Were talking about the bloody actions of a ROGUE STATE. If you snuff out 170 lives that’s an awful lot of blood to wash away


          • And you need to supply facts to support your view instead of simply posting inane and unsubstantiated dismissals of others’ factual explanations.

          • What factual explanation would that be? Your view seems to be that the IOF is careful,considerate,restrained and above all the ‘good guys’ and all of this is based on the facts. Could you envisage just one situation where they are NOT careful,considerate,restrained and definitely the’bad guys’? Is there one FACT to support that possibility?


      • It’s not Israel doing the explaining: It’s international law experts such as Mr Sivakumaran (Associate Professor and Reader in International law at the University of Nottingham – see above) and Guglielmo Verdirame (Department of War Studies, King’s College, London), who as far as I’m aware, have no particular connection to the State of Israel.

    • Really? What exactly was an ‘innocent child’ doing in a Hamas communications building in the small hours of the morning? Do please link to the proof of your claim, because as far as I’m aware, one Hamas operative was killed, one lost his leg, and several others were injured in the strike on the Al Aqsa station building, and NO-ONE was hurt in the surgical strike on the building housing the international media – i.e the second building as you call it. I think you make it up as you go along.

        • Not in either of the strikes I commented on. I saw footage of the actual strike on the second building (i.e second as mentioned in my original talkback: the one containing international media, and to which you referred as second in your original talkback), and even the BBC correspondents within the building admitted no-one was hurt. They were upset because a bit of shrapnel came through the roof as the comms tower on the roof was felled, and if someone had been in the very top of the stairwell just under the roof at the time, they might have been hit by shrapnel. But there wasn’t anyone there (they were, apparently, all asleep in the office 2 floors down), so no-one got hurt.
          I’ve already stated who was hurt in the first strike on the Hamas station building, which occurred the same night as the one mentioned above, and again, no children were involved. So unless you’re talking about a completely different strike, you’re talking bollocks.Again.

  4. Besides, several journalists were killed and others severely injured by so-calld “surgical strikes” on buildings housing media or a car clearly marked as press.

      • Who should you trust: political blog “Elders of Zion” or worldwide, prestigious organizations such as Reporters Without Borders or Human Rights Watch?

        • New York Times: Using War as Cover to Target Journalists

          “On the same day as the Waldorf event, three employees of news organizations were killed in Gaza by Israeli missiles. Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.” So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as “relevance to terror activity.”

        • Excellent question! Elder of Ziyon provides quotations from the media, videos and photographs, words from speeches and TV programs which can be checked independently by anyone to see if you believe it or not. I have found the Elder to be trustworthy; but I still check him on occasion with his encouragement to do so.

          Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have years of reports onine to be examined. Even a casual look at their findings show many instances of bias, always against Israel. As a single example, they describe themselves checking out allegations of heinous acts by Palestinians with home visits and interviews, while charges against Israel are simply accepted without due diligence.

          NGOs reported numerous civilian deaths during the Gaza War in 2009 – 2009. Without names, places or dates provided, how can a neutral person determine if they are accurate? During periods of relative calm, Gaza has a certain number of deaths by heart attack, honor killings of women and girls, children who die by accident and other non-Israel related deaths. During the presumably more dangerous time of war, when rockets and gunfire are being exchanged, there were NO reported deaths from any cause except Israeli aggression. This is so statistically unlikely that we can suspect those NGOs of not having the correct facts.

          • Usual specious clap trap. No one has done more to debase the currency of language than the nit-picking tendency who seek to defend Israel’s many crimes. Even the Americans who have similar form would not stoop to the levels so described. Reading these pseudo-intellectual apologias is enough to give one a headache!


          • “NGOs reported numerous civilian deaths during the Gaza War in 2009 – 2009. Without names, places or dates provided, how can a neutral person determine if they are accurate?”

            Casulaty figures from the UN and international NGOs are official and have been verified jointly, for “Cast Lead” and for “Pillar of Defense” alike. A list with names, places and dates. This information is available to experts upon request.

