Dying to tell the story: Safety of journalists in conflict

Journalists in all regions face an elevated risk of violence while covering areas of conflict, disaster and demonstrations. Further action is needed to ensure their physical safety and to ensure acts of violence targeted at them are investigated and punished.

This was one of the conclusions of a panel discussion held at the United Nations in New York on 15 August 2012 on the margins of the launch of the World Press Photo 2012 world tour. The UN Human Rights Office, eminent photojournalists and media personnel participated in the event.

David Marshall of the UN Human Rights Office commented that the issue is less about the lack of legal protection, of which there was a bevy of international instruments protecting journalists, than the actual implementation by States of the relevant conventions. He recalled that the UN has a responsibility to support States and fill the “chronic knowledge gap” around the relevant legal instruments relating to the human rights protection of civilians, including journalists undertaking difficult work in dangerous environments, as well as the need for more advocacy on the critical and legitimate role journalists play in a functioning democracy.

The photojournalists present each spoke about their respective experiences in the field. After sharing the story of her two kidnappings, one in Iraq and the second in Afghanistan, Lynsey Addario who is a freelance photographer for the New York Times and Time Magazine, said that she has always been driven by a sense of responsibility. Aidan Sullivan, vice president of photo assignments at Getty Images, spoke of the moral obligations linked to conflict photojournalism and the risk experienced by the photojournalists as primary witnesses on the ground.

According to the International News Safety Institute, the first half of 2012 alone saw at least 66 journalists and media staff killed and many more injured.

All panelists agreed on the necessity to enhance preventive measures preceding deployment to conflict areas. Such measures might include research on the socio-political situation on the ground, contacting local journalists and undergoing mental and physical training to endure harsh living conditions.

The exhibit at the United Nations headquarters in New York runs from August 15 to September 9. The panel discussion was sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York.

17 August 2012

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