Yesterday I moderated a roundtable discussion on the role of the media in reporting on armed conflict. Panelists were Anne Bennett (Executive Director, Hirondelle USA), Roy Gutman (Middle East Bureau Chief, McClatchy Newspapers) and Charlie Sennott (Executive Director of The GroundTruth Project and Co-founder of the GlobalPost). The event also introduced HREA’s new self-directed e-course Reporting Conflicts: International Humanitarian Law for Media Professionals.
The panelists shared different perspectives on how media professionals should cover conflict situations, how journalists should report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL), and how journalists working in conflict zones can be protected.
“Reporting accurate news and information really contributes to the protection of populations that are caught up in conflict,” said Anne Bennett of Hirondelle USA. An understanding of IHL, she added, helps journalists “ask the right questions.”
Like any story, armed conflict “needs to be explained. It needs to be understood,” said Roy Gutman, who reported on the Bosnian wars in the 1990s. “Wars happen…but what we can do is monitor how they’re being fought.” He called IHL a “yardstick” or “toolbox” that the media can use to highlight violations of human rights and of the laws of the war.
Former Boston Globe foreign correspondent Charlie Sennott compared IHL to the “ground truth,” the human measurements NASA uses to calibrate satellite measurements. Just as the ground truth determines if satellite data is accurate, IHL helps media professionals and the public assess violations of the laws of war. He described journalists’ role in conflict situations as “bear[ing] witness to the dramatic human failure that is war.”
You can watch the recording of the event.