The war in Iraq has been the most deadly conflict for journalists since World War II, with 230 murdered since the US invasion March 2003 during seven years of occupation by the coalition forces, according to the press freedom group called Reporter without Borders. This is more than were killed during the entire Vietnam War, where 63 journalists were reported killed.
The Arlington, Va.-based Freedom Forum lists 69 journalists known to have been killed during World War II, although it also notes that number is probably low due to underreporting. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalists does not have statistics for number of journalists killed in WWII. Legendary correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed in WWII by a Japanese machine-gunner when the Army unit he was with came under fire.
In past conflicts, journalists were mainly victims of indiscriminate attacks or stray bullets. In a highly publicized incident, CBS News cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan were killed when the military patrol they were traveling with was hit by a roadside bomb.
However, journalists killed in Iraq have often been targeted and not killed by being caught in military action. The terrorists in Iraq consider murdering journalists a perfectly acceptable and desirable tactic. Armed groups did not hesitate to invade residences and to kill them in front of their families. A journalist working with the state-run TV was killed as he left his home in Baghdad on the day the US withdrew its last combat brigade from Iraq.
Reporter without Borders believes 230 media professionals have died in Iraq as a result of the conflict, of whom 172 were journalists. Of these 36% were print journalists. Iraqis have paid the highest price in loss of life with 87% being Iraqis. Member countries of the US led coalition suffered 15 deaths. Bagdad is the location of the highest number of journalist deaths at 77.
It should be noted that reported figures can differ depending on whether a group counts deaths not directly due to combat and how they classify media assistants such as drivers and translators.
The Pentagon is said to have acknowledged that the U.S. Army is responsibe for at least 16 journalists caught in accidental or “friendly fire.” In April 2003 American shell fire hit Hotel Palestine in Bagdad where the international press was staying.
During the months which followed Saddam Hussein’s ousting, the number of print media publications soared. Self-censorship was still widespread, however, due to fears of reprisal by differing political parties. The Iraqis’ thirst for news and information led to a run on cyber-cafés and stores selling satellite dishes.
By virtue of their occupation, journalists are required to be present during military operations. The work done by journalists is dangerous. By virtue of the Geneva Conventions, journalists are considered to be non-combatant.
The report of the press freedom group is highly critical of the US authorities who they believe have not thoroughly investigated incidents to prevent acts of violence against journalists. A special unit was created within the Iraqi police force to Investigate journalist murder cases, but only an insignificant number of cases have led to arrests. The majority of the killers have never been prosecuted or brought to justice.
Sheila Moss, NSNC WebEditor