An introduction to the laws of war for journalism students

By Patrick Griffiths, Red Cross


It may seem that training for journalists by The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) presents something of a paradox.

Journalists prize transparency – while the ICRC finds much of its humanitarian work is most effective when reported in confidence.

Journalism is turning towards open systems and methods of participation – while the ICRC upholds protecting sensitive data and information relating to those caught in conflict as a core value.

If these seem like contradictions, they are not irreconcilable. The ICRC has long held dialogues with journalists, and for good reason.

We both care about people: putting them at the centre, sharing stories of strength from those who suffer. It is a very humanitarian interest.

For that reason, and for the first time, the ICRC is adapting its training tool for media professionals, The Story Behind the Story, for journalism students whose careers may take them to conflict zones.

The ICRC is an exclusively humanitarian organisation with close to 17,000 staff in more than 80 countries working to protect and assist people caught up in armed conflict.

The mandate for the ICRC’s mission comes from international humanitarian law (IHL) – or the laws of war – that protects people not taking part in hostilities while also limiting the conduct of warfare.

The ICRC’s Australia Mission based in Canberra wants to work with journalism students to raise awareness of where our work intersects with their future careers reporting from the field

Globally, the ICRC runs dozens of media training sessions every year, helping journalists understand the IHL that can apply when reporting from conflict zones.

The point is not to turn journalists into lawyers but for them to leave this training with a good understanding of the legal framework, who it protects, how it affects their work and where to learn more.

For journalism students, we can give them the tools to:

* use the law to inform their reporting and editorial decisions, describe what they are witnessing, and make their coverage more accurate and compelling;

* understand when IHL is being violated or upheld;

* understand how IHL protects them and help them avoid harm;

* get familiar with the components and principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and know how to best interact with humanitarian organisations.

The Story Behind the Story resource is a specifically designed tool that includes slides, videos, soundbites, exercises, handouts and a glossary across five modules of content.

As a standardised ICRC training tool, it can be used and tailored to fit specific needs.

In Australia, the ICRC is exploring ways that the Story Behind the Story can feature or be integrated into journalism courses at universities.

We see it as a unique opportunity for media students who are interested in working abroad, to inform their reporting and decision-making.

Except for some online resources, the content is designed to be delivered by the ICRC and is something I or my colleagues would be happy to travel to facilitate.

The delivery of the content for journalism students is without cost and will be adapted from the original module content aimed at working journalists and spanning two days when delivered in full.

Adapting the content in this way allows the ICRC to meet the needs of individual universities in terms of duration, format and focus.

This could vary from voluntary lunchtime presentations to guest lectures or even regular spots within curriculums.

An outline of the five modules is detailed below:

* Module 1: The Law of War and Reporting

o States the focus of this workshop – International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Explains the role of the ICRC in promoting this body of law and looks at the reasons for which this workshop is a very useful tool for media professionals reporting on armed conflicts.

* Module 2a-b: The Law of War – International Humanitarian Law

o Aims at strengthening media professionals in their capacity to comment on the way IHL is respected or violated by the parties to a conflict. It provides information on the situations in which IHL applies and describes the aims and the main rules of IHL.

* Module 3: Safety of Journalists

o Aims to raise awareness among media professionals of the protection they enjoy under IHL and provides information on the support they can expect from different organisations in missions to conflict zones.

* Module 4a-b: International Crimes

o Strengthens media professionals’ knowledge about international crimes, the various forms of criminal responsibility and those forums that deal with international crimes. It also helps journalists to understand their role in international justice mechanisms.

* Module 5: About the ICRC

o A collection of resources that can be used to present the ICRC, the Movement, the emblems, the principles.

A link to an accompanying ICRC webpage of IHL resources for media professionals is also available here.

If interested in adapting this content for your institution, please contact Pat Griffiths, communications officer with The International Committee of the Red Cross in Canberra. or +61 418 485 120.

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