If you haven’t seen it yet, then make it a point to see The Guardian’s excellent piece on protection for journalists in conflict zones. It opens, “Modern conflict journalists face not only bullets and shells but also kidnap and execution. Fifty-two media professionals have been killed in the field this year alone”: facts that are supported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) an independent, non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom worldwide, that details all known cases of deaths of professional journalists.
In the wake of James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, debate is increasing across varied forums on whether media houses should be doing more to protect freelance journalists by paying a rate for their work that permits them to undergo the mandatory hostile environment training that their own staff reporters take as well as permit them to fund protective equipment and the level of travel medical insurance that is commensurate with the risks they undertake to report at the source of conflict areas.
In the same Guardian piece, Tina Carr, Director of The Rory Peck Trust, identifies the gulf of support that exists between staff reporters and independent journalists, “In a situation like a kidnap, who is out there for you? Who is handling the negotiations, who is sending in the rescue teams, who is actually working on your behalf? If you’re a freelancer then you pretty well fall into a black hole.”
The marketplace for conflict news is saturated by young and often inexperienced field reporters operating in risky areas who paradoxically take further risks to get the story, image or footage that funds the next day’s costs. As OBServations reported earlier this year, freelancers are encouraged to go into conflict zones with little more than a promise to review their content on a case-by-case basis: a fact that is not publicised when the images of beheadings are broadcast.
Increasingly the media world is diversifying through the changes that technology provides. The cost and access to equipment that delivers instantaneous coverage and the media forums are increasingly evolving away from the full ownership and bias of large, traditional media houses. In this new scenario, organisations such as RISC that place training and safety for the freelance journalist at the apex of their operation from private and public funding sources offer real solutions to conflict zone reporting.
With the paradigm change in what, where and how news reaches us, individuals are making small but important contributions through organisations like RISC to ensure their information is real, and real time.
Image: Alison Baskerville