International protection of journalists: Practice and prospects

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations


Michael Barkun


humanitarian law

Subject Categories

International Law | International Relations


Journalists on professional missions are often mistreated by hostile political/military authorities. Mistreatment takes many forms, including censorship, denial of access to sources of information, restrictions on movement, physical attack, torture, and even murder. This dissertation is concerned with the issue of international protection of journalists. First, I develop a typology of measures against journalists, and provide data on such measures. Second, I examine international efforts to protect journalists at the League of Nations, the UN, UNESCO, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, by international non-governmental organizations, and through the mechanisms of international humanitarian law. Finally, I provide an assessment of the current international legal regime as it affects journalists and conclude that the international community has not provided significant protection for journalists. I identify six sets of tensions which remain unresolved, preventing a solution to the problem of journalists precariously covering the globe. I also discuss the prospects of resolving these tensions in the light of the ongoing transformation in the international socio-political system. The sets of tensions are: (1) Tension over the free flow of information doctrine between the Western (liberal) and the Non-Western (the communist, and the developing) countries. (2) Disagreement over the desirability of according a special status to journalists. (3) Dissension among journalists and press organizations themselves over the many facets of the problem. (4) Resistance by the state to the human rights movement as encroaching upon their sovereign prerogatives. (5) Tension in a democratic society between the authority of the government, and the liberal idea of freedom of the press. (6) In the case of some countries, intractable conflict between international law and domestic law.


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