Rodney Pinder was the founder of INSI and its director from 2003 to 2012. Previously he was a correspondent and editor for The AP then Reuters for 30 years. He covered conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Southern Africa, the Gulf and Asia and directed news operations on three continents.

The media safety expert: Rodney Pinder

The more things change, the more they stay the same. As far as journalists are concerned, people still are getting away with murder.

INSI asked me to review the years since we launched the organisation in 2003 and report back on what had changed on the global news safety landscape.

The answer: nothing much.

Some new threats have emerged and some old ones. Some danger zones have shifted or changed a bit.

But the big issue remains: journalists around the world are being targeted in undiminished numbers and their killers still get away with it thanks to the complicity or indifference of governments.

INSI was founded 12 years ago by a unique coalition of news organisations and press freedom groups out of concern at the rising number of news media casualties.

In his address to INSI’s first Annual Meeting on 5 November 2003, Honorary President Chris Cramer of CNN said it had been a crisis year.

“There have again been too many dead and injured … A total of 60 media people confirmed dead so far this year … So 2003 will go down as yet another dreadfully tragic year for the media industry, maybe the worst ever …”

My friend was wrong in only one respect: it was not the worst year ever, not even close.

According to INSI’s count, 117 died in 2004, 146 in 2005, 168 in 2006, 172 in 2007, 109 in 2008, 133 in 2009, 97 in 2010, 124 in 2011, 156 in 2012, 134 in 2013 and 105 last year.

All along this bloody road most casualties – more than 95 per cent – have not been international war correspondents, as one might have expected, but men and women working in their own countries in peace time and falling foul of criminals and corrupt politicians, businessmen and security forces.

All is not completely black, however. There have been some glimmers of hope in the safety landscape in the years since INSI was launched.

In 2006, largely at INSI’s urging, the UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists in conflict zones and urged an end to impunity for those who used deadly force against news men and women.

UNESCO then sparked a UN Plan of Action for journalist safety and on the issue of impunity, which was adopted in 2012.

In 2013 the UN General Assembly condemned all violence against media workers. It urged member states to do their utmost to bring perpetrators to justice.

INSIJournalists and students in Mexico City demonstrate on February 23, 2014 against the killing of journalists. AFP PHOTO/ALFREDO ESTRELLA

Journalists and their employers, helped by organisations such as INSI, have become more proficient at risk assessment and take fewer unwarranted risks in the field.

But alongside these significant advances the enemies of free reporting have become more ruthless and heedless of sanction. And many governments have simply failed to live up to the UN safety resolutions.

Over the past decade, wars where armies moved along set lines, governed by Geneva Conventions that protected journalists and other civilians, have largely been replaced by swirling conflicts dominated by non-state actors who couldn’t care less about rules of engagement or civilian casualties.

The status of detached, impartial observer, which so often protected journalists in the midst of conflict, has largely gone.

The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris hammered home the message: the enemies of free and independent journalism are prepared to strike anywhere at any time or place.

The shooting, bombing, throat slitting, beheading, kidnapping and torture have one aim: to eliminate the offending journalist and intimidate colleagues and friends into silence.

Which brings us to impunity, probably the greatest single element behind worldwide assaults on news media freedom.

It’s simple. If no one is held to account for the murder of a journalist the killing will continue

Blame for this lies squarely with governments and leaders who are either complicit in the killings or sit on their hands when fellow citizens are murdered simply for doing their job.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has published a global Impunity Index every year since 2008. It names and shames countries that tolerate the murder of journalists.

The index for 2013, the latest available, covers unresolved killings between January 2003 and December 2012 in 12 countries where at least five journalists were murdered. The survey does not cover journalists killed in combat.

Shockingly, 10 of the 12 countries named in the latest analysis have been on the index every year since it started: Iraq, Somalia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia and India. Only Nigeria, new to the list in 2013, and Brazil, which had a one-year absence, are exceptions, the CPJ said.

These are not rogue states. All are members of the United Nations. Russia is on the Security Council, which passed unanimously Resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists.

In 2009 at least 34 journalists were ambushed and murdered on their way to an election meeting in the Philippines. No one yet has been held to account.

The massacre - the worst in news media history - attracted scant world attention.

