BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The war has started and so far there is a pervasive feeling of deja vu as we hear talk of the Basra Road, surrendering Iraqi troops, and even Peter Arnett. What's different this time versus the 1991 Gulf War is that we aren't just hearing about the night skies over Baghdad, we are seeing them in real time. The number of journalists in and around the region is estimated to be more than 700. Those in Baghdad are at the mercy of the Iraqi government of course and there are concerns that they could eventually be taken into, quote, "protective custody." The International Federation of Journalists, an organization that represents more than a half million journalists around the world, sent an 11th hour appeal last week to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and to the Iraqi administration. The appeal asked for the leaders in this war to give instructions to army commanders to respect the rights of those hundreds of journalists and media staff. Sarah de Jong is the human rights officer for the IFJ based on Brussels. When I spoke to her Thursday she said that the power of the Iraqi government to take reporters hostage worries her greatly.
SARAH DE JONG: That is definitely one of our major concerns, that the Iraqi authorities will use all foreign journalists as human shields, of course. We're very concerned about that. But the Pentagon themselves are very concerned about that as well, even though they have apparently expressed the fact that they are unwilling to take responsibility should that be the case.
BOB GARFIELD:In fact President Bush did explicitly warn journalists twice in nationally televised addresses to get out of Baghdad, presumably because they are in some great peril.
SARAH DE JONG: That's right. We have ourself appealed to all foreign media currently still in Baghdad to get out as fast as they can, and we're really appealing to them to get to secured locations. But at the same time we're quite concerned that nobody can force a journalist to do so and that journalists are there voluntarily.
BOB GARFIELD:Now there are Geneva Convention protocols concerning journalists and their protection. But neither the United States nor Iraq have formally ratified those protocols. Tell me what they are and why hasn't the United States signed off on that.
SARAH DE JONG: What they are basically is that they guarantee the basic rights of journalists -- that they are neutral civilian observers and so therefore it is said that journalists should not be harmed in any way; they should not be treated as prisoners of war. They should be allowed access where possible and of course guaranteeing the safety of everybody involved. Why the United States has not signed off on that you're going to have to ask the United States government on that. I suspect it is because these clauses do deal specifically with civilians being treated as POWs, so that might be a reason why they have not signed off on this.
BOB GARFIELD:On March 8th the Kuwaiti government warned foreign media against cooperating with Israeli news media and threatened journalists with legal action if they did not heed the warning. Now about a thousand journalists from around the world are accredited to be in Kuwait with the allied forces, but not one of them is an Israeli. Is the IFJ doing anything about this government-sponsored censorship and boycott of an entire nation's press corps?
SARAH DE JONG: Well the only thing that we can do is to --what we are doing, is publicly protest against this. At the same time we recognize that a lot of the Middle Eastern countries and some of the gulf states still have not normalized relations with Israel and any Israeli citizen is not allowed to travel in these countries. So it doesn't matter whether you're a journalist or not. But we think it's absurd for a government, you know, to try to stop the flow of information between colleagues in general. It's just, you know, totally unacceptable. So it, it is the IFJ together with general press freedom community of course will raise their voice against that.
BOB GARFIELD:Your organization issued this appeal to both the United States and Iraq. Have you gotten any reaction so far? Unfortunately we have not received the reaction so far, and I'm sorry to say that we don't necessarily expect one either.
BOB GARFIELD: Has any appeal by IFJ on behalf of journalists during wartime gotten any kind of response, either stated or implicit?
SARAH DE JONG:Absolutely. We had a very interesting exchange during the '99 bombing of Belgrade by NATO where we had absolutely demanded do not target the national broadcaster which is Radio Television Serbia, and we got some sort of guarantee from the NATO secretary general who at the time was Javier Solana you know saying "Oh, don't worry about it; we don't intend to, you know, target it. It's not a target." And then they went ahead and did it anyway, and unfortunately the 16 media staff were killed during that bombing raid. We've seen also unfortunately in Afghanistan that apparently a stray missile had hit the Al Jazeera office in Kabul if you remember. We do not believe that it was an accident. We do see this as one of our most important goals, you know, to keep lobbying against that type of targeting. It's unjust. It should not be allowed under international law.
BOB GARFIELD: Sarah de Jong, thank you very much.
SARAH DE JONG: No problem. Take care.
BOB GARFIELD: Sarah de Jong is the human rights officer for the International Federation of Journalists. She spoke to us from Brussels.