August 15, 2008

Reuters rooters

Given that a number of journalists have been killed or injured in the fighting between Russia and Georgia, Reporters without Borders (RSF) issued the following condemnation:

Only an impartial analysis of what happened would be able to prevent these kind of tragedies from recurring. Instead of reassuring the press, the Russian military is fostering an unacceptable climate of fear and danger.

Well actually, that's not what Reporters without Borders, this is their statement about the current violence in Georgia:

This toll is already heavy and we appeal to all the parties involved to tell their forces to respect the work of the press and to ensure they do not target journalists."

Note the general nature of their tone. At the point of this press release at least four journalists had been killed and a number of others injured and the fighting was continuing.

Contrast the tone with the RSF reacted when the IDF informed Reuters that it found no evidence of wrongdoing when an Israeli tank crew accidentally fired upon a Reuters reporter, Fadel Shana, killing him and a number of bystanders back in April.

First of all there's the headline to the press release:

Israeli enquiry unsurprisingly decides not to punish soldiers who killed Palestinian cameraman

"unsurprisingly decides" is an interesting choice of words. It presumes that the IDF tank crew was culpable and that the available evidence made it a clear cut case that IDF investigators ignored. Then in the press release itself is the language that I altered above:

"Only an impartial analysis of what happened would be able to prevent this kind of tragedy from recurring. Instead of reassuring the press, the Israeli military is fostering an unacceptable climate of fear and danger.

"If journalists are wearing flak jackets, keeping a reasonable distance from the belligerents and clearly displaying press markings, there should be a change in the behaviour of the soldiers in areas where civilians, including journalists, are present."

It has been four months since the incident. In the meantime no journalists that I'm aware of have been injured. But RSF's attitude is that Israel is operating in a manner that regularly and needlessly endangers journalists. The accusatory tone and assumptions of RSF regarding Israel stands in sharp contrast to the plaintive tone of its release addressing the fighting in Georgia, where journalists were still endangered. (h/t Backspin)

Reuters itself, of course, was unsatisfied with the result of the Israeli inquiry. David Schlesinger, editor in chief of Reuters writes:

Said the report: "Two persons were spotted leaving the vehicle, carrying a large black object. The black object was placed on a tripod above a dirt mound, and directed at the tank.... The tank crew reported the spotting to its superiors. The latter authorized firing a tank shell at the characters, in light of the genuine suspicion that the object mounted on the tripod and directed at the tank was an anti-tank missile or mortar, a suspicion consistent with the characteristics of that day's hostilities..."

I do understand the stresses of the battlefield.

To which Backspin responds:

Shana's death is indeed a tragedy and Schlesinger is correct to treat as such. But it's difficult to say that the Reuters editor really understands the stresses of the battlefield.

A tank crew that spends too much time trying to verify whether it's looking at a tripod-mounted camera or anti-tank rocket launcher jeopardizes itself, conceding the initiative to "the unknown other." Israel Matzav posted some photos showing that anti-tank weaponry like this Milan sometimes do resemble video equipment.

Dion Nissenbaum of McClatchy blogged:

Here is one particularly relevant factoid worth considering: Palestinian militants in Gaza have never used a serious anti-tank weapon with the range capable of hitting a target from a mile away.

That means that, even if Shana was preparing to fire a weapon, the Israeli soldiers should have known that they weren't facing any real danger.

The Israeli general said that the soldiers weren't able to determine if the item mounted on the tripod was a mortar, a camera or an anti-tank missile. For that reason, they opened fire.

If Israeli soldiers can't distinguish a mortar tube from a mounted camera, their training is sorely lacking.
Fadel was on a road a mile away from the tank, he was driving a car with "TV" written on the side, he was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked with a "press" sticker, he had been filming for several minutes and was not working in an area of active fighting.

So he gives three main reasons why it should have clear that Fadel Shana posed no threat to the tank crew:
1) A "factoid" that no one in Gaza has anti-tank weapons capable of damaging a tank at that distance.
2) It should be easy (at the range of a mile) for a soldier to distinguish between a camera and an anti-tank weapon
3) Shana was clearly identifiable as a journalist.

