The controversial Pentagon manual for interpreting the international laws of war received a much-needed update this week, an update largely focused on protecting journalists working in conflict zones.
According to a report in the NY Times, the manual has been widely criticized for (among other things) language that painted journalism as “close to spying.” One of the most controversial sections claimed that sharing any info that could be valuable in combat, “could constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.”
This, according to the NY Times, would make it legal to kill a journalist intentionally—worrisome since many a published conflict photograph could be considered “useful in combat” for myriad reasons.
The Pentagon has gone to great lengths to soften language like this in the new version. Photojournalists are no longer likened to spies and one quote specifically states that “engaging in journalism does not constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.” Even if a photojournalist was to meet with enemy forces in the course of doing their job, commanders are encouraged not to view them as part of the enemy.
Basically, as Pentagon Deputy general counsel Charles Allen put it, “journalists are civilians and are to be protected as such.”
The update leaves many controversial sections not related to journalism unchanged—upsetting some legal scholars—but photojournalists, at least, can be happy about it. Conflict reporting is dangerous enough without ‘poor wording’ giving foreign governments a legal excuse to target photojournalists.