Journalism and Reports from Hostile Environments

It is the nature of Journalism that some will choose to work from incredibly dangerous locations. It is important that we continue to facilitate the travel to and work from these locations, as reporters working in dangerous locations give us insights into the events occurring around the world. Reporting from these locations is very brave and is important in order to raise awareness among the public of things happening in other countries. However, the dangers inherent to these locations means that anyone choosing to travel to or work in these areas has to be protected and must prepare for the threats they will face.

Far too few are doing this though, and there are a number of people working in very dangerous environments without the proper protection. There are a number of reasons for this, for example an increasing pressure among younger and less experienced reporters. It is only in recent years that organisations have begun to discourage freelance reporters from working in active war zones. After the tragic death of James Foley in Syria some News Corporations released statements declaring that they would no longer accept any freelance work from areas “where we ourselves would not venture”.

However, there are still too many organisations that offer no such guarantees, and continue to accept and even encourage work from dangerous locations across the globe. Journalists that choose to pursue these offers should not be blamed, and it is important that the events and issues occurring in these areas are reported on. Instead, the blame should be placed with organisations that continue to encourage reporters to work from these areas without taking proper precautions. Indeed, even key figures in the field of Journalism have commented on the lack of preparation among reporters; Terry Anderson, the Associated Press’ Chief Middle East Correspondent during the 1980s who spent 6 years as a hostage in Lebanon has noted that there are an increasing number of younger individuals not taking the proper precautions. He does not advise that they avoid these dangerous locations however, but warns that doing so without preparing accordingly is incredibly dangerous.

Of course it is difficult to generalize when discussing these ‘dangerous locations’, as the threats facing Journalists are widespread and not simply confined to active war zones. For example, the last year saw two separate attacks in Paris that ended in tragedy, and while only one of these incidents targeted Journalists specifically, both serve as an example of the dangers that can face reporters throughout the world. Looking further afield, we see how unstable political and economic regions can prove to be dangerous for Journalists. Russia has long had a lack of political freedom and is consistently criticized for its restrictions on free speech. However, the number of Journalists killed in Russia continues to rise; at least 34 Journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000. Compare this to China and the USA, which saw 2 and 3 Journalists killed in the same period respectively.

One of the main threats to Journalists comes from organised crime, particularly where it has infected the political structure and bred corruption. Areas that rank highly for crime and organised crime also suffer from high rates of killings among Journalists; Latin America and the Indian Subcontinent have continued to see an increase in the number of Journalists killed, and almost 50% of global killings of Journalists have occurred in these locations. Again, this does cover a number of countries and a wide geographical area. However, it is clear that it is not only active warzones or those areas typically seen as hostile towards Journalists that pose the biggest threat. Indeed, in the last 10 years only 36% of all Journalist killings occurred in active warzones.

This is not to say that active warzones are not dangerous, however, and per country Iraq and Syria are responsible for the most deaths among Journalists in the past 20 years. Awareness is perhaps the most important aspect for anyone considering reporting from these locations, as deaths among Journalists do not necessarily come intentionally. Crossfire is the biggest danger to Journalists operating in hostile environments, causing the deaths of 210 Journalists in the last 20 years; of those, 45% were killed in the last 5 years. Of course, Journalists are increasingly targeted by hostile parties for their strategic value, and terrorist groups in particular see the value of kidnapping and executing Journalists. For example, the Iraqi city of Mosul has seen 48 abductions and 13 executions of Journalists by Daesh in the last 18 months. Furthermore, in 2019 there were 54 Journalists held as hostages.

Protecting yourself in these environments is a difficult task, and for some it may be preferable to simply not travel to these areas. However, as noted, it is difficult to know exactly where a threat may come from, and there are a number of dangerous locations throughout the globe. Moreover, it is unreasonable to expect Journalists not to work from these places, and the work they do is invaluable to society. However, through proper preparation and awareness of the dangers an individual can keep him or herself safe. One simple step is to invest in a bullet proof vest, which can provide protection without too much effort. Indeed, the image of war correspondents in vests emblazoned with ‘PRESS’ is a common one. However, it has been argued that this actually distinguishes reporters as a target, and instead it may be worthwhile for Journalists to consider a covert bullet resistant vest.

Whatever the choice, the decision to travel to and work from dangerous locations throughout the world can only be undertaken by the individual. These decisions must reflect proper preparation and an awareness of the dangers, as well as the options available to prevent the worst from happening. It is important for us all to support these brave women and men and continue to provide information and protective options to help enable them to bring us important insights.

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