I enlisted help of a number of bloggers who had responses to all three claims.
1) My Right Word left a comment that Nissenbaum's "factoid" is wrong and that, in fact, terrorists in Gaza do possess weapons that would threaten a tank at the distance in question. For example:

December 2002. An IDF Engineering Corps soldier was moderately wounded and two civilians were lightly wounded when an anti-tank missile that was launched toward civilian targets on the Israel-Egypt border near Rafah, struck nearby them. The three were transferred for further medical treatment to Be'er Sheba.

Check out the comment for the complete response.

2) As noted above, Israel Matzav, produced a number of photos of anti-tank weapons and compared them to Shana's camera. Read his complete response.

3) Elder of Ziyon e-mailed me a couple of photographs with comments which I will reproduce here:

Here is the shot that Fadel Shana took of the Israeli tank that killed him, fully zoomed in.

fadel car.jpg ... a picture of the car that said "TV" on it that was supposedly so easy to see.

Elder of Ziyon writes further:

Unless the IDF has much, much better optics than Reuters, I cannot see how the IDF would be able to read "TV" on that car, let alone on a jacket, or even to distinguish a blue flak jacket from green fatigues in the dust of Gaza.

Nissenbaum also claimed that since Shana had been filming the tank for several minutes before the tank fired, it should have been clear that he posed no threat. But that assumes that the tank crew was aware of Shana's presence and wasn't engaged with any other threat at that time.

I do find it interesting that Nissenbaum is so dismissive of the Israeli investigation. In his infamous post about Samir Kuntar he ignored physical evidence and an eyewitness account to promote a defense of Kuntar.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Beirut-based political analyst and Hezbollah specialist, said people here simply don't accept Israel's version of events.

"I don't think all Lebanese believe he actually killed the child," she said.

Nissenbaum wrote no corrective that there was proof, he just let the Hezbollah mouthpiece deny that Kuntar was a murderer.

And yet here he is skeptical of the Israeli inquiry simply because it did reach the same conclusion he did based, in part, on a phony "factoid."

In all three cases of RSF, of Reuters and of Dion Nissenbaum there was a presumption of Israeli negligence if not criminal intent. From what we know, it appears that the IDF deserves the benefit of the doubt in this case.

LGF and Snapped Shot have more.

Crossposted on Yourish.

Posted by SoccerDad at August 15, 2008 6:19 AM
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I added another comment at Dion's blog from something I found here from 2002:

"the death of Italian photo-journalist Raffaele Ciriello...a freelance journalist for the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Serra," was killed on 13 March by machine-gun fire from an Israeli tank...He and two other journalists had been trailing a group of Palestinian gunmen near a refugee camp where fighting between Israelis and Palestinians was taking place, CPJ notes...In the wake of these incidents, RSF has published a safety charter for journalists working in war zones and other dangerous areas, urging editors to adopt and observe its principles. The charter, drawn up by a range of organisations including the World Press Freedom Committee, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), aims to reduce the risks under which war reporters work.

The charter comprises eight principles, including urging the media not to force journalists to cover wars against their will and to offer psychological counseling if requested."

So, to be a bit cruel, but realistic, maybe there are some journalists who simply don't learn the lesson our Sages taught: נכווה ברותחין נזהר בצוננין which translates as "scalded with hot water, one is extra careful even with cold water".

Posted by: Yisrael Medad at August 15, 2008 6:29 AM

It is this kind of press attitude toward Israel which makes me feel not the least bit remorseful about the death of any of their ilk, especially in this type of instance. In fact, given that this local stringer is likely pro-terrorist, pro-jihadist, I think it poetic justice and I am quite glad that he was killed by the IDF. Israel should conduct no investigations or issue any apologies in this type of incident. They have chosen to operate in a battle zone, that is the risk the press takes, so tough shit if any of them are killed. And since they take the side of the terrorists, whatever happens to them they deserve.

Posted by: Laura at August 15, 2008 12:17 PM

"The strong do as they want and the weak suffer as they must."-Thucydides

Russia is strong and menasing. Israel is weak and non-threatening. The problem lies with an inaccurate assessment of strength, and I would not be surprised if stong Russia was soon plunged into economic misery and mass starvation just as it suffered under Stalin. Sixty million dead russians in the 1930's and German advancement through much of the country untill the weather played interference depict true Soviet achievement. Reuters condemnations remind me of a frightened chihuaha barking at passing people from the safety of a home and behind a glass window.

Posted by: vinny at August 22, 2008 12:18 PM
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