Speaking of the First Amendment, the Pentagon last week took the sensible step of revising its policies to ensure that journalists covering conflicts won’t be subject to military discipline if they upset the Defense Department.
A 2015 Law of War manual noted that while journalists are usually “civilians,” they may also be considered “members of the armed forces, persons authorized to accompany the armed forces, or unprivileged belligerents.” Those whom the military tags with the latter designation may be subjected to certain restrictions or even detention.
The Associated Press and other news organizations expressed dismay that commanders might interpret the provision to allow them to hold reporters without charges for perceived offenses.
Upon being informed of the concerns, Defense Department lawyers clarified the language.
“The manual was restructured to make it more clear and up front that journalists are civilians and are to be protected as such,” a Pentagon attorney said last week.
British correspondent Marie Colvin lost her life in 2012 covering the Syrian civil war. A year earlier, she offered the following during a speech to commemorate the deaths of journalists killed during conflicts.
“We go to remote war zones to report what is happening,” she said. “The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history.”
The Pentagon got it right.