Redefining the War Correspondent – Part 2/2

IMG_7944I’m packing my stuff to go to frontline positions tomorrow. A core part of that stuff is camouflage gear. I’ll wear it, be filmed wearing it, any number of outraged Twitter users will inform me that ‘journalists shouldn’t wear ‘combat uniform” etc etc.

Yet where does this idea come from?

Well, there’s this, from the Geneva Conventions –

Now, journalists must not be deliberately targeted, detained, or otherwise mistreated any more than any other civilian.

This means that journalists now have an obligation to differentiate themselves from combatants by not wearing uniforms or openly carrying firearms.

It’s preceded by this –

The first, second and third Geneva Conventions extend to war correspondents all the protections due to combatants. They were not to be treated as spies and, even though their notebooks and film could be confiscated, they did not have to respond to interrogation. If they were sick or wounded, they must receive medical treatment and, if they were captured, they must be treated humanely.

It would be nice if we lived in a world where everyone played by Geneva Conventions rules, however the one we’re in is very far from that. Both times Ukrainian forces captured me they treated me as a spy, both times I was subject to interrogation and threats of death if I didn’t comply. I was treated far from Igor Kornelyukhumanely. The list goes on.

As for journalists not being targeted, with 6 journalists killed covering this conflict so far, there is evidence attesting that several of them were targeted because they were journalists. (Photo – Igor Kornelyuk) Meanwhile abduction of journalists by Kiev forces, illegal detention, illegal deportation has become a depressing commonplace.

1GrahamI first wore combat gear filming frontline action back in Lugansk in August, and did so on the instructions of the unit commander, Dushman, who explained to me directly that wearing regulation blue gear would draw extra attention to his men, put them in danger. Wearing a ‘press’ sign is ‘like a bullseye for the Ukrainian forces.’

I wore camouflage, and have since, with flak directed at me coming via social media rather than the battlefield. In the midst of the uproar, seems to be an entrenched belief that war correspondents have always demarked themselves from combatants.

Yet, this isn’t actually the case. A look at war correspondence in World War I informs – ‘Members of most World War I organizations such as the YMCA and Knights of Columbus, adopted uniforms that closely resembled army clothing, and some, such as newspaper correspondents, wore army uniforms.

And, from this engaging history of WWII war correspodence

1 correspondent1‘Any serious student of WWII must be aware that civilians in uniform, often close to the action, wrote the news. They went in unarmed and with both eyes open….

Yet, by WWII, things had changed somewhat ‘As the U.S. Army expanded in 1941 the new army regulations issued that year addressed what noncombatants should wear. AR 600-35, November 1941, prescribed media personnel have armbands with “the appropriate word” such as “correspondent,” “radio commentator,” and even “photographer messenger,” among others, in 1-1/4 inch high white block letters on a green, four-inch high brassard. The same regulation called for civilian employees, the second group, to have appropriate words in dark blue letters on a white background.’

1correspondent4Yet, evidence of the time shows these demarkations to be little worn –

There was, at this time, an armband with a ‘C’ to denote correspondent, however ‘While the green armband with a white letter ‘C’ was standard, and is outlined in several manuals, the photographic evidence supports it wasn’t worn very much except in official photos and in gatherings of higher-ranking officers.’

And even at this time, concerns about standing out from soldiers –

The Marine Corps had their own insignia as well, but the few correspondents serving with Navy or Marine units who wore insignia at all, appear to have almost exclusively used the USN patches. It has been noted that perhaps the correspondents in the Pacific feared standing out in a crowd due to concerns over the Japanese not taking their non-combatant status into account.

A different war, 70 years on, but the same issue. Is drawing attention to yourself a help or danger. And never mind yourself, if there’s any question of its being a danger, can you make the call to put the lives of the men you are with at risk. 1Graham1Soldiers taking a journalist to the frontline is a burden. It’s taking a non-combatant into a conflict situation. An enormous responsibility, a passenger, someone who has different priorities – theirs to kill and avoid being killed, a war correspondent to film the best action possible.

Why do they do it? A number of reasons. Because they like you, want to help you, because you’ve brought cigarrettes and coffee to the base and asked politely, because they want to be on tv, let their families and friends see them ok / in action, have their own YouTube video of themselves in combat.

But once they’ve done it, taken on the responsibility of a journalist, it’s your responsibility as a journalist to attract no extra danger to them. In this war, journalists have often been treated no differently to combatants by Ukrainian forces. I made the decision to take my chances on the battlefield dressed in camouflage, the lower visibility of this a far higher protection than the high visibility of press gear. You can be shot as a journalist or a ‘combatant’. If you’re in camouflage, it’s harder to see you to shoot.

War - Falklands ConflictAnd if World War Two seems a long way to be referencing back, here’s legendary journalist Max Hastings covering the Falkands War just 33 years ago, in camouflage, no press markings, winning ‘Journalist of the Year’ at the British press awards for his work there.

So let’s call ‘press’ markings and the supposed obligation to wear them what they are – a modern concept in war correspondence. Whether it endures will depend on whether it saves or kills more journalists. The doubt as to whether will ensure that wearing ‘press’ markings should always be regarded as personal choice.

66 journalists were killed in 2014. Who’s to judge the choice a journalist makes to stay alive?

By Graham, Part 1 here –

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