On the other hand, the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which killed 12 people, was top of the news schedules for days. It drew millions of people onto the streets of Europe in protest and united world leaders in condemnation. All pledged their allegiance to a free press.

Perhaps this stab at the heart of Europe will finally jolt governments and political leaders into real and lasting action - to walk the walk when they talk and talk.

On World Press Freedom Day 2003 - the day INSI was founded - UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura said: “Whenever one journalist is exposed to violence, intimidation or arbitrary detention because of his or her commitment to conveying the truth, all citizens are deprived of the right to express themselves and act according to their conscience ... We must declare war on impunity.”

Surely the time is now. The next decade cannot be a reflection of the last.

INSISyrian protestors light flares and sing songs during almost nightly demonstrations against the government in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of Aleppo on March 16, 2013. NICOLE TUNG

Salim Amin is the chairman of Camerapix and the co-founder and chairman of Africa24 Media. In 2012 Salim was named one of the 100 most influential Africans by New African Magazine. His weekly talk show The Scoop featuring African personalities from around the continent reaches a global audience of over 300 million people on television and online.

The journalist and news executive: Salim Amin

I remember when I covered my first conflict. I was just out of university and was sent to Mogadishu for the landing of the US Marines in what was the start of the optimistically named Operation Restore Hope. There were dozens of journalists on the pristine Somalia beach that December night waiting for this so-called “secret” landing.

The Marines came ashore and were greeted not by hostile Somali warlords but by the camera lights of every media organisation in the world. I had never heard the “F” word used so much against journalists. The Marines cursed and pushed and treated us like we were the enemy. It was the first time I realised that the days of journalists being treated with respect as independent observers, as messengers of the truth, was over.

I learned everything I know about journalism on the knee of my father, Mohamed Amin, who was one the greatest war photojournalists ever. I saw how he commanded respect in a war zone, how he moved effortlessly between frontlines and was given access to everyone who wanted their side of the story told.

But that was then. In Somalia I witnessed the death of my friends and colleagues at the hands of a blood-crazed mob of Somali women and children. These journalists were only at the scene to report for the Somalis, to record an unjust act by the US military which had bombed a house of innocent civilians, yet they were seen as being part of “the enemy” and were beaten to death.

In Rwanda a couple of years later, the local media was the biggest instrument used to encourage extremist Hutus to kill over a million Tutsis and Tutsi sympathisers.

In Kenya in 2008 the country was plunged into chaos following a disputed presidential election, and much of the violence was the result of local media taking a stand before the polls closed and stoking the tribal hatred after the results. The media eventually did get together to promote a message of peace and reconciliation, but their reputation was already in tatters.

Kenyan journalists went to the other extreme in the 2013 presidential elections, barely reporting on any incidents that could be deemed as inflammatory and engaging in massive self-censorship.

How journalists are regarded in conflict zones has changed as a result of all this. We are now seen as part of one side or the other rather than as independent and impartial observers.

And the role of media houses has also changed considerably which is directly affecting the lives of journalists on the ground. Many media houses are not independent. They cater to the views of their owners, their advertisers, their audience.
They are facing bigger budget restrictions than ever before and are therefore spending less money on ensuring the safety of their journalists in the field. The pressure of catering to a 24-hour news cycle, of constantly needing to update stories every few minutes for TV, online, print and radio desks, on the hour every hour, means less thought is being given to safety. Journalists no longer have the luxury of truly researching a story, the area they will be deployed to, the possible dangers and exit routes.

They are being sent into the field on their own to save costs meaning they no longer have an extra set of eyes to watch their backs.

We don’t think this is right and still insist on sending at minimum two-person crews into the field when we deploy around Africa for news stories. Even if the cameraperson is more than capable of doing their own sound, producing and asking questions, I still want another person so they can look out for each other.

I can’t understand why, in an era when journalists have become targets of killing and kidnapping, they are being sent into war zones on their own. The bottom line is money and the fact that we think if we give hostile environment courses this is enough. In my view, this is the biggest reason why more journalists have been killed in the last decade than at any other time in our history.

I don’t believe we will be able to change the way media houses cover news. Their biases and the sides they support are here to stay. But we have to somehow reduce the risk to journalists in the field otherwise we could lose a generation of hugely talented young journalists and, more importantly, never get the true stories told.

