When Journalists Report Dangerous Places: An Updated Version of a Journalist's Security Handbook Offers Background and Advice

Nieman Reports, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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When Journalists Report Dangerous Places: An Updated Version of a Journalist's Security Handbook Offers Background and Advice


In October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released an updated version of its guide to reporting on war and in other situations in which journalists' lives can be threatened. The handbook is called "On Assignment: A Guide to Reporting in Dangerous Situations," and what follows are excerpts taken from its various sections.

Part I: Introduction

"In the early months of 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was abducted and executed by his captors while pursuing a story about Islamic militants in Pakistan. The kidnapping--which came only weeks after eight reporters were killed covering the conflict in Afghanistan and a little more than one year before 11 journalists died covering the war in Iraq between March 19 and April 9, when Baghdad fell--was a terrible reminder for journalists around the world of their vulnerability.

"In the aftermath of Pearl's murder, veteran journalists--including the most seasoned war correspondents--began examining their own routines: Could they suffer Pearl's fate? What can they and their media organizations do to make their work safer? How should they respond in an emergency? Are there new security issues for those reporting on terrorism, as Daniel Pearl was, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks ...?"

From Part II: Who is at Risk?

"Recent fatalities in Iraq illustrate the dangers faced by war correspondents. But the hazards of war coverage are not limited to combat. During and after the three weeks of fighting in Iraq, several journalists died from either medical conditions that proved fatal in the field or from road accidents.... But even all the risks of reporting in a conflict zone comprise only a small part of the risks journalists face worldwide. In fact, for every journalist killed in crossfire, three are targeted for murder. Between 1993 and 2002, CPJ research indicates that 366 journalists have been killed while conducting their work; of that total, 60 journalists, or 16 percent, died in crossfire, while 277 journalists, or 76 percent, were murdered in reprisal for their reporting. The remaining journalists were killed on the job in other situations, such as violent street demonstrations."

From Part IV: Reporting in Hostile Areas: Minimizing Risks

"Journalists covering conflicts should never carry arms or travel with other journalists who carry weapons. Doing so jeopardizes a journalist's status as a neutral observer and can make combatants view correspondents as legitimate military targets.... In some particularly dangerous conflicts, journalists have hired armed guards. The practice first became widespread among television crews and reporters covering Somalia in the early 1990's after journalists traveling without armed guards were robbed at gunpoint. Journalists who use armed guards, however, should recognize that they may be jeopardizing their status as neutral observers. For example, CNN crews used armed guards in northern Iraq in 2003. On one occasion, unidentified attackers shot CNN's vehicle, which was clearly marked with 'Press,' and CNN's hired guard returned fire. The gunmen continued to shoot the vehicle as it turned around and drove away. CNN International president, Chris Cramer, defended the network's use of armed guards as necessary to protect CNN personnel in Iraq. Robert Menard, secretary-general of the Paris-based press freedom watchdog group Reporters san Frontieres, however, criticized CNN, saying that the practice 'risks endangering all other reporters.

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