Pentagon faces criticisms for likening war journalists as spies

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The Pentagon is confronting criticisms after releasing its new legal guidelines that likened war journalists to spies and can be treated as “unprivileged belligerents” in some situations.

The details of the new guidelines received little attention last month because it was buried 1,176-page Law of War Manual of the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon’s manual also supports censorship of journalists. It stated, “Under the law of war, there is no special right for journalists to enter a state’s territory without its consent or to access areas of military operations without the consent of the State conducting those operations.”

Pentagon accused of endangering the lives of war journalists

The defenders of press freedom accused the Pentagon of putting the lives of journalists covering wars in different countries.

An editorial published by The NY Times on Monday strongly condemned the Pentagon and stated that its legal guidelines would make the work of war journalist “more dangerous, cumbersome and subject to censorship.”

The War Manual describes journalists as civilians, but in some circumstances, they can be considered as “unprivileged belligerents,” a broad category that includes guerillas or members of Al-Qaeda.

The War Manual also indicated, “Reporting on military operations can be very similar to collecting intelligence or even spying. A journalist who acts as a spy may be subject to security measures and punished if captured.”

The NY Times warned that authoritarian leaders around that world could claim that their actions against journalists are in accordance with the press freedom standards of the United States.

The NY Times pointed out that the Pentagon’s language that combines espionage with journalism “feeds into the propaganda of authoritarian governments.

“Egypt, for instance, has tried to discredit the work of Western journalists by falsely insinuating that many of them are spies. The manual’s argument that some reporting activities could be construed as taking part in hostilities is ludicrous. That vaguely-worded standard could be abused by military officers to censor or even target journalists,” according to the newspaper’s editorial.

Pentagon’s manual uses a language reflecting authoritarian regime

The Committee to Protect Journalists also slammed Pentagon for using a language in its War Manual that reflected the position of repressive regimes such as China, Ethiopia, and Russia to justify their actions of putting journalists in prison.

Frank Smyth, senior adviser for journalist security at the Committee for the Protection of Journalists wrote, “By giving approval for the military to detain journalists on vague national security grounds, the manual is sending a disturbing message to dictatorships and democracies alike.”

“The same accusations of threats to national security are routinely used to put journalists behind bars in nations including China, Ethiopia, and Russia to name just a few,” added Smyth.

The Pentagon produced a self-serving document that lowers the bar on human rights and press freedom at a time when an international leadership on the issue is most needed, according to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

The First Amendment of the United States guarantees the freedom of expression and protects the rights of journalists. The Reporters without Borders reported that United States ranked 46th on press freedom last year.

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About the Author

Marie Cabural
Marie received her Bachelors Degree in Mass Communication from New Era University. She is a former news writer and program producer for Nation Broadcasting Corporation (NBC-DZAR 1026), a nationwide AM radio station. She was also involved in events management. Marie was also a former Young Ambassador of Goodwill during the 26th Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program (SSEAYP). She loves to read, travel and take photographs. She considers gardening a therapy.

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