Doing What We Do

By BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet

There has long been a mantra in journalism that no story is worth dying for.

But there are stories worth taking risks for. The anxious issue of our time is assessing those risks as clearly and carefully as we can.

Never have we lived in a time when journalists, their editors, and media organisations like INSI spend so much effort and care trying to assess the dangers.

But never has there been a time when journalists have faced such odds of being in the right place at the wrong time.

In all too many places, we are no longer just taking calculated risks to report on the front line.

We are the front line.

Unresolved murders, kidnappings for ransom, beheadings are now happening at an alarming rate. Now, all too often, we are also the story. That's not the way journalism should be.

Local journalists and freelancers are among the most vulnerable. Much more is being done to highlight the risks confronting those who, among the world's media, often have less protection and prominence than better resourced news organisations. We all need to watch out for each other.

Journalism is what we do, and hope to keep doing. But our job is to tell the story, not be the story. We need the kind of safety, and assurances, that allow all of us to live to tell the tale.

Now there are moves, supported by INSI and other major media organisations, to establish a standard of safety for freelancers in dangerous places.

Now there are moves to establish accountability. Reporters without Borders has called for attacks on journalists to be considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court.

We've lost all too many dear friends and colleagues on the job, in the field, in the line of fire. Now, we think twice, and more than that, before we head out to the field, even to countries where many of us have worked for decades, and have many colleagues, contacts, and friends.

But often, danger explodes when you least expect it. In 2002, when we travelled to relatively quiet post-Taliban Kandahar, the wedding of President Karzai's brother turned into an assassination attempt against the Afghan leader. The bullets whizzed by two members of my team (Keith Morris and Philip Goodwin). An editor in London asked if we'd been wearing our flak jackets. "At a wedding?" we replied.

Last year, a visit to a shelter full of children in the Syrian city of Homs turned into a mortar attack that two colleagues, Natalie Morton and Phil Goodwin, narrowly survived.

Even with the risks looming large, journalists can and do decide they are still worth taking. An important story looms even larger and we believe, somehow, we'll manage again.

Marie Colvin, one of the most accomplished war correspondents of our generation, made her last fateful trip to what was then an embattled city of Homs. She heard the worries of colleagues. She listened to the questions in her own head. But she replied to the concern of a mutual friend Channel 4's International Editor Lindsey Hilsum by simply saying: "It's what we do." It was, again, a story about war and suffering the world needed to know about.

That is the title too of a new book by acclaimed photographer Lynsey Addario - "It's What I do" - who has survived more than her fair share of danger.

Journalism is what we do, and hope to keep doing. But our job is to tell the story, not be the story. We need the kind of safety, and assurances, that allow all of us to live to tell the tale.

INSIL-R: Lyse Doucet in Baba Amr, Homs, Syria in 2013 PHILIP GOODWIN; Doucet reporting from the Old City of Homs in 2014 MOOSE CAMPBELL.

Still Dying To Tell the Story

By INSI Director Hannah Storm

Five years after joining the International News Safety Institute, it still surprises me every time I hear the reality of the statistics: on average two journalists are killed every week simply for doing their job.

That figure equates to more than 1,400 people since INSI began recording casualty figures in 2004. That is more than 1,400 of our colleagues who have paid the ultimate price to ensure that we know what is happening in some of the most challenging, closed and corrupt parts of the world.

For each of those numbers, there is a name, a story, a family, a newsroom and a community whose lives have changed irreversibly. Sadly in addition to those numbers, there are many, many more of our colleagues and their loved ones who face daily threats of kidnap, murder, blackmail, assault, detention and harassment for the work they do.

There have always been, and always will be, people and groups bent on silencing the messenger as well as dangerous environments where journalists are felled by conflict, disaster and civil unrest. However, in the past few years, the threats faced by our news community have increased in depth and diversity.

At the end of 2014, as our industry was reeling from the murders of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, INSI decided that it was time to look at the main changes and challenges to the safety of journalists over the past decade.

We first did something similar at the start of the Iraq war when INSI published Dying To Tell The Story, a tribute to the brave men and women who died covering the conflict in that country.

Fast-forward 10 years and the spotlight of the world's media was again on the same region. Journalists were again making sacrifices to cover the story and being killed with impunity while the international community raised its hands in horror.

This time we wanted to speak with as many individuals as possible who either worked in challenging areas or could explain the decisions they made and the dilemmas they faced when deploying people to hostile environments. We also wanted to supplement these discussions with a survey that reached a more diverse group of industry individuals. Finally, we asked journalists, decision makers and safety professionals to write essays about their experiences working and sending others to dangerous environments over the past 10 years.

The answers to our questions were enlightening, surprising and diverse.

We found that the threat of kidnap weighed more heavily than it did a decade ago, as did the risks and opportunities provided by technology and social media, something not even considered when we wrote Dying To Tell The Story. The dangers faced by freelancers were often raised as something particularly hard to bear for those working in today's media landscape. We also found that safety training and equipment has improved but is still no guarantee of surviving the story.

We are presenting all our findings in this report - Under Threat - the Changing State of Media Safety - in the hope that it will provide a reference that we as an industry can use to construct a better tomorrow for all our colleagues, wherever they work and in whatever capacity.

