Journalism is a responsibility that includes tons of ethical dilemmas and regulations. When it comes to the war, all the rules of the game change.
by Mariam Grigoryan
“Brutality, hopelessness, and honesty – that is the war to me,” says Ibrahim Naber, a chief reporter at “Welt” TV channel. Ibrahim has been covering the Russian-Ukrainian War from different spots in Ukraine and is about to return there soon. Being in conflict zones and talking to people helps the journalist understand the real situation and not be part of propaganda.
Why propaganda? The conflict has lots of sides and supporters, and journalists are in the middle of events. The information spread by them should be as accurate and trustworthy as the reality itself.
“The role of journalists is crucial for our society, and for a professional approach to their job, journalists’ rights are often violated in various situations. Even though the violence is not commented on, we can understand the purpose”, says Ibrahim, adding, “that is, not to let journalists report and make news about the events, which should not be known to society.”
“Welt” is being censored by the Russian government. Only a few journalists had access to news in Russia. It made the process problematic. No matter how much the governments talk and outline the importance of democracy: when it comes to media, every point is taken for granted. Journalists defend the opportunity of society to establish a democracy. Obviously, they are not solution makers, but, at least, a thorough coverage of events displaying the “reality” may have an impact.
“We should always have on our mind two main terms: freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” outlines Ibrahim. Those two elements are inseparable, and are the necessary rights for journalists. Thus, the limitations of media can be considered a hindering method. Without enough data, journalists cannot accomplish their mission. The breach of journalists’ rights to get information leads to the violation of the whole society’s right of receiving information.”
“…War changes a lot. The process of information delivery is different, as well.”
War is different from what we hear or imagine based on TV series. You sit at home and see soldiers who defend their homeland, people who lose their homes, and presidents who encourage their nations. Journalists experience more than they can tell. Talking to people from conflict zones and depicting their emotions can sometimes give you the feeling of using them. Lots of journalists are often concerned about that.
“The concern is much debated in the professional sphere. Well, you find a perfect character with a perfect story, and, at some point, you may have the thinking of “using” them. Here, there’s a big ‘but’: don’t we voice their problems and by voicing attempt to help them? If you answer ‘yes’ to this question, then you somehow end the debate,” “Welt” reporter clarifies.
War sets completely new rules of the game. Of course, operationality is a first necessity for a journalist, but in a wartime the priorities are different. Checking the accuracy of the information before publishing is the most critical thing to do. Due to restrictions of martial law, for example, journalists do not have a great deal of freedom to choose information sources and convey alternative news. This complicates things regarding the efficient performance of their duties.
“As I mentioned, the Russian government censored “Welt”, and quite often we didn’t have the chance to check the information from the other side as well. But, this doesn’t mean we published one-sided info. We checked, rechecked, went into each detail and, analyzed the information from the Russian media. Of course, there were media outlets, which published only pro-governmental news, and there were a few others whose information was relatively trustworthy,” says Ibrahim Naber.
There are cases when journalists are hinted at because of the military situation. They are to choose whether to report some events or not. Even in exceptional cases, journalists are guided by the principle of not harming the national security or military operations with their news.
“…And there are always personal stories to tell”
You are a person, and it doesn’t matter whether your job is to voice the problem or not. If something is touching, and emotional, you can’t resist. Ibrahim Naber
“…I had a task of shooting a documentary about people. And I decided to talk to the children. You know, only children can honestly answer your questions. I asked them how they felt and what they wanted – they wanted to return to their homes to live peacefully. Some of those children had their fathers on the front.
…I can speak Russian, not that fluently, but I at least can ask questions and understand a bit. I was going to have an interview with a woman. Thinking she wouldn’t understand English, I started talking in Russian. She cried and said that she didn’t want to use any word in Russian. Those Russians are now killing their compatriots. I stopped a moment and understood I didn’t have the right to answer in that language.”
And with hundreds of such stories, the main point still is dealing accurately with information.
A reminder for the Armenian reality: freedom of speech and the legal basis for journalists
The number of acts of violence against media and journalists has increased during the last years. Physical violence and threats, as well as censorship, are the typical ways of obstruction. The aim of these actions is to make the media silent, which is nothing more than a limitation to the freedom of speech.
According to Article 42.1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, (Freedom of Expression of Opinion) everyone shall have the right to freely express his or her opinion. This right includes freedom to hold one’s own opinion, as well as to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas through any media, without the interference of state or local self-government bodies and regardless of state frontiers. And the freedom of the press, radio, television and other means of information shall be guaranteed.
Legal norms are established to defend the rights of journalists during their work. Freedom of Speech is one of the indispensable rights for all, acknowledged by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the case of Armenia, the RA Constitution, the RA Laws on “Freedom of Information” and “On Mass Communication” should be added to the list.
In the 20th century the freedom of expression and freedom of speech were declared as key principles of a democratic society. In accordance with the Article 10 of the European Convention on Human rights, Freedom of Speech or Press should not be limited.
ARTICLE 10. Freedom of Expression
- Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
- The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Armenia joined the European Convention in 2002, and since then has been committed to abiding by its provisions.
Instead of a conclusion
Information is a tool journalists should use with strict accuracy, yet getting access to information may quite often be challenging. And in many cases, war is such a challenge. However, if you cover conflicts, there are ‘must’ rules to follow.
Ibrahim Naber provides some key tips for getting ready for conflict reporting.
“It is not easy to decide that you should cover a war as nobody guarantees your safety. However, the only word I would use is ‘to check’:
- before going to a place, check all the information and dig into interesting points;
- read about the conflict: I want to underline this point;
- check your professional equipment and have additional batteries;
- when getting to the spot, try to understand the safety issues.”
This article was published within the frames of “Correspondents in Conflict” Project,
implemented by Yerevan Press Club and Deutsche Gesellschaft e. V. The Project is
funded by the German Federal Foreign Office within the “Eastern Partnership Program”.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the implementing partners and can in
no way be taken to reflect the views of the Federal Foreign Office. #civilsocietycooperation
Mariam Grigoryan is a freelance journalist who obtained her master’s degree at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA). She has worked at “Journalists for Future” media organization of and wrote articles for “Ampop.am” media platform. At the same time, she shoots documentaries for the Georgian “Chai-Khana” media outlet and also writes articles and interviews for Polish “Outride.rs”. Her works mainly cover human rights issues and conflict related topics.