Security and Safety Issues for Media Workers, part I

Security and Safety Issues for Media Workers, part I

Sebastián Aguirre presents about security and safety issues in Mexico during the 2014 Awards Days. April 2014 © Bas de Meijer / Hollandse Hoogte

More than 600 journalists have been killed while working over the past ten years. Aidan Sullivan of Getty Images hosted a discussion on safety and security for media workers. This article will cover the issues discussed.

The figures are shocking. More than 70 journalists killed in 2013 alone, already 14 more in 2014, with hundreds more assaulted, imprisoned or kidnapped.

“Journalists have become targets, and the consequences of this are dire,” said Sullivan. “If the risks and costs become too high, large media organizations will no longer send journalists to cover volatile situations.” News could become difficult to verify, information subject to control by interested parties.

That these attacks are carried out with 90 percent impunity for the perpetrators raises further questions. Sebastián Aguirre, of the human-rights organization Article 19, gave as an example the situation in Mexico, where—with assaults on journalists happening every 26.5 hours—occurrences are no longer news. Well over half of the perpetrators are public servants, very often the police. “This means that those who are responsible for protecting freedom of expression in Mexico, are the main perpetrators. What’s more difficult is that they are the people we have to turn to for justice,” he said. Aguire pointed to an absolute absence of political will to tackle the situation—not a cent of a US$20 million budget granted for a government ‘protection mechanism’ in 2012 has been spent.

Aguire and Sullivan agreed that impunity for perpetrators sends out the message to journalists that ‘this will happen to you’. So when a journalist is murdered, not just one person is silenced, but potentially hundreds more.

But the issue is not only one of lack of political will and corruption. The industry itself has a lot to answer for. “The situation for photojournalists is becoming tougher and tougher, and freelancers are taking more and more risks,” said photographer William Daniels. “Editors say ‘don’t take the risk’, but they want the pictures, so we end up doing it, even though we don’t want to.” Francis Kohn, director of AFP, agreed that media organizations ought to act with greater responsibility. AFP makes clear—in advance—that it will not accept images from situations it has assessed as too dangerous.

And security issues extend beyond immediate physical danger. Discussion also focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A murder, kidnapping or assault can impact psychologically not only the journalist, but family and colleagues, as well, and needs to be addressed.

Kohn pointed out that many members of the public—even some politicians—took the attitude that danger was ‘part of a journalist’s job’, or that ‘they shouldn’t be there in the first place’. There is a need to communicate broadly just what journalism is doing for society at large. “Our industry is just not doing enough to address security, perhaps feeling they will be accused of bias for reporting on our own issues,” said Sullivan. “But if any other industry had such large numbers murdered, there would be an enormous campaign.”