INSIKenyan journalists film near the Westgate mall in Nairobi on September 22, 2013 where soldiers remained in a standoff with Somali militants. AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA

Owais Aslam Ali is the secretary general of the Pakistan Press Foundation which has been monitoring attacks on the media for over two decades.

The media activist: Owais Aslam Ali

Over the last decade media in Pakistan have experienced a remarkable growth and transformation. Though there have been serious reversals in recent years, Pakistan continues to enjoy a vibrant, independent and fairly free media, and the advent of private TV channels since 2002 has revolutionised the media environment. Almost 100 private television channels are currently broadcasting, reaching a wide section of society.

However, the safety and security of media practitioners is one area where the situation has deteriorated markedly. Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and it has become difficult for media personnel to work in a secure atmosphere. Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades which has polarised society and destroyed people’s sense of security.

According to research by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) over 50 journalists have been targeted and murdered since 2002.

The threat to journalists has grown dramatically in the past decade with the alarming rise in militancy. The Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups have posed an ever greater threat to journalists – and to all citizens – since 2002 when, in the wake of 9/11, the government began to try to counter their rising power and influence.

Journalists are not only targeted by militants, however, but also by political, religious, ethnic and other pressure groups as well as the law enforcement agencies. For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence.

The increase in threats and violence, particularly in conflict areas, has forced many journalists to resort to self-censorship, relocate away from these danger zones or to leave the profession altogether. As a consequence, news reports from conflict areas are based on press releases, not on observations by independent journalists. Thus, new reports that are published or broadcast lack credibility and do not inform the public in an objective manner.

Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists are also clear evidence of the entrenched culture of impunity enjoyed by those who attack and murder journalists which has seriously undermined freedom of expression in the country. There have been convictions in only two of these murders of journalists, PPF research has shown.

Pakistan ranks in the top 10 of the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Other global media freedom watchdogs such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders share the same concerns on the deteriorating safety situation for the media in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, in 2014, the situation took another turn for the worse when the media became bitterly divided following the attempted murder of Hamid Mir, a popular television host of Geo News, Pakistan’s most viewed television channel.

The bickering between media groups overshadowed the terrible death toll that included the fatal shooting of Shan Dahar, a reporter from the Abb Takk TV channel, on the night of December 31, 2013 in Badh in the Larkana district of Sindh province. He was shot in the back and was taken to the hospital where he succumbed to his injuries in the early hours of January 1, 2014. On January 17, a targeted attack on the van of the Express Television channel killed three media workers. In March of that year, the driver of television anchor Raza Rumi was killed in a shooting on his car. On August 28, unidentified assailants barged into the offices of the Online news agency in Quetta, the capital of the restive Balochistan province, and murdered Irshad Mustoi, bureau chief, Abdul Rasool Khajjak, reporter, and accountant Muhammad Younas.

But there have been some positive developments.

In 2014, a Pakistani court convicted six defendants for their role in the murder of Wali Khan Babar, a Geo TV journalist who was shot dead in Karachi in January 2011. This was only the second time that courts had convicted murders of journalists, the other case being the conviction of the killers of Daniel Pearl, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal.

The creation of the Pakistan Coalition of Media Safety (PCOMS) has been another bright spot. PCOMS has been working to implement the UN Action Plan Against Impunity in Pakistan and has played an important role in bringing together multiple national and international organisations, including the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and leading non-media civil society organisations.

The Federal Minister of Information and Broadcasting Pervez Rasheed, who is a member of the steering committee of PCOMS, endorsed the UN Action Plan Against Impunity but so far very few concrete efforts have been made by the government to promote the safety of media professionals. Similarly, a much more proactive role by media organisations and professionals is essential for promoting safety and security of media professionals.

The safety of media cannot improve substantially if it remains predominantly an initiative of civil society organisations.

INSIA Pakistani photographer takes picture of burning tyres set alight by protesters on a street in Islamabad on November 5, 2007. AFP PHOTO/FAROOQ NAEEM

Stephanie Freid covers unfolding events in the Middle East, Africa and Europe for CCTV International. In recent years she has covered the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the war in Libya, Egypt’s uprising, the war in Syria, Ukraine’s upheaval, West Africa’s Ebola epidemic and the plight of Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey.

