"The bombing of Al-Manar is a clear demonstration that Israel has a policy of using violence to silence media it does not agree with," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "This action means media can become routine targets in every conflict. It is a strategy that spells catastrophe for press freedom and should never be endorsed by a government that calls itself democratic."
The IFJ says there has been an increase in the targeting of media since the 1999 NATO bombing in Belgrade of the Serbian broadcaster RTS, which killed 16 people. At the time, NATO said the station was a legitimate military target because it was a "propaganda mouthpiece" for the regime of Slobodan Milosevic regime. But the IFJ said there was no justification for the action under international law and warned the strike would set a precedent for attacks on media whenever a conflict breaks out.
These fears were confirmed in 2002 when Israel bombed the facilities of the Palestine radio and television broadcasting corporation in Gaza City and Ramallah, and when United States forces attacked the offices of the television network Al-Jazeera, first in Kabul during the war in Afghanistan and again in Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq when the network's offices were bombed killing the journalist Tareq Ayyoub. The IFJ says television has also been targeted in exchanges between India and Pakistan.
According to agency reports an Israeli helicopter fired a missile at the headquarters of Al-Manar in the Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik, wounding seven people, including a television employee. Israeli aircraft later attacked an Al-Manar transmission tower south of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, witnesses said.
Al-Manar, which is linked to Hezbollah, the political group whose armed wing is involved in violent attacks against Israel, is a controversial network whose broadcasts have been banned by some countries in the West, notably France.
"The concern here is that when one side decides to take out a media organisation because they regard its message as propaganda, then all media are at risk," said White. "In conflict situations, unarmed journalists cannot be treated as combatants, irrespective of their political affiliations."