War reporter Marie Colvin’s family sues Syria

The family of murdered journalist and Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin has filed a lawsuit against the Syrian government, accusing it of being responsible for her death while she was reporting in the country in 2012.

The suit, filed to a federal court in Washington, alleges that Colvin was killed in a deliberate attack, planned by President Bashar al-Assad’s government, to silence the media “as part of its effort to crush political opposition”.

Colvin, a veteran war reporter, was killed alongside French photojournalist Remi Ochlik when a rocket attack was launched against a makeshift broadcast studio in the rebel-controlled area of Baba Amr in Homs, the country’s third city.

Colvin’s work and legacy is discussed in the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine, which has a special report on the risks of reporting worldwide. In a piece debating whether journalists should work in war zones, Channel 4 New’s Lindsey Hilsum writes: “In February 2012, Marie and photographer Paul Conroy crawled through a sewer to get to Homs, as the Syrian regime’s bombs turned the buildings of rebel-controlled Baba Amr to burnt-out carcasses and rubble. In her dispatches, Marie described the makeshift beds on which children slept underground to avoid the bombs, the operations without anaesthetic, the despair of people who felt they had been abandoned by the world. It was classic, old-fashioned eyewitness reporting […]

“Marie felt she had a responsibility to report; she refused to leave it to YouTube. Yet, on this occasion, the risk was too great. Was she brave, or – in her own words – was it bravado? Either way, we are all the poorer because Marie Colvin is no longer reporting from Syria.”

Read the full piece in the latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine. 

Contents: Danger in truth, truth in danger

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Highlights include Lindsey Hilsum, writing about her friend and colleague, the murdered war reporter Marie Colvin, and asking whether journalists should still be covering war zones. Stephen Grey looks at the difficulties of protecting sources in an era of mass surveillance. Valeria Costa-Kostritsky shows how Europe’s journalists are being silenced by accusations that their work threatens national security.

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Kaya Genç interviews Turkey’s threatened investigative journalists, and Steven Borowiec lifts the lid on the cosy relationships inside Japan’s press clubs. Plus, the inside track on what it is really like to be a local reporter in Syria and Eritrea. Also in this issue: the late Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell explores colonialism in Africa in an exclusive play extract; Jemimah Steinfeld interviews China’s most famous political cartoonist; Irene Caselli writes about the controversies and censorship of Latin America’s soap operas; and Norwegian musician Moddi tells how hate mail sparked an album of music that had been silenced.

The 250th cover is by Ben Jennings. Plus there are cartoons and illustrations by Martin Rowson, Brian John SpencerSam Darlow and Chinese cartoonist Rebel Pepper.

You can order your copy here, or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions. Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

Index on Censorship magazine was started in 1972 and remains the only global magazine dedicated to free expression. It has produced 250 issues, with contributors including Samuel Beckett, Gabriel García Marquéz, Nadine Gordimer, Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and many more.

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Journalists under fire and under pressure

Editorial: Risky business – Rachael Jolley  on why journalists around the world face increasing threats

Behind the lines – Lindsey Hilsum asks if reporters should still be heading into war zones

We are journalists, not terrorists – Valeria Costa-Kostritsky looks at how reporters around Europe are being silenced by accusations that their work threatens national security

Code of silence – Cristina Marconi shows how Italy’s press treads carefully between threats from the mafia and defamation laws from fascist times

Facing the front line – Laura Silvia Battaglia gives the inside track on safety training for Iraqi journalists

Giving up on the graft and the grind – Jean-Paul Marthoz says journalists are failing to cover difficult stories

Risking reputations – Fred Searle on how young UK writers fear “churnalism” will cost their jobs

Inside Syria’s war – Hazza Al-Adnan shows the extreme dangers faced by local reporters

Living in fear for reporting on terror – Ismail Einashe interviews a Kenyan journalist who has gone into hiding

The life of a state journalist in Eritrea – Abraham T. Zere on what it’s really like to work at a highly censored government newspaper

Smothering South African reporting –  Carien Du Plessis asks if racism accusations and Twitter mobs are being used to stop truthful coverage at election time