The report would not have been possible without the indefatigable work of INSI's News and Projects Manager Lisa Clifford who conducted the interviews and assembled the findings, and my immense gratitude goes to her. Thanks also goes to Mary Schrider for designing this multi-media report and to Samantha Brady who constructed and analysed the survey. Brave journalist Nicole Tung allowed us to use her, quite simply, stunning images from Libya and Syria and our report would have been poorer without them. We are also thankful to Agence France Presse for providing us with additional images to reflect some of the challenges journalists face to bring home the news.

To all those who participated in both the survey and the interviews, we are very grateful for your time and your commitment to making journalism safer. And to our dear friends who took the time to write the essays included in the report we honour your commitment and courage.

And finally we salute each and every journalist and media worker who risks his or her safety ensuring that we are not blind to what is going on in the world, and by so doing ensures that we can continue to fight against injustice.

INSIPalestinian journalists cover their ears and faces after Israeli soldiers fire tear gas during a protest against Jewish settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Omar on October 2, 2010. AFP PHOTO/HAZEM BADER

INSI adopted both qualitative and quantitative research methods in gathering information for this report. More than 170 people from around the world completed a survey distributed to colleagues and contacts from all levels of the news industry through the SurveyMonkey website. The snowball effect was successful in spreading the survey beyond INSI's contacts and into the wider news community. This qualitative approach was supplemented by 30 interviews conducted from October 2014 to February 2015 in person and by Skype and telephone with people from across the industry including staff reporters, freelancers, editors, news executives and safety and security professionals. Finally, we analysed INSI's statistics on journalistic casualties since 2004 to provide an overview of the most dangerous countries for media workers over the past 10 years, how they were killed and in which areas of the media they worked.

The following report provides a detailed synopsis our key findings from both the qualitative and quantitative surveys, reflecting the most common themes and safety concerns raised by the respondents.


Journalism has never been more dangerous, and journalists say they have never felt so unsafe doing their jobs.

The overwhelming majority of respondents to our quantitative survey, 88 percent, agreed that the safety of journalists and media workers is more of an issue than it was 10 years ago, with 86 percent saying that journalists are more likely to be targets of violence. Local journalists are particularly at risk. We found that even those who don’t work in hostile environments face greater dangers than they did in the past. Our interview respondents also corroborated this.

INSI research done for this report shows that 1,480 journalists and media support workers have died doing their jobs in the past 10 years, an average of 131 every year. The majority, 822, died during peace time.

Terror groups like ISIS are using new technologies to control what one interviewee called the "information battlefield" and they have declared war on journalists through high profile kidnappings and killings broadcast on social media. Meanwhile, the frontlines in places like Syria and Iraq have blurred - journalists are no longer sure who to trust and where they can go safely. For their part, news executives are often not sure who to turn to for information and help when reporters go missing or get hurt in today's chaotic conflicts.

We heard that technology also helps journalists deliver their messages, and in some situations is keeping them safer, but makes them increasingly vulnerable to the powerful entities that seek to track and harm them.

Also blurred since the advent of social media and user-generated content is the role of journalists. Who is a journalist and who isn't has confused the industry and general public alike. What hasn't changed is audience expectations of being instantly and accurately informed about even the remotest corners of our world - pushing journalists into ever more dangerous places.

Lack of respect for the profession was among the main reasons given by all respondents for the increased attacks, coming in ahead of terror groups, corrupt individuals and kidnapping as the main risk to media workers in 2015.

Respondents said journalists were no longer seen as impartial or neutral observers of events, citing increasing numbers of media workers who have aligned themselves with business and political interests broadcasting distorted realities. The confusing role played by citizen journalists was also mentioned as contributing to the dwindling respect for the news media and increasing the prevalence of attacks on the press by ordinary citizens, bystanders and members of the security services and armed forces.

Freelancers are particularly vulnerable to violence by those seeking to silence the media. With many attracted into war reporting by the relatively easy access to modern conflict zones and increasingly affordable equipment, freelancers are getting killed in greater numbers than ever before. Though news organisations have become more aware of their duty of care to freelancers, our surveys made clear that dwindling budgets and closing foreign bureaus make those who are willing to report the news in dangerous places valuable assets to cash strapped executives.

As with 10 years ago, impunity remains the norm, and the killers of journalists are rarely even identified, let alone punished.

All this has had a chilling effect on journalism and has contributed to a serious lack of safety in our business. News outlets today are increasingly weighing up risk versus reward when deciding whether to send journalists into danger – potentially leaving the darkest corners of our world unexposed and ignored.

Many organisations have stepped up to the challenges, improving their safety efforts by providing more and better training and improved equipment, though all too often freelancers and local journalists are excluded. The number of safety training providers has mushroomed with dozens of new companies now offering their services with more specialised, and better, training on offer.

Though the picture painted by our surveys is grim, unchanged is the desire of our colleagues across all levels of the industry to continue on in the face of adversity. No one is prepared to give up just yet.


1. Targets on the Information Battlefield

The control and distribution of information has become a bloody battlefield with journalists among the casualties of the warring parties. That media workers are targets is now almost a given - and not just those reporting from hostile environments. Journalists from all walks of life are under attack, both in war zones and places supposedly at peace like Mexico or the Philippines, where powerful people, be they politicians, corrupt businessmen, drug cartels or self-appointed authorities, see the act of journalism as contrary to their interests and have little compunction about silencing the messenger in the most brutal way.