The war reporter: Stephanie L. Freid

“Aren’t you scared?” It’s what most new acquaintances ask when the subject of my profession arises.

Yes. I’m scared. Terrified. The cotton-mouth, on-the-verge-of-vomiting, mind-racing, heart pounding, praying to the powers-that-be, hitting the ground or running for cover kind of fear that leaves me in stunned silence after-the-fact and invades my dreams at night.

Still, I consider myself lucky. I’m passionate about my job. I love what I do. And I’ve never been injured, kidnapped, beaten up or held hostage.

I have been detained and questioned countless times by rebels, soldiers, officials, opposition forces and weekend warriors manning checkpoints who fail or refuse to activate weapon safeties. I’ve been caught in crossfire, held at gunpoint and threatened by gunmen in Eastern Ukraine, stranded in hostile terrain in Libya and trapped inside vehicles and buildings surrounded by angry mobs trying to beat their way in on the Turkey/Syria border and in Cairo.

It may seem counter-intuitive but covering conflict has not gotten easier with time, training or experience.

And I’m one of the “fortunates”. I’ve participated in hostile environment courses, combat first aid training, and I tap into numerous online conflict journalist forums where colleagues openly share concerns, pose questions and discuss technical and logistical challenges of covering specific war zones.

I also contract for a network with a relatively healthy budget. Yes, I am urged to cut costs on flights, accommodations and expenses. But if necessary, I can tap into the luxury of consulting security and intelligence experts on specific hostile areas, and I can elect to work with personal security detail - as was the case while covering the Libya uprising and Iraq.

I have a full set of protective gear – helmet and flak jacket with level IV plates, a gas mask with two filters and a strap-on medical kit containing tourniquets, coagulant powder, liquid adrenaline and hypodermic needles and bullet wound sealants.

Some freelance colleagues, not privy to those same benefits, worry constantly about budget as they shell out money from meager earnings to cover costs of accommodation, food, fixers and transport. Adding pressure to the already high stakes mix, competition drives decision-making.

We are all driven by different things. Altruism, a driving need to inform, even adrenaline. But many of us are pressed into making our war-cover decisions by the needs of editors and competition. If I don’t go into zone X or Y, someone else will. There’s always someone willing to get closer to the frontline fighting, steal across a porous border under the cover of darkness or chance traversing enemy terrain to get an exclusive interview.

And many who take those risks are under-trained, inexperienced and under-equipped, not necessarily by choice but by default of lacking budget.

While working in Aleppo, Syria, for example, a colleague had neither flak, helmet or a winter coat in single digit temperatures. At the time, government airstrikes were routine and there was no heat or electricity anywhere in the vicinity. Snipers were rampant.

Luckily we had my budget to rely upon. We slept in a different abandoned apartment each night to avoid being detected and ratted out by government loyalists and paid for tech-savvy locals to set up generator-run, internet hotspots to transmit material.

At night we slept in every layer of clothing we had brought with us and huddled beneath multiple blankets for warmth.

Beyond the constant fear of being caught in air strikes or accidentally encountering rebels hostile to western journalists, a niggling internal debate persisted: Can I trust my fixer? Is he/she reliable and knowledgeable about the area, in with the “right people”, will he/she turn me over for ransom and what about the fighters the fixer has set up for interviews?

In every hostile situation, choosing locals to work with on the ground is a gamble. The element of risk can be narrowed down by consulting colleagues and securing recommendations in attempting to find people who are trustworthy and reliable. But conflicts and attitudes shift. And sometimes the inherent desperation of war leads to betrayal. Steven Sotloff was not green nor was he foolhardy or whimsical. He was a friend and he was betrayed. It can happen to any of us.

Budget cuts foster dangerous decision-making. There’s no doubt about it. A young, just-starting-out freelancer working on his or her own in a conflict zone hoping to get an image, video or print story that will appease editors is operating under very different conditions from a hostile-environment-trained, staff correspondent outfitted in full protective gear and accompanied by security detail who is providing streaming intel updates and GPS coordinates.

As the “cover field” narrows, driven by the proliferating threat of kidnapping and death at the hands of extremists, the job of providing information – and appeasing editors – poses a constant conundrum of risk versus benefit. 

