805 journalists have been murdered worldwide since 1992, 695 of these journalists were killed with impunity. Despite these high numbers of journalist murders, governments do not take action; this is one of the most significant threats to press freedom today. This background report will go into detail about the importance of war correspondents and what the future looks like for frontline freelancers.
Fisk (2008, p. 1) mentions the notion that war is a paradox for journalists. To journalists around the world, the mass violence of war can be fascinating. It’s dramatic, interesting and addictive at times. Journalism can be a hazardous profession. During 2001 alone, 100 journalists were killed, and many hundreds imprisoned and maltreated (Feinstein, Owen and Blair, 2002). It’s clear that war is dangerous, our troops receive months and even years of training to ensure they are ready before being sent into a war zone. The neutral space in which journalists can operate as independent witnesses has been shrinking for some time (Mahoney, 2015). Journalists are now targets, and this became evident after the beheadings in 2014 of U.S. freelancers James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Peter Rekers (personal communication, November 5, 2017) from Crisis Ready an organisation that helps businesses prepare, respond and recover in crisis and disaster events said while overseas in war zones he worked with journalists “[who] were certainly badly prepared.” Freelancers are the most vulnerable on the front line as they do not always have access to security guards or safe housing. Organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues (RISC) train journalists on how to protect themselves in dangerous situations.
Freelance photojournalist, Amanda Mustard, told Goodman (2014) that RISC gave her the confidence and basic knowledge of how to sustain someone who is injured until proper medical care is available.
“It was an incredibly empowering course, and I’ve had a few low-key experiences where I’ve been able to put the knowledge to use, but not directly in conflict (yet).
“I refused to cover any event after sunset … during the daylight, I always worked with either a male colleague or had a trusted friend come and keep an eye on me”.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (United Nations, 2017). The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013. Figure 1 shows that since this time 213 journalists have been killed with motives confirmed (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2017).
In a recent conversation with Brook (2017) Latvian-Australian journalist and correspondent, Peter Greste, discussed the links between the truth and safety of journalism.
“I think the two are connected … if you want to kill the truth, kill the journalist.
“I am aware there is a risk here, and we do everything we can to reduce the risk … [but] I’m a journalist. This is what I do”.
In a tweet from Greste (2017), he said: “#Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists”. He finished this with the hashtag free Turkey media. As per figure 2, in the last 25 years, Turkey has only seen 1 case out of 22 be given full justice whereas 16 other cases had complete impunity.
As Franklin (2014) discusses, journalism has seen this world win of change in recent years, “this is undoubtedly a significant time in the history of production, reporting and reception of news”. The changes in media pave the way for freelance journalists, Fisher, for example, describes freelancing as the land of opportunity (personal communication, October 30, 2017). With the rise of technology, mobile devices can be used to access social media reports, news sources and interact with people on various platforms. The way people consume news changes every year. Media platforms such as Twitter which is seen to be a journalism hub is used as a means of communication and disseminating news from countries where communication is restricted or blocked. Papacharissi and de Fatima Oliveira (2012, p. 267) highlight that during the Egyptian protests in 2011 “access to mainstream media was variably blocked, as foreign and native journalists were intimidated”. This is where Twitter came in as content creators, or the journalists over in the conflict areas “provided a continuous stream of events in real time throughout the crisis” (Papacharissi and de Fatima Oliveira, 2012, p. 266). The findings from the News and Media Research Centre’s report (2017) show that 39 per cent of respondents use Facebook to get their news, with 15 per cent accessing YouTube. This opens up a whole new world of posting online for freelance journalists, especially those reporting from war zones. There is an increase in postings by journalists to these platforms, and it’s this growth that sees the dissemination of war more relevant. However, although these numbers are excellent, the 2017 results showed an eight per cent drop in social media use in comparison to the 2016 report (News and Media Research Centre’s report, 2016). This change relates back to the trust consumers have towards the news they consume as well as the interest they have in viewing the story on their phones and tablets. An increased number of 48 per cent said they trust the news they consume, with 33 per cent saying they neither trust nor distrust the news they use. Professor C. Fisher’s (personal communication, October 30, 2017) response to the fall in trust outlined in the report noted that the increase in distrust didn’t surprise her at all, here’s what else she has to say in this regard.
Digital media consumption is now part of every waking moment of our days, and it’s a commodity that will only continue to grow. There’s no objection that journalism threats passed to those on the frontline started after the 9/11 attacks in the United States of America (USA). These threats have only continued to increase and disseminate with the growth of technology. Civil wars are raging around the world, and we rely on foreign correspondents to keep us informed. However, it’s these seasoned journalists that are leaving war zones as the warring parties threaten them with abduction or death (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2017).
In 2015, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opened a memorial dedicated to the war correspondents at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. This monument paves the way for journalistic recognition, for not only past wars, but current and future ones also. To date, 26 Australian correspondents have lost their lives reporting in conflict zones. During the unveiling, Mr Turnbull said the memorial stood for “courage in the face of death and courage in the face of physical threat”.
Image: A memorial to Australian war correspondents at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, who is also a member of the Board of the C.E.W. Bean Foundation, said the new memorial was an important addition to the Memorial’s grounds (Australian War Memorial, 2015)
“This war correspondents memorial recognises the vital contribution made by generations of journalists, photographers, artists, camera crews, and film-makers to deliver to the Australian people a clear and accurate account of their country’s contributions to conflict around the world”.
Image: A memorial to Australian war correspondents at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and surrounds.
However, is it necessary in this day and age that journalists are still facing these threats to safety and life? I spoke with Rebecca Murray, a freelance journalist and researcher focused mostly on the Middle East and Africa recently, here was what she had to say.
Murray went on to explain the challenges faced when journalists transitioned home after spending so much time overseas in war zones.
“War correspondence, war journalism, is just an overrated profession … it doesn’t have to be pleasant. It is certainly necessary; I wouldn’t argue against that. It’s totally necessary and vital but not pleasant, it’s not good for you, and it’s rarely going to align with any sense that much out there is working,” Christopher Chivers a retired frontline freelancer said to Tsalikia (2016).
The evidence shows that there is a secure future for frontline freelance journalists. However, this chosen career path will come with its difficulties as well as its triumphs. There are very few countries, if any, in the Middle East and Africa that journalists can just walk into however this doesn’t mean that there won’t be journalists on the ground defying odds to get a story like no other. Freelance journalists on the frontline or just back from it like Rebecca Murray have a passion and love for their jobs that should be admired. Although journalists are under attack and xenophobia is more relevant today than ever before there will be a stable and ever-changing future for frontline freelancers.
Image: Australian Army personnel awaiting the start of the last post ceremony at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.