INSI research carried out for this report shows that 1,480 journalists and media support workers have died since 2004.

86% of respondents said journalists and media workers are more likely to be targets of violence than they were 10 years ago.

"We didn't used to be a target. We just used to be there reporting the news," said Swedish Radio foreign news reporter and editor Caroline Salzinger, whose colleague Nils Horner was shot dead in Kabul in 2014. "Now it's a totally different climate. More and more we don't write ‘press' on our clothes or on our cars, because now that would make us a target."

Journalist Khazar Fatemi told the November 2014 NewsXChange broadcast industry conference in Prague that she didn't take her passport or press card on a recent trip to Syria and Iraq. "I don't want to be remembered as a journalist in a jumpsuit on my knees," she said, referring to the brutal murders of American freelancers James Foley and Steven Sotloff whose beheadings were filmed by ISIS.

Killing journalists, and inciting supporters to do the same, has become just another weapon of war for terror groups like ISIS, but equally alarming is that seemingly ordinary citizens, bystanders and members of the police or armed forces are also venting their spleens against the press. Reporters say that attacks on the media which once seemed accidental - being in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting caught in a random bomb blast, coming under friendly fire while embedded - now feel much more deliberate.

"There is an active hostility to journalists," said Stephanie Freid the Middle East correspondent for China's CCTV network. "One Israeli border patrol threw stun grenades at us." Freid remembers being trapped in a building during Egypt's Arab Spring with an angry mob gathered outside. "We were terrified they were going to storm the building. They were blaming Al Jazeera for their plight and taking their frustration out on the TV people."

Paula Slier, the Middle East bureau chief for the Russia Today network, says she's feeling more vulnerable out in the field. "Something has changed in the psyche of people. It seems okay now to target journalists. You introduce yourself, and people roll their eyes and say ‘I don't trust journalists'."

Salzinger, who has also reported from war zones around the world, remembers covering the conflict in Liberia in 2003 where security was poor, and not feeling particularly at risk. "If something bad happened it wasn't because you were a journalist," she said. "Everybody was happy we had arrived and wanted to tell their story. Now they don't need us. They have Facebook and Twitter. Now we are used as a different tool. By targeting us they get headlines. By targeting us they get the story out better and louder."

INSIVideo journalist James Foley walks through the Saif Al Dawla neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria on August 28, 2012. NICOLE TUNG
“Killing journalists, and inciting supporters
to do the same, has become just another
weapon of war for terror groups like ISIS
... Reporters say that attacks on the media
which once seemed accidental now feel
much more deliberate.” – INSI report

2. Terror TV

That journalists are dying while doing their jobs is unfortunately nothing new. The statistics have remained depressingly constant in the more than 10 years that INSI has been keeping track, with our research showing an average of 131 journalists dying every year, according to the Killing the Messenger 2004-2014 report produced by the Cardiff School of Journalism. However, watching on Twitter as media colleagues are horribly targeted is a chilling development for all in the industry. This makes it increasingly clear that groups other than journalists are now controlling what The Associated Press’s director of photography Santiago Lyon calls “the information battlefield”, making the profession more hazardous than it used to be.

Terrorist groups are among the biggest threats to journalists according to almost 67% of respondents. The broadcasting of propaganda and graphic images was listed as a threat by 77%.

"There have always been gruesome killings, but now we can see journalists being targeted," said Sam Jamison, the manager for security and safety for editorial operations at Thomson Reuters.

Terror groups have become fully fledged global media outlets in their own right, with instant worldwide distribution delivering their extremist messages via YouTube and raising their profile in the process, all in full HD. They publish, they broadcast and then carefully monitor what's being said and written. Newspapers and networks are largely irrelevant as the terrorists no longer need traditional outlets to broadcast and publish their badly produced DVDs and fuzzy stills as they would have 10 years ago.

"ISIS has used social media to bypass traditional media to get their message out there and to show graphic images which few news outlets will run," said Sandy MacIntyre, the vice president of global video news at the Associated Press.

"At the same time reporting from IS held territory is so incredibly dangerous, because they deliberately target journalists, that no news organisation has done that in a sustainable way for fear of their staff being kidnapped and killed. The greater sophistication of how they are using social media to amplify their message has been a game changer and the full impact is still in question. Will it help their influence grow or will it backfire?"

51% of survey respondents thought social media had made journalism more dangerous. Competition from social media was listed by 57% of respondents as compelling journalists to take greater risks.

"It shows their media sophistication," said Deborah Rayner, CNN's senior vice president of international newsgathering, TV and digital. "They're publishing themselves, and they're tracking reporters and following their Tweets."

Freelance journalist and photographer Nicole Tung wonders where journalists fit into the picture.

"ISIS are saying they don't need media. They won't give interviews to westerners, and the locals are saying the same thing. People back at home seem like they are only interested in local politics. It's a predicament. The only people who think journalists are relevant are journalists themselves."

