The morning after the director-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF in French) received the Dan David Prize at a ceremony in Tel Aviv, he accused Israel of war crimes.
“It is a war crime to target journalists because they are journalists,” Christophe Deloire told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “When Israel shot those journalists, it was intentional… The journalists could be clearly identified as journalists, with cameras and jackets and it could not be just by chance.”
Deloire was responding to a request for an explanation as to why his organization last week formally asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate what it regards as war crimes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinian journalists covering protests on the Gaza border since the launch of the “March of Return” on March 30, 2018.
RSF submitted its request to the ICC hours before the UN Security Council’s May 14 meeting.
“The Israeli authorities could not have been unaware of the presence of journalists among the civilian demonstrators, and therefore failed in the elementary duty of precaution and differentiation when targeting these protected persons with live rounds,” Deloire said in a statement that same day. “These deliberate and repeated violations of international humanitarian law constitute war crimes.While referring them to the International Criminal Court, RSF calls on the Israeli authorities to strictly respect international law.”
The RSF request came only months after a United Nations Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued a report claiming that IDF soldiers intentionally shot children, people with disabilities and journalists.
“The UN just confirmed what we already considered a fact,” Deloire told the Post.
He acknowledged that “Israelis surely face difficult circumstances, but there are lots of things that should be improved” when it comes to freedom of the press in Israel, he said.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Israel 88 out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, dropping it one slot from the year before. Deloire said that some Israelis criticize RSF, arguing that the Jewish state should be ranked higher.
But he said that if one compares Israel to other countries, “I am sure it does not happen in many countries that you have billboards with faces of journalists mentioning that they will not decide,” referring to a Likud campaign that ran ahead of the April 9 elections.
The campaign was against a number of journalists who have reported on criminal investigations involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He added that in many countries, journalists are not prevented from going beyond the border like Israeli journalists are forbidden from entering Gaza – “it is a limitation of freedom,” he said. “There is freedom in Israel… but editorial independence is not guaranteed.”
However, he noted that Israel ranks highest among its Middle East neighbors, and that there is a global decline in press freedoms.
The 2019 report found that there are more incidents of hatred of journalists degenerating into violence, that the number of countries regarded as safe for journalists is on the decline and that authoritarian regimes have tightened their grip on the media. Only 24% of the countries analyzed are classified as “good” when it comes to freedom of the press, a decline from the prior year’s 26%.
Moreover, Deloire said, technology and social media have changed the role of journalists in the modern era. Today, he said, “the guys who create the norms and pass the laws regarding communication are not parliaments with checks and balances, they are the people who manage the code – they manage the public square.”
He said the Internet era has obliterated some of the safeguards that existed in democracies of the past.
He noted that in times of war and peace, stakeholders had to go through journalists if they wanted to deliver their messages to the public.
Now, “everyone – government, private firms, extremist religious groups or individuals – [can send] comments directly to the public.
“Journalists should be trusted third parties,” he continued. “It helps for the news to be trustworthy. But those filters are not accepted anymore. People like to express themselves directly.”
He said that this is why he believes his own organization has grown so much since its founding in the 1980s. Since he took the reins as director-general in 2012, RSF has expanded. It now has offices in 14 cities around the world and correspondents in 130 countries.
RSF, based in Paris and also known under its original name Reporters Sans Frontières, won the $1 million Dan David Prize in the category of “defending democracy.” In a release, the prize said that RSF “has emerged over the years as one of the leading voices defending journalistic freedom, independence and pluralism, especially by defending those who embody these ideals. RSF monitors government media policies and helps sustain journalists and newspapers under attack.”
The prize is named after the late Dan David, an international businessman and philanthropist. Laureates donate 10% of their award money to scholarships for graduates or post-graduate researchers in their respective fields.