NATO responds to CPJ, but questions remain unanswered

On August 4, CPJ wrote to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen requesting information about the July 30 attacks on broadcast facilities in Libya in which NATO aircraft destroyed three broadcast dishes. As we noted in our letter, CPJ is concerned any time a media outlet faces a military attack. Such attacks can only be justified under international humanitarian law if the facility is being used for military purposes or to incite violence against the civilian population.

We had quite a few questions for NATO. Had NATO carried out systematic monitoring of Libyan state television prior to the strike? If so, were there specific broadcasts or programs that NATO identified as intending to incite violence against civilians?

We received a reply on August 12, signed by Martin Howard, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations. In his letter, Howard explained that the attack was carried out not to destroy Libya’s TV network but rather to “neutralize the elements that were used to threaten the Libyan population.”

Howard noted that NATO carried out extensive monitoring of Libyan TV broadcasting and that throughout July Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi used the state broadcaster to make frequent calls for violence against the civilian population. But the letter lacks specifics. Exactly what did Qaddafi say and why, at a certain point, did NATO come to believe that his speeches represented an imminent threat?

In addition, it is unclear how NATO determined that the strike on three dishes would be sufficient to knock the broadcasters off the air. We received word from Libya that the broadcasters did remain on the air after the attack.

The answers to these questions are critical because of the precedent set by a military strike on a media facility. We would like to know the specific instances in which Qaddafi used the media to call for violence against the civilian population, and the specific language that he used. Moreover, we would like to know how NATO commanders assessed the likelihood that destroying three broadcast dishes would in fact achieve their objective, which was to prevent Qaddafi from communicating with the Libyan public.

CPJ Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz, who is based in Brussels, is following up with NATO headquarters to arrange a face-to-face meeting. We look forward to the ongoing discussion.

The full reply is here.