Also changing the way journalists work is the increased availability of user generated content, adding more news gatherers into a landscape already crowded with staff reporters and freelancers eager to make a name for themselves. Kitted out with cheap technology but limited skills and training, the general public are also broadcasting on everything from the mundane to wars in the Middle East and killings at Charlie Hebdo.

Opinions among interview respondents were varied on the impact this has on the safety of professional journalists. The former director of the International Press Institute (IPI), Alison Bethel McKenzie, believes it has contributed to a decline in safety.

"Journalists have always suffered from a bad reputation among a certain segment of population," she said. "But now you have a lot of people posing as journalists, or even legitimate journalists not practicing such good ethics, which has given the public a reason."

Though citizen journalists are changing the media landscape, they are not seen by most professionals as real competition, though some freelancers did mention user-generated content as a threat. Most said that the pressure to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle is more of a problem along with the increasing numbers of colleagues willing to take ever greater risks.

"This is forcing journalists to go into situations without understanding the landscape and without having time to do any research," said Salim Amin, the chairman of Africa24 Media and a member of INSI's board.

RT's Paula Slier agrees that when deciding where she's willing to go she looks to colleagues from other networks.

"I will see a report coming out from a competitor, and I want to give a better report," Slier said. "There are so many networks, and with satellites and modern technology, it's not okay for journalists to be standing somewhere safe when they could be standing with bullets flying over their heads. So we're pushing ourselves more and more. But I don't feel like I am in competition with the guy with the phone. When I see a real journalist, I think it must be safe so I can go there too. I don't feel the same way about the guy with the phone. That feels really unsafe."

"There have always been gruesome killings, but now we can see journalists being targeted."
- media safety advisor Sam Jamison

INSIMen carry the body of Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al Qasr in Aleppo, Syria, on August 6, 2012, which
claimed at least eight lives including five children from the same family. Hatem later died en route to the field hospital. NICOLE TUNG

3. See and Be Seen

No matter who they are or where they work, technology has ensured that journalists and the stories they are telling are now completely visible around the world.

"Years ago, who would have heard of Charlie Hebdo?" said Al Anstey, the managing director of Al Jazeera English. "Now through social media the whole world knows the cartoons, making them a threat."

The days of anonymous journalists flying in and out in a bubble, believing that no one they have spoken to in a remote community will ever see the story are long gone. Google, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook allow correspondents to reach a wider audience than ever before, including the people they've just interviewed. "With the dawn of the internet, the flow of information sped up rapidly. Those being covered can now see the results of the coverage," said The AP's Santiago Lyon.

Most of the survey respondents and those interviewed agreed that this is largely a positive development since journalists exist to communicate with others. But they noted that it is also worrying. Once stories go onto the internet and into the Google system they exist forever and are almost impossible to take down.

The routine retweeting and sharing of news content makes journalists a larger target, according to 59% of respondents.

"Posting all our packages, reports and opinions online has brought greater vulnerability in some situations," said CNN's Deborah Rayner. She calls it "discoverability" and says this new risk is making her organisation more cautious about live broadcasts from dangerous locations and ensuring correspondents cannot be tracked by geolocation tools built into social media platforms.

"We've become more aware over past year about how the data you get from posts and tweets can be traced," Rayner added.

However media security advisors warn that this message is not getting out as widely as it should. Many journalists are still unaware, or unconcerned, that their social media activities can be so easily tracked. Facebook is a particular offender, packed as it is with photos of families and holidays that are easily accessible.

"With the dawn of the internet, the flow of information sped up rapidly. Those being covered can now see the results of the coverage."
- The AP photography director Santiago Lyon

INSITurkish journalists in Ankara denouncing violence against members of the media including the deaths of French photojournalist Remi Ochlik and
Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin who were killed in a rocket attack in Syria in 2012.AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTAN
Nearly 79% of respondents said freelancers were more at risk than 10 years ago. Lack of duty of care by news organisations, lack of preparation and safety training and easier access to conflict zones were seen as the main problems.

4. Freelancers and Finances

That technology is changing the way journalists cover the world in 2015 is beyond dispute. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that a reporter setting out with the latest model of iPhone has a similar capacity to the three-person news crews of years gone by who were weighed down with expensive, bulky equipment.

Freelancers have seized the opportunities that technology has offered, and armed with inexpensive cameras and laptops - but often with little time for research and planning - have headed to danger zones to break into journalism.

One freelancer remembers taking a flight to Cairo, checking into a hotel near Tahrir Square from where she immediately began to cover the Arab Spring protests. She then moved on to the Libyan revolution where she said freelancers shared information, rooms and rides and no one cared (or asked) about press passes - or safety training - including the editors she pitched to.

Libya was notable, many respondents said, for the large numbers of ill-prepared young people who arrived to cover the story poorly informed about the country's history and culture. Many were attracted by Libya's proximity to Europe and relatively easy access both geographically and to the rebel combatants. And sadly that trend is continuing despite the high numbers of freelance casualties in recent years, including in Libya where the high profile deaths in Misrata of documentary maker and photographer Tim Hetherington and photographer Chris Hondros shook and shocked the industry.

"Freelancers are getting killed in far greater numbers than has ever happened in our history," said Salim Amin. "The entry level into journalism is not as expensive or restrictive as it used to be, and people who haven't been trained properly, who have a camera and a laptop, now call themselves journalists. They're not qualified to do this kind of work in conflict situations. They are pushing their luck."

