AP's Pruitt: Killing Journalists Is a War Crime

Citing the growing threat to journalists and the changing nature of that threat, AP president Gary Pruitt says that killing a journalist or taking them hostage should be considered a war crime in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Pruitt called on that extra protection in a speech to the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong March 30.

He said that the goal was protecting the "first-hand original reporting from trusted sources, like those of you in this room, that lets citizens around the world make informed decisions and hold their governments and other large institutions accountable."

He said that AP's view of the 1,000 journalists killed since 1992 is "up close and personal" and while he understands there are inherent risks, the danger has been compounded. "Wearing PRESS on your jacket once offered some degree of protection for journalists in the most dangerous areas. Today, it more often makes them a target," he said. "Extremist organizations don’t need us to get their story out—they can use social media and other means. And they certainly don’t want an independent media to observe them. They want to control their message from start to finish."

He says to help combat that threat, there should be a new legal mechanism to protect journalists. Under current international law, "protections" are subject to a patchwork of laws, with each nation responsible for investigating and prosecuting those who kill journalists and in 90% of the cases, that has meant no legal proceedings or investigations, and only a 4% conviction rate.

"AP believes there needs to be a new international legal mechanism for protecting journalists—one that makes killing journalists or taking them hostage a war crime," he said. "One approach would be to create a new protocol to the Geneva Conventions that makes the assassination of a journalist a specific war crime. Another approach would be to adapt articles of the International Criminal Court, which deals with war crimes, to specifically cover journalists."

Pruitt said he realizes that extremists are no respecters of international law and will likely still target journalists, but thinks the move could help over time, particularly in prosecuting the killers.

Separately last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists launched a "Press Uncuffed: Free the Press" campaign to put a spotlight on journalists imprisoned in connection with their coverage, focusing on nine "emblematic" cases and calling for their immediate release. Over 200 journalists are in prison around the world "for doing their jobs" according to CPJ's most recent accounting.

The effort is in association with the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism, where students have launched an Indiegogo crowd funding effort to produce and sell bracelets with the names of the jailed journalists.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.