Silenced Witness

Posted by: Nick Mosdell

Journalism Safety – Silenced Witness

In this the first blog in JOMEC’s series addressing the dangers faced by journalists and media workers across the globe, Nick Mosdell discusses the International News Safety Institute’s Killing the Messenger report for 2013 which highlighted the alarming number of journalists killed outside of recognised conflict zones.

Earlier this year the International News Safety Institute released the annual Killing the Messenger report for 2013. This catalogues the deaths of journalists and media workers as a result of doing their work around the world. These reports are compiled in JOMEC and form the basis of submissions to a variety of international agencies, including the United Nations Security Council as a requirement of UN Resolution 1738. The latest figures show little improvement from previous years with 134 casualties, compared to 152 in 2012 and 112 in 2011.

Countries in conflict or violent protest dominate, perhaps not surprisingly. Syria led the death toll with 20 casualties. It is worth noting however, that these were not all deaths from crossfire or indiscriminate bombing – These are not scud studs and war junkies trying to get an important but inevitably dangerous story. All “sides” in the Syrian conflict are utilising media, for consumption both internally and internationally, and increasingly media outlets and individual journalists are being deliberately and violently targeted to influence the outcome of this information war.

In Iraq there is a similar story of deliberate targeting. Some are sectarian killings, some are a legacy of the US-led Coalition occupation, where journalists known to have aided Western news organisations or to have expressed sympathetic views are punished. All of the victims were local journalists or media workers, which raises a host of questions about the responsibilities of international news organisations when employing local personnel, particularly during war and conflict.

The issue of the safety of journalists when covering conflict became particularly apparent during the Balkan wars in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and this led to a much wider discussion of safety within the industry. Part of the reason for the rise in casualties was the development of more portable technology; putting journalists closer to the front lines, but also allowing more covert filming. Some of the material smuggled out of the region and later broadcast was used as evidence in subsequent war crimes tribunals at the Hague and this puts journalists in a position of not only being witnesses to history but being witnesses in a more legal sense.

What is more shocking is the number of journalists who are killed in countries that are not in such overtly volatile conditions.

In 2013, INSI figures suggested that there were 65 casualties in countries in national or international armed conflict and 69 in relatively “peaceful” countries. Of these 69, 18 were accidents, but the rest were violent killings.

As the build-up to the 2014 World Cup continues, Brazil is still noticeably dangerous for journalists. Violent protests concerning corruption and inequality have escalated and reporting on these is an inherently precarious situation, claiming at least one life. Journalists have also been assaulted amid claims that the coverage is being distorted for political reasons. Away from the main cities however, the deliberate silencing of media reporting on corruption receives less attention. In 2013 INSI reported that six journalists were killed in Brazil. All were shot, at least five apparently directly related to their work. Despite some improvement over recent years, the Committee to Protect Journalists lists Brazil as the 10th worst country for impunity for the perpetrators of these killings.

In countries where war is not the headline story, what doesn’t make the front page is often more important than what does.