With no real backing from a news organisation and competition from social media and user generated content, life for freelancers is generally quite tough, even more so in dangerous places. Some feel compelled to push themselves harder than those with staff contracts - often without any insurance, safety equipment or colleagues to watch their backs.

"If you don't have the backing of an organisation life is incredibly difficult, and you feel duty bound to take more risks," said Fran Unsworth, the director of the BBC World Service Group and an INSI board member.

So why do freelancers continue to flock to these dangerous places? Paula Slier said war reporting is the best way to get noticed and break into an industry that is hard to access otherwise. It is what she did in Lebanon.

"One of the best ways to make your name today is to send yourself into a war zone. A lot of them are young people with no security support, but they can make their names."

The kidnappings in Syria and the deaths of Foley and Sotloff in particular have forced many organisations to re-examine how they work with freelancers. However, with budgets tighter than ever and many outlets run with a firm eye on the profit and loss account, there are still plenty of opportunities for those willing to take risks to get the story.

"Organisations are cutting back on foreign correspondents so they turn to freelancers with no insurance or protection," said Richard Sambrook, director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University and INSI's chairman.

Amin agrees that reduced news budgets are driving changes that affect the safety of correspondents, both freelance and staff.

"News businesses are now being run as businesses. This can compromise people working in the field. Organisations are looking at the bottom line, sending fewer people in order to save money or putting them in a cheaper hotel that isn't as safe. It would be good to look at news as news, not just as a way of making money."

"One of the best ways to make your name today is to send yourself into a war zone."
- journalist Paula Slier

INSIPhotojournalist Chris Hondros (left) and journalist/author Greg Campbell (centre) in eastern Libya, April 6, 2011. NICOLE TUNG

5. Neutral No More

Journalists are no longer seen as independent or neutral, according to the majority of respondents (68%). Almost 58% said journalists are less respected than they were in the past.

Though budgets are tight and competition fierce, a plethora of new media outlets has sprung up catering to different audiences. Owners with political or business agendas to advance and little interest in balanced reporting or upholding the traditional ethics of journalism are among those who have joined the profession.

One respondent gave the example of Somalia - where 61 reporters have died since 2004. Civil war has devastated the media industry and clans and warlords pay some reporters to produce lies.

"The journalists have no sense of what journalism is," she said. "They have no ethics, no salaries, no education or training, and they're putting themselves in danger with stories that aren't true."

Paula Slier said news outlets such as her RT network, which makes no secret of the fact that it's providing a Russian perspective of the news, may be part of the reason why the safety of journalists is deteriorating in general.

"People see the journalists working for networks that they perceive to have agendas as being legitimate targets," said Slier, who spent several months reporting from rebel-held territory in Ukraine for RT. "People see us as being mouthpieces for the government. But I don't think it is fair to call me a legitimate target. I'm still a journalist out there telling stories. Certainly some people may think I might be telling too much of one side of the story, but I don't think this makes me any less a journalist, and I don't think it should make me a target either."

However, Salim Amin believes this lack of the traditional values of neutrality and impartiality is putting journalists in danger. In his essay for this report he highlights Africa where media in Rwanda during the genocide and Kenya during the 2008 elections fuelled hatred and violence with their reporting.

"The Kenyan media eventually did get together to promote a message of peace and reconciliation, but their reputation was already in tatters," he writes. "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."

Amin believes this kind of reporting - and not just in Africa - has changed how journalists are perceived.

"We as journalists haven't done ourselves any favours by aligning ourselves, or being seen to align ourselves, to certain governments or rebel groups," he said. "Journalists used to be given a certain amount of respect. We were seen as trying to help the situation by telling the story. Now I don't see that same kind of respect, and I don't see the same kind of independence [by journalists]."

Though she agrees that alliances with rebel groups or governments damage the image of neutral, impartial journalists, Fran Unsworth says there is never an excuse to target the media.

"Some journalists may well be partisan, but that doesn't make them legitimate targets unless they are acting as combatants," she said.

INSIA ''gun for hire'' providing security for journalists is framed by a bullet riddled street sign on August 13, 2011 in what used to be Mogadishu's busiest commercial district until fighting between
pro-government African Union troops and radical Islamic Al-Shebab militiamen faced off here and made this part of the town a no-go zone. AFP PHOTO/ROBERTO SCHMIDT

6. Bombs, Bullets and Kidnapping

In many ways the threats faced by journalists in 2015 are little changed from 10 years ago. Most deaths still don’t happen in war zones but during lower level political conflicts or in lawless drug regions. Since 2004, INSI’s figures show that 882 journalists have died in peacetime and 598 in national and international armed conflicts. The vast majority were local journalists (1,355) who worked for newspapers (560) and television (455).

79% of respondents said kidnapping was a bigger threat than it used to be.

Even the danger zones are similar - Iraq was by far the most dangerous country with 287 journalists killed since 2004. The Philippines came in second place with 125; Pakistan third with 93; Mexico fourth with 87 and India fifth with 69.

Owais Aslam Ali, secretary general of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said journalists in his country are killed, unjustly detained, abducted, beaten and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, militants, tribal and feudal lords and political parties that claim to promote democracy and the rule of law.