Writing with a bodyguard – Catalina Lobo-Guerrero explores Colombia’s state protection unit, which has supported journalists in danger for 16 years

Taliban warning ramps up risk to Kabul’s reporters – Caroline Lees recalls safer days working in Afghanistan and looks at journalists’ challenges today

Writers of wrongs – Steven Borowiec lifts the lid on cosy relationships inside Japan’s press clubs

The Arab Spring snaps back – Rohan Jayasekera assesses the state of the media after the revolution

Shooting the messengers – Duncan Tucker reports on the women investigating sex-trafficking in Mexico

Is your secret safe with me? – Stephen Grey looks at the difficulties of protecting sources in an age of mass surveillance

Stripsearch cartoon – Martin Rowson depicts a fat-cat politician quashing questions

Scoops and troops – Kaya Genç interviews Turkey’s struggling investigative reporters

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Rebel with a cause – Jemimah Steinfeld speaks to China’s most famous political cartoonist

Soap operas get whitewashed – Irene Caselli offers the lowdown on censorship and controversy in Latin America’s telenovelas

Are ad-blockers killing the media? – Speigel Online’s Matthias Streitz in a head-to-head debate with Privacy International’s Richard Tynan

Publishing protest, secrets and stories – Louis Blom-Cooper looks back on 250 issues of Index on Censorship magazine

Songs that sting – Norwegian musician Moddi explains how hate mail inspired his album of censored music

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A world away from Wallander – An exclusive extract of a play by late Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell

“I’m not prepared to give up my words” – Norman Manea introduces Matei Visniec, a surreal Romanian play where rats rule and humans are forced to relinquish language

Posting into the future – An extract from Oleh Shynkarenko’s futuristic new novel, inspired by Facebook updates during Ukraine’s Maidan Square protests

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”COLUMNS” css=”.vc_custom_1481732124093{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-top: 15px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]

Index around the world: Josie Timms recaps the What A Liberty! youth project

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”END NOTE” css=”.vc_custom_1481880278935{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-top: 15px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]

The lost art of letters – Vicky Baker looks at the power of written correspondence and asks if email can ever be the same

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”SUBSCRIBE” css=”.vc_custom_1481736449684{margin-right: 0px !important;margin-left: 0px !important;border-bottom-width: 1px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;border-bottom-color: #455560 !important;border-bottom-style: solid !important;}”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship magazine was started in 1972 and remains the only global magazine dedicated to free expression. Past contributors include Samuel Beckett, Gabriel García Marquéz, Nadine Gordimer, Arthur Miller, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, and many more.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”76572″ img_size=”full”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]In print or online. Order a print edition here or take out a digital subscription via Exact Editions.

Copies are also available at the BFI, the Serpentine Gallery, MagCulture, (London), News from Nowhere (Liverpool), Home (Manchester), Calton Books (Glasgow) and on Amazon. Each magazine sale helps Index on Censorship continue its fight for free expression worldwide.

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Gaza: Press vests fail to protect Palestinian journalists

Khaled Hamad was killed while reporting on the Gaza conflict.

Khaled Hamad was killed while reporting on the Gaza conflict.

News coverage of the ongoing Gaza conflict would be infinitely poorer without local journalists, but it’s clear that international media needs to show their commitment by providing Palestinian reporters and fixers with extra support.

Images of bloodied press vests have become a dark motif of the latest Gaza war. One of the most striking came from 22-year-old photographer Rami Rayan, killed during the shelling of a market in the Shujayah district on the 30 July. The same attack also killed journalist Sameh al-Aryan, aged 26. Before this came the pictures of Khaled Hamed, pulled from the rubble of Shujayah with his broken video camera at his side on the 20 July. In total, 13 Palestinian journalists have been killed in over a month of fighting, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

An earlier statement by the IFJ also listed the names of seven journalists who had been injured when they were struck by shrapnel, with six of these injuries occurring while the journalists were in the field. The seventh was injured when her house was destroyed by an Israeli bombardment.

