Opinion: Protecting journalists and foreign correspondents – it’s about time

What is currently happening in Egypt in my view is a very sad and violent transformation. Yet as a native of this country, I believe this to be an internal process and should be shaped only by Egyptians living in Egypt.

However, what should not be accepted as an internal matter is the level of intimidation and violence against journalists and foreign correspondents, particularly foreign journalists and those working for foreign media organisations.

They are unwittingly being sucked into a political turmoil they do not control. They are seasoned professionals caught in the line of fire while doing their job.

Obviously this is not a unique phenomenon, as we know from similar stories of such abuse all over the world. The issue now is how to deal with this both on a short-term basis and, through more of a medium-term effort, towards a lasting solution. Here is my take on this;

Short-term:
There should be a concerted effort by the United Nations, European Union and USA for the immediate release of all journalists and foreign correspondents in Egyptian prisons. This can be followed by fair and transparent legal proceedings where appropriate, governed by internationally recognized legal standards in terms of process and evidence. The idea here is protect foreign journalists from suspect and/or biased legal procedures that are often used to intimidate them or to achieve political ends. It should be made clear in no uncertain terms that continuing such policy is unacceptable and will not be tolerated, and there will be serious implications if these continue. We need to appreciate the conditions these people and their families are suffering on a daily basis, so urgent action is necessary.

Medium-term:
I believe there should be serious efforts within relevant international organisations headed by the UN to formulate policy/regulations that ensure appropriate levels of legal protection for journalists working in conflict zones. This is particularly the case with foreign journalists who risk their lives day in, day out to bring us the privilege of information close to home without much effort on our part. If diplomats have suitable levels of legal protection I am sure we can achieve appropriate standards for journalists and staff of foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In their words, a quote from Richard Engel, foreign correspondent for the USA’s NBC News:

“We are all just trouble makers. We are all just part of the same nebulous category, and the guild of professionals isn’t recognised anymore. And I think it should be. And just like you in the diplomatic community, need protection in order to be objective. If you want professionals who are also objective, we need some protection as well. So I think it’s important to pick your battles, and perhaps there should be two types of campaigns, one to protect free speech for activists who use media in order to advance their causes and their beliefs, whatever that cause may be. The other is a renewed commitment to defend dedicated and trained professionals.”

At the end of the day, the intention here is not to pervert the course of justice but rather to ensure that the judicial standards and proceedings applied are ones recognized by international law in order to protect foreign staff from political witch-hunts.

I would very much like to see the Liberal Democrats take a leading role in this effort – or at the very least come up with a more effective solution that has a similar outcome.

* Fadel Gala is a Lib Dem member working in the IT industry who has participated in policy working groups for the party mainly in the area of international law.

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3 Comments

  • I am sick of foreigner reporters who keep saying Thailand is on the verge of a civil war and is going to be divided into two states.There is a serious political crisis there arising from the fact that western democracy is a fairly recent import and the institutions to support it are weak.
    Except for a few incidents the place remains calm and peaceful.

  • I think the thinking needs more flesh on its bones. I know the PEN Campaign care a lot about this but it looks as if this is about some sort of ‘convention for foreign journalists’. However, shouldn’t it also extend then to photographers, documentary makers and foreign-born activists?

    There is a problem here. Many internal conflicts are blowing up with one side blaming the other for ‘external influences’. A foreign correspondent is no longer considered as a neutral arbiter of facts particularly as propoganda is ramped up during the fog of war. Its hard to see how they can be protected above that of another civilian during a period of martial law.

  • Fadel Galal 3rd Feb '14 - 11:22am

    @Manfarang Thanks for your contribution about this issue. I agree with you on 2 counts;

    a) Political transformations are not without risk and depend entirely on individual circumstances of each country including how receptive its institutions are to change.

    b) Journalists/Foreign correspondents do not always get it right or understand internal dynamics involved.

    But the issue I believe is less about individual experiences of transformation and more about the principal of protecting foreign reporters/journalists & media personnel when working in conflict zones from politically motivated legal persecutions or corrupt legal systems. As with diplomats and other foreign personnel working beyond the boundaries of their own legal system, it is not about them being above the law, but rather about ensuring that there is legal oversight or standards that apply to ensure fairness of the process.

    @sfk Thanks for your contribution about this issue. I totally understand why you are questioning whether same principal should apply to other individuals and about the question of neutrality. However I’d like to put forth the following points;

    1. My focus on foreign journalists/correspondents is simply due to the fact that this is their line of work and by far the most people affected by such intimidation/persecution particularly in conflict zones. I have no issues with extending the principal to other foreign personnel working in conflict zones-I mentioned foreign NGOs above as well.

    2. The question is not about giving carte blanche to anyone to do as they please with impunity, but rather to apply certain legal standards/oversight to ensure there is a level of protection within the legal process itself when applied to them. As an example there is this concept of detention without charge where detainees can remain in custody pending charges for up to two years. There is also the question of strength of evidence applied when reaching verdicts. Actually today a cameraman was released after 6 months detention without charge. Surely this cannot be acceptable in these situations.

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