INSIForeign journalists and Egyptian anti-government demonstrators take cover during clashes with pro-regime opponents at Cairo's Tahrir
Square on February 3, 2011 on the 10th day of protests calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA

Caroline Neil is a risk and security management consultant, director of RPS Partnership and a safety and security advisor to INSI who has provided hostile environment training to journalists since 1997 in South America, Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East.

The safety advisor: Caroline Neil

My mantra is still the same as it was 10 years’ ago: if you fail to prepare then you prepare to fail. This is truer than ever before in the rapidly changing, unpredictable places that make up what journalists call the hostile environment.

Fortunately, the safety of journalists is taken much more seriously than it was 10 years’ ago. Better guidance, training and equipment help employers and employees to get the planning right. Employers are better at recognising their duty of care to journalists who are themselves ensuring that they comply with the standards created to protect them.

Hostile environment training

Hostile environment training is more accessible than it used to be. There are more training providers who offer diverse courses at affordable prices. Trainers are better qualified so the quality of courses has improved and is more varied and interesting, using different learning styles. As with 10 years ago, training remains a no brainer if you work in a hostile environment. You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere with your driver or colleague bleeding out after a car crash, only to realise you don’t know how save their life and wonder why you never found the time to take a medical refresher.

Personal Protective Equipment

Ballistic vests are by their very nature heavy and cumbersome, but the last decade has seen them being manufactured with more effective materials that weigh far less. They used to cost £2,000, but now you can get a good one for around £800. Gender specific vests are commonplace, with some designed for larger women – something that was only just being thought of 10 years ago.

What hasn’t changed much is the challenge of getting journalists to take them on assignment and wear them when needed. All too often we still hear that journalists are leaving ballistic vests behind because they are “heavy and hot” – not smart when you’re in the middle of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or the slums of Rio de Janeiro and bullets and shrapnel start flying.

Technical equipment

Satellite phones used to be only affordable for major media outlets but can now be rented for a cost effective amount. Ten years ago, checking in only when it was possible was perfectly acceptable. Today, staying in constant or frequent touch is expected, even from difficult places. Meanwhile, tracking staff is easier than it has ever been. You can’t stop bad things from happening to your journalists, but you can at least find out where they were when that bad thing happened and start looking. Trackers can hone in on a position to within metres and are fitted with panic buttons to let people at home know you’re in trouble. Smart phones also often feature devices that allow journalists to send off an emergency signal in the event of a problem.

Emergency and crisis management planning

Working in a hostile environment is inherently risky, and having a plan for if something goes wrong is vital. Ten years ago, planning was not as thorough as it is today, and corporate responsibility was not as clearly defined. Risk assessments are more commonplace and filling in documentation before going on assignment is becoming the norm. A communications plan, a risk assessment form and proof of life questions (if you get kidnapped the answers to these question prove that you are alive) are all standard practice at many media organisations – though more work still needs to be done.

Ex-military and journalists working together

I wrote in INSI’s 2012 book No Woman’s Land that “journalists and former military do not make natural bed fellows”, but I have come to realise that they have much in common – living and working in the most dangerous areas around the globe. In the last decade, both sides have begun to work better together thanks to hostile environment training and the realisation by journalists that media safety advisors can be helpful in getting the story, particularly in conflict zones.

The media embeds of the 2003 Iraq war also helped change the landscape. The use of media security and safety advisors is now commonplace, and both sides talk and work together much more. Having someone who knows weapons systems, understands the battlefield and can deal with advanced trauma helps when things go wrong.

Risk – 10 years on

I’ve taken premeditated risks and have found myself in tricky situations, both self-imposed and those created by others. However, I always thought about the repercussions of the risks, had the right equipment and training and the common sense to leave a plan with someone in case I didn’t come back.

In 2012 I said that the least we can do is to be prepared, have plans in place and ensure we can deal with emergencies ourselves in order not to overburden overstretched local systems. Three years on, I would say the same.

Is the world a safer place than it was a decade ago?

No, it’s more complex than ever which means robust and dynamic safety plans are more important than ever if, to quote a colleague, you want to “get the story safely without becoming the story.”

INSIINSI’s safety and security advisor Caroline Neil briefs Congolese journalists during a training in the eastern city of Goma. RPS PARTNERSHIP