A journalist’s bullet-proof vest does more than just physically protect the wearer – the “PRESS” marking it is designed to show that they are never a legitimate target.  This should stand apart from even the high civilian death toll of this war. Marking oneself as a journalist is to appeal to the so-called “rules of engagement”, that attacking journalists or anywhere where there may be journalists, is a breach of a code that has, until now, lasted since journalists first took to the battlefields to report.

In Gaza, this code has sadly long since worn thin. Hamid Shehab was killed when his parked car was struck by a rocket outside his house on the 9 July. According to the IFJ,  his car was “clearly marked as a press vehicle”.

There is no doubt that covering this war has taken its toll on every journalist that has operated in Gaza since fighting began on the 8 July. But sadly, the body count suggests that the dangers for Palestinian media workers covering their homeland in a time of crisis, and those for international journalists who enter to cover the war, are distinctly different. Palestinian media workers include those working for international or local outlets, as well as those working as fixers for international media. The role of a fixer is one that is often overlooked – especially in terms of safety.

In a statement on the 6 August, the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) stated that they had issued accreditation to 705 journalists from over 42 countries. This is not necessarily the number of journalists who entered Gaza to cover the war, but a GPO card is needed to do so. If even half of this number succeeded to enter and leave Gaza without coming to any harm, they still compare favourably to the numbers of Palestinian media workers who have been harmed.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have taken a certain amount of care to protect international journalists operating on the ground in Gaza, at one point relocating them to two hotels in the strip in order to provide a level of protection during a period of particularly heavy shelling. Although fixers or other Palestinian media workers were free to shelter alongside the international press in the lobby of these hotels, the journey alone may have proved lethal. Add to this that Gazan journalists are unlikely to choose to leave their families at home to suffer heavy shelling while they themselves enjoy this nominal protection.

Even with the IDF awareness of media workers the offices of Al Aqsa TV and Radio, Wattan Radio and the National Media agency were destroyed, and workers at Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza city were forced to evacuate following “warning shots” fired at the building. This occurred days after Al Jazeera was threatened by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who stated at a press conference on 21 July that the foreign ministry was taking steps to investigate the network, with “the intent of not allowing it to broadcast anymore from Israel”.

A tentative ceasefire is currently allowing some respite on the ground in Gaza. But many of the journalists who have left the strip have said that this is not the last war they expect to cover there. Sadly, this is also not the first time that attacks on media outlets have been part of wider attacks on Gaza.

The deaths of Palestinian journalists was also a feature of the 2012 war, when three journalists were killed. One of the most hotly-debated points of this latest bout of destruction has been what constitutes a “legitimate target”. There is one lesson that must stand apart from this discussion: no journalist should ever be included in that category.

The following are statements from fixers and journalists who have been involved in covering Gaza.

In the case of Gaza, nobody is safe. As a fixer I am more exposed to dangers because of continuous movement to the “hot zones”. Last Friday, during the ceasefire, I was 100m away from the front line with the Israeli army in Beit Hanoun. I don’t have equipment for protecting myself like a flak jacket or helmet – my movement from my house to the hotels [where journalists stay] adds more risk. We depend on marking our car with words like TV, hoping that the Israelis will avoid us. What normally privileges foreign journalists over local ones is their financial capabilities.”

— Amjed Tantish is from Beit Lahia, in the north Gaza strip.

Moving around under constant shelling, I wasn’t sure if I would make it back home. I couldn’t get a bulletproof vest, as they are so expensive and I’m a freelancer – I can’t afford it. But also, there is no one who would volunteer to bring one into Gaza from Jerusalem for me. Working without it is risky though. Another danger to Palestinians is that they can be accused of being pro-Israeli. Internationals can come and go, but Palestinians will point fingers at me if I write something they don’t like. I wish that there was an organization that was protecting Palestinian journalists – but as a freelancer, I am responsible for my life. International outlets should take into account that the dangers faced by the local journalists they hire may be quite different – but that should apply to all conflict zones, not just Gaza.”

— Abeer Ayyoub, freelance journalist, Gaza City.