"For every journalist who has been deliberately targeted and murdered, there are many others who have been injured, threatened and coerced into silence," he said. "Pressure and intimidation has forced the journalists to adopt self-censorship, particularly in the conflict areas."

In Brazil, meanwhile, enemies of press freedom are using a different, equally intimidating approach, taking journalists to court to stop them publishing with the number of lawsuits, particularly in election years, according to INSI board member Marcelo Moreira who is also editor-in-chief at Globo television.

Almost all respondents agreed that the most high profile threat to journalists' safety in recent months has been the kidnapping of journalists in Syria by the terror group ISIS for ransom, propaganda and theatre purposes. News executives listed the threat of journalists being kidnapped as their major fear in 2015 and say it has radically changed how that conflict is covered.

"Bombs and bullets you can deal with. Not the kidnapping"
- freelance photographer Nicole Tung

Nakhle El Hage, the director of news and current affairs at Al Arabiya television, describes kidnapping as "a powerful tool intended to drain the energy of news agencies."

The AP's Sandy MacIntyre said kidnapping is the hardest thing for media organisations to deal with. "You have protocols in place for death but with a kidnapping you don't hold too many of the cards," he said.

Always dangerous, the Syrian conflict began to get worse for journalists when rebels began losing ground and groups that had once helped the media move around safely started selling on reporters for profit, something largely unheard of during previous conflicts.

Kevin Sutcliffe, the head of EU news programming at VICE News, says this recent development is simply opportunistic gangsterism.

"In places like Syria you are moving across territories controlled by a number of groups. This patchwork is harder to understand. Who hates who is complicated, and you can't say who controls this patch of land. It's more chaotic now," he said.

Photographer Nicole Tung covered both the Libyan and Syrian conflicts. Though Libya was dangerous, she described a sense of community where journalists shared information, accommodation and contacts. She said that in contrast, Syria was a black hole with few other journalists, mistrustful civilians on whom she was dependent for accommodation and the feeling that she was bounty to be turned over for money.

"There are so many groups, and you can be passed from one to the next, and people have no idea where you are," she said.

CNN's Deborah Rayner says news outlets are learning to adjust to this new reality.

"When someone was snatched you used to know who to negotiate with. Now you often have no idea who or where these people are or it takes vital time to find out. In the world before you had nominally good guys and bad guys. You knew the leaders. If something went wrong you had direct contacts. Our fear now is it is harder to know who has them and where they are being held. There's often no obvious frontline anymore."

INSIA cameraman films one day after an attack by Taliban militants in Peshawar, Pakistan on December 17, 2014 killed 148 people, mostly children. AFP PHOTO/FAROOQ NAEEM

7. Getting Away With Murder

Unchanged over the past decade has been the shocking level of impunity for people who kill and harm journalists doing their jobs. Powerful politicians, drug lords and corrupt individuals are still getting away with murder, though in many places these crimes are now receiving more publicity than in the past.

Impunity was seen as one of the biggest threats to journalists’ safety with 57% of respondents citing it as a problem.

INSI's 2014 Killing the Messenger report found legal proceedings had taken place in just one case last year with suspects identified in only 14 cases. This is consistent with our findings over the past 10 years. The vast majority of the killers of journalists are never identified, let alone punished.

More than 57 percent of the quantitative survey respondents identified impunity as among the biggest threats to journalists and media workers today.

In the Philippines, for example, no one has yet been held to account for the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 32 journalists and media workers were killed. INSI's Philippines coordinator Red Batario, also the executive director for the Center for Community Journalism and Development in the Philippines, said local people are indifferent to the killing of journalists.

"There was no outrage among the public when a female broadcaster was shot in the head four times in broad daylight. That's an example of the blatant way that journalists are being killed."

The killers shot newspaper reporter Rubylita Garcia in her own home in front of her 10-year-old granddaughter.

Batario and others are unsure whether high profile murders like the January 2015 killings of the Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris - and the outpouring of fury they provoked around the world - will increase public compassion for similar attacks on local media while raising awareness of their journalistic mission.

"The killings in Paris certainly sparked a sense of horror among journalists," Batario said. "We wonder if it might make the public more sensitive to the killing of journalists in their own country."

INSIRelatives of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, journalists and students participate in a candle lighting ceremony in Manila on
November 23, 2014 to commemorate the 5th anniversary of the massacre that left 58 people dead including dozens of journalists. AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS

Almost 86% of survey respondents said they would be comfortable telling someone if they were having strong emotional reactions to their work.

8. Mental Health At Risk

As journalism gets riskier and the dangers become more visible, experts warn that the mental health of journalists is increasingly at risk.

Elana Newman, McFarlin professor of psychology at the University of Tulsa and research director at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, believes the ISIS beheading videos have created fear and panic in the media community. She wonders if some news outlets opted not to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons for legitimate journalistic reasons or out of anxiety about the safety of staff.

For those covering war zones, awareness that they are vulnerable to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is far higher than it was 10 years ago. The stigma attached to mental health problems has decreased, though has not been entirely eliminated, and journalists are less worried about being fired for admitting they have been traumatised.

