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. This week the families of 16 civilians killed by NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbian State Television were told that they would not have their day in court! The European Court of Human Rights holds that attacks on broadcast stations are not legal unless those stations are engaged in military operations, but Yugoslavia had not signed on to those human rights conventions and so was not covered under them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:More recently American forces have bombed Taliban radio facilities, and just over a week ago the Israeli military took out the Voice of Palestine. Human rights and journalism groups are concerned about the targeting of media outlets. Even under the European law, they say, military chiefs tend to blur the distinction between what may be an ugly but legal arm of propaganda and what is a legitimate military target. Joining us now is Marc Regev, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C. Welcome to the show.
MARC REGEV: Thank you very much for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We'll just start from the beginning. Why did the Israeli military destroy the Palestinian radio station the Voice of Palestine?
MARC REGEV: The strike against the Voice of Palestine was part of a, a surgical strike against infrastructure targets that have been-- part of a terrorist network that, that has been attacking Israel.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Radio and television stations are considered civilian facilities under international humanitarian law. Hasn't Israel violated those laws by destroying the station?
MARC REGEV: We're talking about the propaganda vehicle for an autocratic regime, and I'm not sure the United States acted very differently in its war against the Taliban or, or in its war against Milosevic in Serbia. If you have a broadcast which calls on Palestinians to go into Israeli streets and to indiscriminately target innocent civilians, and that is an ongoing effort; if you have the praising of terrorism and this is in the framework of an ongoing terrorist campaign, just as we go after people who encourage the terrorists, who recruit them, who train them, surely we have a right of self defense. We're not talking about political propaganda here. This station has specifically and over a-- extended period of time called on Palestinians to become suicide bombers!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Critics of the Israeli action against VOP say that attacks like the one on the facilities place all journalists covering wars at risk by undermining their immunity as civilians. How do you respond to that?
MARC REGEV: That's completely-- untrue. The Israeli law and the clear instructions of the Israeli Army is to do everything to safeguard the lives of journalists who are trying to cover the conflict and, and I would point out that in our surgical strikes we make a maximum effort to avoid any sort of collateral damage with innocent people being killed. In the attack on the Voice of Palestine radio station it was a surgical strike. I don't believe there was a single civilian casualty.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mr. Regev, thank you very much.
MARC REGEV: My pleasure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Marc Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, and we're joined now by Joel Simon, the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Back in January of this year he wrote an article entitled Should a Broadcast Station Be a Military Target. And welcome to the show.
JOEL SIMON: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We just spoke to Mr. Regev who said that the destruction of the Voice of Palestine facility by the Israeli military was justified because it was inciting violence and terrorism and was part of a larger terrorist war against Israel. What's the committee's position on that?
JOEL SIMON: The Geneva Conventions are quite clear, at least in our view, that journalists are civilians and broadcast facilities are civilian objects. That means they cannot be targeted. They could potentially become a military object if they're used for military purposes. but our analysis of Voice of Palestine broadcasts, of the kinds of things they're putting on the air, don't give any suggestion that the station is serving a military function, and therefore we believe it's not a legitimate target and the, the destruction of the station is not justified.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Well Mr. Regev also said that the attack on the VOP was no different than NATO's bombing of radio and television in Serbia in 1999.
JOEL SIMON: Well, that was a very controversial decision by the U.S. government -- it wasn't the U.S. government in fact, it was NATO forces, to target radio and television in Serbia, and that Cruise missile that destroyed the station also killed 16 people. We expressed the same concerns at that time, and if you'll recall that at the time that the bombing took place the-- NATO justified it by saying that what was being put on the air was propaganda, and they didn't even use the term military purposes. Later on, after the bombing and after some criticism NATO officials later explained that they targeted the station because it was part of military command and control. But the reasons for that attack have never been clarified. We are continuing to request that they be clarified because what's at stake here is really important. If a military commander can, on a unilateral basis, make a determination that an enemy broadcaster is propaganda, then they can go ahead and attack it, and what's to prevent--an enemy from making that determination about CNN or Fox News and declaring those stations military targets?
BROOKE GLADSTONE:During the crisis in Rwanda in the mid-90s, a broadcast station was used to incite horrific acts of violence. Under existing law could the station have been a target?
JOEL SIMON: I, I believe it could. I mean because-- a British anti-censorship group produced a very detailed report on how the station was actually used to coordinate specific attacks by Hutu military against Tutsis. So it was --it formed a very specific function in terms of military communication. It may also have been used to relay commands to the militias. Based on that, it would lose its civilian immunity and be subject to attack. It was eventually attacked by Tutsi forces and, and that as far as I understand was legal.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Isn't it sometimes difficult to distinguish between what is just objectionable propaganda and what is a military tool?
JOEL SIMON:The Conventions do not lay out a specific definition of what a military function is, and that's a determination that has to be made by the military forces, so there is some debate. In my view, incitement, hate speech, propaganda -- objectionable speech of all kinds -- do not serve a military function.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
JOEL SIMON: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Joel Simon is the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.