I am usually lucky to find an available flak jacket. Usually I don’t wear protective gear- I would like to buy some, but they are expensive and hard to get during wartime.  Instead, I try and assess whether the situation is safe enough to be in, and if it seems too dangerous, I leave. I call ahead to people in the area to see if it’s safe, to find out what the safest route is and to coordinate with people on the ground. For sure, I could get killed. I feel like I could lose everything sometimes. But it’s my work, it’s what I do to get the message out to the world. Some of the people I work with appreciate the work and the risk, but 80 percent don’t care about the risks we take. Most people don’t know about what we do for them. They don’t think about us dying for a picture they sell for $50.”

— Mohammed Rajab, a fixer based in Gaza City.

Danger in this war is everywhere- nowhere is safe. You could survive the hardest hit places, and die in places you think are the safest. I thought that heading to church to do story on displaced families is safe. The next day, it was bombed. Palestinian journalists face different dangers to international journalists – there is a form of discrimination among Gaza-based news agencies. Local staff don’t dare to speak out on this, but if there is a bulletproof car, then international staff have priority to drive it. International journalists are protected by insurance and an affiliation to international and national journalists unions.  This gives them protection and insurances if something goes wrong. In Gaza, if a journalist is killed, media outlets cannot care less about their families. Some news agencies know Palestinian journalists well enough in crises, but after the war ends, they dump them. It’s hard for journalists to make themselves indispensible. The outlets I have freelanced for do understand the limitations – but I’ve heard of others that seem to think you could get close enough to danger to hold a rocket in your hands, i.e. get exclusive shots. A friend of mine was injured and his outlet dumped him to find someone new, exactly like you do with car spare parts.”

— Mohammed Omer, a freelance journalist based in Rafah

Israeli forces will open fire on Palestinians, but not internationals. Internationals are just less likely to be shot at – I make sure I wear a bulletproof vest and a helmet, and make sure that I’m clearly marked as press. We need this protective gear. The vest and helmet cost me $1000- and there is no compensation for hazards, even when I work for international media outlets. If you are a Palestinian national that means no insurance either. Foreign journalists at least have the chance of getting their media outlets to cover their life insurance or provide compensation.”

— Yousef Al-Helou, a journalist who covered the two previous wars in Gaza, currently in London

This article was published on August 12, 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

Gaza: When is a journalist not a journalist?


“Maybe we have a discussion about who is a journalist,” said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev, in a much-publicised interview with Al Jazeera on Monday during which he was grilled about Israeli attacks on media centres in Gaza City. Even with the hopes for the current ceasefire holding, this is undoubtedly still a discussion that needs to be had, as Israel’s behaviour towards journalists throughout the week-long Gaza crisis has set something of a precedent.

The main target, hit during three out of the five incidents, was the Al Shorouq tower, known locally as “the journalists’ building”, as it housed media outlets including Sky News, Al Arabiya, Al Quds TV and Russia Today. The third attack killed two people, including a local head of a branch of the militant group Al Quds brigades, and wounded eight journalists. Regev dismissed suggestions Israeli forces were targeting journalists, saying:

If you can bring me someone who is a bona fide journalist who was injured, I want to know about it.

At the suggestion that Palestinian journalists were not being given the same level of respect that Regev gives the Israeli media — which he praises for its freedom — the spokesman argued that the media in Gaza is not free, implying it is a legitimate target for Israeli attacks.

Sameh Rahmi | Demotix

An Israeli air strike on Gaza City – Demotix

The illegitimacy of Palestinian media has been the first line of defence by Israelis justifying four separate attacks on media centre buildings — and one journalist directly — since the beginning of the Gaza crisis. The first attack last Sunday morning used five missiles to target a tower block housing pro-Hamas station Al Aqsa TV as well the offices of independent Palestinian news agency Ma’an, and has previously housed international media such as the BBC. According to Reporters Without Borders, “around 15 reporters and photographers wearing vests with the words TV Press were on the building’s roof at the time, covering the Israeli air strikes”. In an attack on Tuesday, two journalists from Al Aqsa TV were killed by an Israeli airstrike while driving in a car marked “press”.