"10 years ago we were just starting to realise that some journalists may have PTSD," Newman said. "People are more aware now of PTSD and the impact that covering these things has on the mind, but people still see it as a weakness. Part of that is the journalistic culture and the idea is that journalists cover the news, they don't become part of it or insert themselves into the story, that they are objective."

Away from the battlefields, Newman points out that non-traumatic stress is also on the rise as newsrooms cut staff and force those who are left to do more with less, pushing anxiety levels higher. Meanwhile, journalists and editors wading through gruesome footage that they can't contextualise are also vulnerable. This has always been the case but with an increase in user generated content and new technologies the volumes of this unpleasant material are far higher. Psychologists say that people regularly working with graphic images risk being overloaded, particularly if they can't talk or write about it.

Freelancers, local journalists and fixers suffering from trauma are particularly at risk of having their problems ignored. There is little mental health support for journalists in countries like Iraq and Syria where being part of the community has both advantages and disadvantages when dealing with traumatic events. Closer to home in Europe and North America, freelancers are also at risk of slipping through the cracks, despite greater awareness of the issue of PTSD.

"If they come back from the field with anxiety and depression, where do they go?" said Stuart Hughes, a BBC senior world affairs producer who suffered PTSD after losing his leg to a landmine in Iraq. "It does concern me when I get emails from young freelance journalists who have been in the field and are struggling. They just don't know where to turn or who to trust."

INSIA boy is treated by a doctor for a head wound he sustained after an airstrike hit his house in the Sha'ar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria on August 24, 2012. NICOLE TUNG

9. Fear of the Inquest

One of the major consequences of the targeting of journalists is a greater awareness by all those working in the industry that reporters are neither mentally nor physically invincible and that safety is an important issue.

More than 66% of survey respondents said journalists were more likely to use personal safety equipment than they were 10 years ago.

"The old school felt bulletproof," said Finn Isaksson, security officer at Swedish Radio. At the major European and North American news organisations, deployments to hostile environments are now accompanied by formal risk assessments and crisis management plans are in place in case something goes wrong.

"Planning and preparation today bears no similarity to what it did in the 1990s," said Caroline Wyatt, the BBC's former defence correspondent who now reports on religious affairs.

"When I was covering Kosovo we did discuss safety, but we did things we'd never dream of now." Wyatt remembers missing her ride and hitchhiking into Kosovo with only one helmet and a flak jacket which she and the driver shared. "The culture then was that you had to get the story. Today people see that the risk assessment, though it's a pain in the bum, has genuine value."

This improved awareness that journalism is a risky business makes life easier for safety advisors as previously sceptical journalists are now eager to discuss the latest flak jackets and safety precautions. As a result, more organisations are employing advisors to help with difficult deployments, but some question whether they're simply being used by managers to pass the buck.

"We need effective safety - security and safety with meaning," said Steve Ryan, an independent security advisor for NGOs and media outlets. "More safety and security doesn't necessarily make things safer for journalists. Having external security advisors sounds like a good idea, but when you have someone with security in the title it's easy to push off responsibility to them and expect them to manage things. Advisors should be advising. The responsibility and decision making process should remain in the management system."

The targeting and killing of journalists has improved the duty of care media organisations have for their employees. No one wants to lose a journalist or be seen to be encouraging staff to risk their lives. Opinion was mixed among the respondents, however, on how much the fear of litigation and reputational damage contributed to this sense of responsibility.

"There is a fear in broadcast media management - it is called the fear of the inquest. You hear people say, ‘I have to appear at the inquest if something happens to you'," said Ryan. "This stifles bravery, forward thinking and bold action which is often required in the media."

INSIReporters take cover as the Corinthia Bab Africa Hotel comes under attack in the Libyan capital Tripoli on August 25, 2011. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK BAZ

10. Training and Equipment

With attacks on journalists increasing, the number of training providers has also mushroomed and there are now dozens of new safety companies offering their services, though with so many new providers standards vary hugely and often the decision to go with one or the other comes down to budget.

More than 28% of respondents said more equipment is available now than 10 years ago with 21% saying it is of higher quality and more compact and portable.

"People have seen that there is a market and piled in," said AKE founder Andrew Kain.

Journalists heading off to dangerous assignments in 2015 are going in better prepared than 10 years ago. Personal protective equipment is easier to use and more specialised with lighter and cheaper ballistic vests now available that are suitable for assignments in Mexico or Ferguson - where the threats are different, though no less life threatening - as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. Gender specific vests are commonplace, with some designed for larger women - something which was only just being thought of 10 years ago.

More organisations are offering hostile environments training to reporters though several major outlets admitted they didn't see the value in such courses, a view more commonly expressed 10 years ago. Globo's Marcelo Moreira said it took the death of a journalist in 2003 for his station to begin developing a culture of safety.

"When no one dies, organisations forget about safety training," Moreira said.

INSI's safety and security advisor Caroline Neil says 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," she said

The types of courses on offer are more diverse and training on covering environmental disasters, protests and public disorder are all commonly available now, in addition to the traditional three or five day hostile environments courses.

"When no one dies, organisations forget about safety training,"
- Brazilian media executive Marcelo Moreira.

"10 years ago, our experience was based on experience in the Balkans," said Thomson Reuters Sam Jamison.

"There is much less emphasis now on bombs and bullets. First aid is big now - getting on a tourniquet and getting to professional help."

