Page last updated at 19:31 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 20:31 UK

Reporting from the danger zones

The two burned out tankers in Kunduz, pictured on 5 September 2009, the day Farrell and Mr Munadi were abducted
Journalists are often targeted, some are caught in the crossfire

The kidnap of a reporter in Afghanistan - and the raid to free him that left an Afghan journalist, a British soldier and two civilians dead - has again highlighted the risks of covering the world's danger zones.

British-Irish citizen Stephen Farrell, who works for the New York Times, had travelled with Afghan colleague Sultan Munadi and a driver to Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, to investigate an air strike on two hijacked fuel tankers when he and Mr Munadi were kidnapped.

In the raid launched to rescue the men, Mr Munadi was shot and killed.

Mr Farrell was the second New York Times journalist to be kidnapped in Afghanistan in a year.

Indeed it was the second time the 46-year-old had been abducted - in 2004 he was kidnapped near the Iraqi city of Falluja while working for the UK Times newspaper.

Abduction remains a major threat to local and foreign journalists working in many parts of the world. Others are targeted and killed, some are simply caught in the crossfire. And many are injured and traumatised in the line of duty.

According to figures from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) more than 1,100 journalists and media staff have been killed while working in the past 12 years.

Some 52 journalists have been killed so far this year, says the International News Safety Institute.

Stephen Farrell
Stephen Farrell has been kidnapped twice

Reporters in the field will often combine some unilateral reporting with information gathered while "embedded" with military units.

But whichever method is used there are risks and constraints, says the BBC's Andrew North in Baghdad.

"Journalists have also been killed and injured during embeds," he says. "They are with troops and are therefore a target.

"Equally, unilateral journalists in Iraq have been killed by American forces."

There are many dangers. But kidnapping has become an increasing risk for journalists - both foreign and local - covering ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim countries.

"Unlike in many previous wars, any foreigner and anyone working with them can be a potential target," Andrew North adds.

"And local journalists are often at greatest risk of all."

Local clothes

Last month two Associated Press journalists embedded with the United States military were wounded in a roadside bombing. One of the men - photographer Emilio Morenatti - was so badly wounded his foot was amputated.

Freelance photojournalist Guy Smallman says such stories expose the myth that journalists reporting from conflict areas can find a safe haven from which to tell the story.

Many reports from colleagues who are embedded are "absolutely superb", he says, adding that he has been motivated to travel to Afghanistan four times in the past year to report on issues he believes other journalists are not covering.

He travels in taxis, bearded and wearing local clothes, arriving unannounced and without advance commissions from editors.

"Most of my stories are about life for ordinary Afghans, such as heroin addiction in Kabul or health and employment issues."

His travels, like those of all journalists, require a lot of thought about safety and security.

"I have made good contacts in some of the refugee camps. Sometimes when I visit the people say 'why didn't you tell us you were coming, we would have prepared some food for you?'

I think journalists take a very similar attitude to the soldiers - they accept the situation is a mess, but I wouldn't miss it for the world
Stephen Grey, freelance journalist

"But I can't be sure that everyone there is trustworthy. My rule is never have a pattern, don't tell people where you are going. I have had some very frightening experiences but I've been okay.

"The biggest danger in Afghanistan is criminality. Criminal gangs are making a killing out of rape, extortion and so on. They are snatching people and selling them on and obviously they are in touch with the Taliban and al-Qaeda."

Ernest Sagaga, spokesman for the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) - which represents thousands of reporters around the world - said Afghanistan was an increasingly dangerous place from which to report.

"We are now experiencing similar incidences against journalists in Afghanistan as we were seeing in Iraq," he said.

"Journalists are coming under attack. This can either be deliberate or due to their proximity to the conflict."

He said the IFJ had also seen an increase in intimidation, particularly with local journalists coming under more pressure to toe the official line.

"This intimidation can spill over into violence," he added.

'Rewarding job'

Freelance Stephen Grey is another journalist who has reported from Afghanistan, in both Helmand Province and Kabul.

Mr Grey, 41, from London, said despite the danger, one of the biggest problems he faced as a journalist was reduced access.

"This is very much a rural insurgency with no particular front line," he said.

"That means there is no safe vantage point from which to observe and report on the war.

"Journalists are obviously aware of the dangers and everyone copes in their own way."

Mr Grey said he had endured several difficult moments while reporting from the country including hiding in a ditch while shots passed over his head.

But he added: "It is rewarding. It's an important job and someone has to do it.

"I think journalists take a very similar attitude to the soldiers. They accept the situation is a mess, but I wouldn't miss it for the world."



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SEE ALSO
Kidnap reporter 'fearless and dedicated'
09 Sep 09 |  South Asia
Journalists' safety is top priority
26 Nov 04 |  Middle East
UK journalist 'kidnapped' in Iraq
08 Apr 04 |  Middle East
Alan Johnston: My kidnap ordeal
25 Oct 07 |  From Our Own Correspondent

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