Regev told the Al-Jazeera presenter: “unlike the country where you’re broadcasting from, Israel has a free press, the Israeli press is very aggressive and we respect that right.” He later added: “If you think Al Aqsa is free press, like say Tass in the former Soviet Union is a free press [sic], then let’s be serious for a second.”

Regev ignored how Israeli media is, like Al Aqsa, also likely to publish articles in favour of its own government’s policy, particularly in a time of heightened conflict. Witness the infamous Jerusalem Post article published by Gilad Sharon (son of Ariel), entitled “A decisive conclusion is necessary”, which stated: “There is no middle path here — either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip.”

Al Aqsa in particular may not be a sterling example of free media, but that an attacking army is allowed to cherry pick sources of “legitimate” media is highly disturbing. It also implies that the IDF are of the belief that for Palestinians, their nationality trumps all, making them supposedly legitimate targets. Regev himself used the word “legitimate” to describe channels such as Al-Jazeera and the BBC in comparison to Al Aqsa, although offices used by Al Jazeera were also damaged during a nearby attack on the Abu Khadra building on Wednesday night, and offices of Agence France-Press (AFP) were targeted on Tuesday evening. Journalists, regardless of whether their outlet is considered “legitimate”, have been treated as collateral damage in this conflict.

Regev also blamed Hamas for “using journalists as human shields” by “placing their communications equipment in buildings that they know that journalists will use”. For their part, Ma’an stated when reporting on this issue that “there is no military infrastructure of any kind inside the building,” referring to the Al Shawa tower, another media base. The IDF have provided no proof of the communications equipment on either building.

Israel made much of its decision to allow international media into Gaza, from keeping the northern Erez checkpoint open to fast-processing of the press cards that allow journalists to cross it. On arrival at Erez, it was mandatory for all journalists to sign a waiver, stating that should they come to any harm, the IDF bears no responsibility.

The Israeli Government Press Office was also quick to condemn rumours of Hamas refusing to allow journalists to leave Gaza, but had fewer qualms about making its own demands that restrict journalists’ movement when inside the Strip. It explicitly warned journalists to stay away from anything or anyone connected to Gaza’s ruling Hamas party  — a difficult task in a place as densely-populated as Gaza. In one incident, Nicole Johnston from Al Jazeera’s English service reported receiving a message from the IDF which said:

Don’t take any Hamas or Islamic Jihad leaders in a car with you. We know who we’re looking for. We know their cars.

This implies that journalists were expected to consider contact with any Hamas official as overtly making themselves a target, a tactic designed to dissuade them from conducting interviews or engaging in any activity where the perspective of Hamas might be broadcast.

International media have praised the Israelis for their decision to allow Gaza to remain open, in contrast to Operation Cast Lead in 2009. But there is evidence of sleight-of-hand with journalistic safety, and the so-called “rules of engagement”. Targeting media, or in this case — targeting journalists who either don’t or can’t comply with the IDF’s demands — ignores Protocol 1, Article 79 of the Geneva Convention which states it is a war crime to target the media. This is despite a press release distributed by the Israeli government press office, which stated: “Israel and the IDF are fully committed to international law in general, and to the Laws of Armed Conflict in particular”.

International media have been flooding into Gaza to work alongside Palestinian media. But with such an aggressive targeted air campaign in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth and no “front line” to speak of, the most that both parties were able to do was to speak up in order to hope that Israel would react to international pressure to accept some part of the so-called “rules of engagement” and avoid targeting journalists.

The ceasefire is holding for now, but there are many lessons to be learned from the past week and a half, most of all because the vast majority of people believe that similar attacks on Gaza are likely to happen again. If that is the case, it is not unreasonable to expect that Israel and the IDF will have learnt that the harming of media of any nationality is not just an action which attracts the bad press that they seek to avoid. It is a crime.

Ruth Michaelson is a freelance journalist currently on assignment in Gaza. She tweets at @_Ms_R