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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Journalists and International Law

Just Journalism, the relatively new and excellent organization that looks at media bias in UK media, hosted a fascinating roundtable discussion in August on the topic of how international law is described in the media. The summary of that discussion is now available as a PDF document. Here are the conclusions:

Conclusions

Whilst a broad set of views were represented at the cross-disciplinary roundtable, Just Journalism has extracted some key observations with the aim that these will be further debated by journalists, the public and all interested parties:

The politicisation of international law by parties to conflicts and their supporters is inadequately addressed by journalists. Allegations of disproportionality against Israel or genocide against Sri Lanka and other states can be politically motivated and inaccurate.

Many principles of international law are heavily contested but are often not presented to news audiences as such. News audiences need to be informed about the various interpretations of these terms in order to be aware of differing claims.

The liberal view of international law as a protector against human rights violations prevails in the public consciousness and is perpetuated in the media. In fact, international law often legitimises conflict as well as limiting it.

Most journalists reporting accusations of breaches of international law are themselves not lawyers, making it difficult to adjudicate between competing legal claims or to appropriately position them.

Journalists must strike a balance between providing detail on the complex legal concepts they refer to, and ensuring their reports remain accessible to their audiences. There is a lack of consensus on the right way to strike this balance at present and this needs further discussion.
The document is worth reading in its entirety, and it is especially relevant in the wake of the Goldstone report with its own shoddy interpretations of international law and highly politicized and questionable assumptions about the legal statuses of Gaza, Hamas, the Hamas police and the Al Qassam Brigades.