Journalists and training providers are also increasingly focused on the modern day issue of digital security, acknowledging that journalists who may never see a frontline are also at risk of their communications being intercepted by individuals and governments.

"How do you protect your sources and yourself when so much of your life is out there on Facebook and social media? I think we're struggling to catch up," said the BBC's Stuart Hughes. "On traditional courses there's lots of talk about bombs and bullets and less talk about turning off your geolocation on Twitter and Facebook, but those are the kind of things that can get you killed."

Safety training for local journalists in developing countries, where arguably the courses are most needed, remains ad hoc at best and dependent on sporadic NGO and donor funding.

In addition to this, many journalists are entering the industry from universities, which have been slow to embed safety training into media curriculums. Jane Hawkes, the executive producer of the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma believes is a mistake.

"There's not enough attention paid to the non-violent theatre coverage - natural disasters, car accidents, dangers closer to home," said Hawkes. "How are journalists working in safer places being prepared?"

INSIRebels and journalists seek cover from sniper fire on the frontline in the city of Bani Walid, Libya on September 19, 2011. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID

11. No-Go Zones

There have always been no-go zones – areas that journalists could not (or occasionally would not) access – but their number seems to be increasing as news organisations now consider whether the reward outweighs the risk of sending correspondents to dangerous places. ISIS-controlled regions of Syria are currently the major no-go areas – for international journalists at least.

Stephanie Freid said the brutal murders of Sotloff and Foley, who many of today's war correspondents knew well, were a major turning point for her. She couldn't wait to leave Syria, which she said was the most stressful story she had covered.

"In Libya there were airstrikes and active fighting, but there was a sense that if you were hurt there were enough people on the ground to get you out," she said. "In Syria you are in no man's land. If you get hurt, who cares? The government is bombing its own people. You are a sitting duck, especially if you are sneaking in with no visa."

"There's tonnes of information out there if you can find a way to use it. Do we always need to send people into the line of fire?"
- logistics and security manager Mike Christie

Brave journalists like Freid willing to risk their lives used to be only way to find out what was going on in places like Iraq or Syria. Technology means that is no longer the case.

Mike Christie, the general manager for global logistics and security at Thomson Reuters and an INSI board member, said some risks taken 10 years ago are harder to justify today.

"There is so much user generated content available. There are a hundred cellphones at every checkpoint and battle in places like Syria," he said. "There's tonnes of information out there if you can find a way to use it. Do we always need to send people into the line of fire? Is there another way to cover the story than by sending journalists into Syria or Donetsk? Do we need to be in all these war zones? Maybe not."

Christie points out that user generated content isn't necessarily any easier to handle as it has to be verified and assessed for objectivity which requires a large amount of work.

Thomson Reuters isn't the only major news organisation becoming more risk averse. Many outlets no longer buy stories from untrained, uninsured journalists in places where they won’t send their own staff reporters (including parts of Syria). But some freelancers are sceptical, saying this is born out of the fear of reputational damage and that in the recent past (the Libyan revolution or the early days of the Syrian conflict) many major outlets did not ask about training or insurance.

INSIEgyptian photographers display pictures of colleagues who were arrested during a protest against police interference outside
the headquarters of the journalists' syndicate in Cairo on January 25, 2009. AFP PHOTO/CRIS BOURONCLE

12. Back to Basics

Though technology has forever changed the business of journalism, reporters say getting back to basics is still the best approach to staying safe. That means using local knowledge, being cautious, keeping your eyes open, dipping in and out of crowds with one person always watching your back.

CNN’s senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir said covering the Ebola story in West Africa brought home this message to her.

“Technology doesn’t save you. Basic journalism saves you, the buddy system, really supporting each other and having people you trust back in the UK,” she said. “There was a new realisation that no amount of technology, money or security will save you from Ebola. You have to look out for each other.”


It is a sad fact that journalists will continue to be killed for doing their jobs. With conflicts changing beyond recognition and brutal regimes, rebels and terrorists holding sway - many enabled by technology - it is hard to imagine the situation improving.

Journalists permanently removing themselves from the theatres of war is unlikely to happen and would be contrary to the role they play as members of the fourth estate. In fact, fierce levels of competition will drive them to take greater risks.

Even those working behind the frontlines are at risk from government surveillance; corrupt business people and supposedly ordinary citizens taking out their anger on the media. With retreat not an option, organisations need to be clear about what they can reasonably expect from reporters if they are to stay safe and how they are going to respond to and manage problems if and when they do arise.

Dialogue between employed staff and management and freelancers and the organisations that send them into danger is essential in determining what constitutes reasonable risk - and whether that risk is worth the reward. If we don’t do this more journalists will die. It is simple.

All journalists, including those back at headquarters, must be properly trained for the work that they do. The stresses they face must be fully acknowledged. All media owners and publishers must get on board about safety. It is unacceptable to send journalists into the field without proper equipment, training and insurance. It is also unacceptable for journalists to leave universities without a proper awareness of the importance of safety.

We need to ensure that everyone is as shocked and threatened about attacks on journalists as we are ourselves. We need to bring those who harass and kill us to justice and stop impunity. We hope that organisations like INSI will one day no longer be needed. Every story is worth covering, but no story is worth dying for.