    • Nat: It is known that, during Operation Pillar of Cloud, at least 150 missiles fired from Gaza at the Israeli civilian population actually fell short of the security fence, and landed within Gaza itself: As the apparent ‘expert’ on which strikes killed which ‘innocent children’ during this campaign, perhaps you could inform us how many such children (or others) were killed by these 150+ errant missiles, which clearly were not directable weapons, and most likely fell on populated areas (Gaza being so densely populated, and all that). I know of at least one such child, but there has been very little information from Hamas, or (strangely) from any of the media, on these particular figures. The inevitable casualties from these occurrences seem to have been lumped in with, and counted as, those killed by Israeli strikes.

      • Another despicable attempt to shift the blame for casualties on to Hamas when it is clearly documented that the majority ( if not all!) were caused by ‘surgical strikes’ in such a careful way.Ha Ha Ha .Funny if it wasn’t so sick.


      • Dear Yorkie, at least 30 children were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza – not by Hamas rockets falling short. These figures are public and widely available online.

        • So once again, provide the link. As the figures for Hamas’ friendly fire have been lumped together with those from Israeli stikes, once again, how many of these casualties were actually caused by Hamas & friends?

    • Nat, the strikes are indeed surgical, but the buildings are “shared” between terrorists and civilians. THAT is a war crime. What you’re really saying is that the Israelis shouldn’t go after the terrorists at all.

      • Was that key-hole surgery or invasive surgery? Shall we nit-pick about the details or draw meaningless comparisons with other regimes far more wicked than Israel? There is no such thing as a surgical strike.It’s an utterly misleading description. The dishonesty of hypocrites and cowards ( i.e 99% of the IDF and it’s apologists) Any of these strikes with high velocity weapons RISKS killing or injuring civilians. THAT is expressly forbidden under international law.  Failure to protect civilians in this instance constitutes a WAR CRIME. At last the P.A has decided to pursue the likes of Livni,Barak and Olmert through the International Court.


        • International law doesn’t say it’s a war crime anytime a civilian is harmed during fighting. The laws are specific in what they say. Unfortunately there are people who use the phrase International law and apply it to whatever they wish.

          The circumstances which the terrorist Palestinian groups have themselves announced justify Israeli attack including those civilians in the area. You see, the terrorists fire rockets near people’s homes. THAT is, in fact, a war crime.

          You have already stated you won’t believe any facts released by Israel, sprattyville, so I will only offer you evidence from Palestinian sources. They have made and released many videos of themselves using human shields.

          I’m inpressed, by the way, that you admit there are countries on earth more wicked than Israel! That is the type of pragmatism I hope to see from you in future.

          • Targeting civilians IS a war crime.Which is WHY you will not hear me defending the use of rockets by Hamas! What you don’t seem to understand in your arrogance is that Israel’s actions whether ‘surgical’ or not are EFFECTIVELY targeting civilians. Human shield arguments are neither here nor there! There is nothing in law to excuse the targeting of civilians just because they may or may not be being used as ‘human shields’. Ignorance is equally no defence in law although in your case the court could make an exception.  


      • Dear Adam, airstrikes on buildings housing journalists or on cars transporting journalists are in violation of international law.

        • Dear asshole it is not illegal if in the buildings or cars among the journalists there are enemy combatants. But I’m happy to know that you finished your international law course 101.

      • It’s strange how you manage to completely ignore the fact that virtually ALL of Hamas’ missiles are/were quite deliberately aimed at a civilian population, whereas Israeli ones are aimed at legitimate combatant targets. It’s also strange how you manage to completely ignore the fact that ALL wars have collateral damage and kill civilians well as combatants. . It’s also strange how you manage to completely ignore the fact that the figures for civilian deaths in proportion to numbers of strikes / numbers of combatants killed during Pillar of Defence are actually remarkably low (e.g. as compared to those of other recent conflicts worldwide), especially considering Hamas’ propensity operating and firing out of civilian areas and facilities. . It’s also strange how you manage to completely ignore the fact that this demonstrates beyond doubt that the IDF took great trouble to try to avoid civilian casualties.
        One could almost imagine you wearing your Palestinian-made blinkers…

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