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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 13:03 GMT
Journalists' safety is top priority
By Peter Feuilherade
BBC Monitoring

In war zones and conflict areas across four continents, the number of journalists and media assistants killed has shot up in recent years.

In response, a "safety industry" has developed, with global newsgatherers and specialist training and counselling services all working together more systematically.

Most were deliberately targeted for seeking out the truth. And in 94% of cases, no one has been brought to trial
Chris Cramer
Insi honorary president
At the recent News Xchange broadcasting conference in Portugal, several sessions focused on the latest initiatives to protect staff and freelance journalists, in the field and back at base.

More than 100 journalists and support staff have died around the world this year, almost 20 more than in 2003.

The conflict in Iraq alone has claimed some 60 lives since March 2003.

Chris Cramer of the US network CNN is honorary president of the International News Safety Institute (Insi).

He told hundreds of TV executives and journalists at News Xchange: "The death toll is three times higher than that of international humanitarian workers... This has been arguably the most terrible year for our profession - after I sat here and told you last year it had been the most terrible year."

Media vs military

By some counts, more than 1,200 journalists and media workers have been killed in the past 10 years, more than two thirds dying in their own countries.

"Most were deliberately targeted for seeking out the truth. And in more than 94% of those cases, no one has been brought to trial," Chris Cramer recalled.

Mazen Tumeisi being hit by shrapnel from the explosion of a Bradley fighting vehicle
Journalist Mazen Tumeisi - killed by US missiles in September
Insi, based in Brussels and founded just a year ago, is a non-governmental organisation that brings together news providers, journalist support groups and humanitarian bodies with the common goal of promoting the safety of media around the world.

It is involved in talks on journalists' safety with the British Ministry of Defence, Nato and the Israeli army, as well as Reuters-sponsored talks with the Pentagon.

The media and the military "are separated by a large and at times fatal gulf of mutual misunderstanding", said Insi Director Rodney Pinder.

Other speakers at News Xchange noted that journalists and their assistants were equally under threat from armed groups and criminals.

In Iraq, one group had posted this threat on the internet against media they regarded as not being neutral enough:

"We swear to God that we will hunt all the workers in these news agencies and slaughter them like sheep if they stand beside the Americans and do not broadcast the truth about the number of soldiers killed in Iraq."

Safety first

A number of specialist companies operate hazardous environment courses for media working in conflict areas.

Typically, these cost more than $3,500 for a week-long course, putting them beyond the budget of freelancers unless they can raise funding.

Bassam Masoud, Reuters cameraman, inured after explosion in Rafah, Gaza Stri
Media workers have been increasingly in the front line
Vaughan Smith, who set up the independent freelance TV news agency Frontline Television News in London in 1989, believes hostile environment training is more essential than ever and safety policy needs to be better implemented.

"According to the best available statistics, it has been more dangerous since 11 September 2001 to be a journalist than to be a soldier or civilian in conflict," he wrote in a November 2004 discussion paper.

"Newsgathering is unaccustomed to this level of risk and is not properly organised to manage it."

Meanwhile, newsroom-based staff are being exposed to a mounting flood of graphic images of violence.

The BBC is among broadcasters who are moving fast to put in place support systems for cases where events and images cause their staff stress and trauma.

Meanwhile, freelancers now find themselves more in demand, but also face greater risks, as more news media find it increasingly difficult to persuade their staff to report from war zones and dangerous areas.

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