It used to be that when there were discussions about protecting journalists, these talks were happening at the height of the great recession, a time when newspapers and print journalism were taking a major economic hit and reporters, editors and photographers were losing their jobs and careers.
With an improving economy, that’s no longer the main focus when the issue of “protecting” journalists gets raised. Today, the discussion today is about something far more radical, extreme — and dangerous.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. Although formed in 1981, their mission has taken on a new urgency in the past year — for tragic reasons.
Last week, CPJ set out new standards aimed at protecting freelancer journalists who are at risk of violence, even death, when they attempt to cover news in certain parts of the world, then deliver their reports to viewers and readers.
It is, the organization based in New York City, a huge endeavor to help protect them.
CPJ is a global network of freelance journalists, news media companies, advocacy organizations, and journalist safety groups. Founded in 1981 by a group of U.S. correspondents, CPJ was organized to look for ways to help colleagues reporting in the world’s most dangerous hotspots, and faced the risk of physical violence, even death, on a daily basis.
Their mission became even more clear a year later, when three British journalists – Simon Winchester, Ian Mather, and Tony Prime – got arrested in Argentina while covering the Falklands War.
Last week, CPJ decided to put a new focus on the dangers facing freelance journalists. On Thursday, they released a set of guidelines for freelance journalists working on dangerous assignments, as well as the news organizations that hand out them these assignments.
“The guidelines represent unprecedented collaboration aimed at protecting freelancers in one of the most dangerous times on record for journalists,” CPJ noted in a news release, while adding that its members have become a part of this new task force.
Just how dangerous the world has become for journalists was made painfully clear in a CPJ report noting that in 2014 alone, 61 journalists got killed while doing their work, and one-fifth were freelancer journalists.
That included two of the most high profile and shocking murders: the executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff by members of IRIS. Last August, a video was released online showing the brutal murder of American journalist Foley, who was beheaded. He had been covering the ongoing conflict in Syria when he was taken captive.
As CPJ notes, this killing is a stark reminder that a free society means the need for a free press.
“The killing of journalists continues at a strong pace, with at least 15 journalists killed for their work in January this year,” the CPJ report noted.
Robert Mahoney, the CPJ deputy director, added, “More journalists have been killed or kidnapped in the last three years than in any period since we began keeping records. Against that backdrop, the news industry could not throw up its hands and carry on with business as usual.”
That’s why they decided to set out new standards and encourage all news organizations to embrace them, he said.
“These principles and practices are an important first step towards improving safety for all journalists covering dangerous assignments,” Mahoney added. “Freelancers commit to follow recognized security procedures and acquire the requisite skills, while news outlets undertake to treat freelancers fairly and show the same concern for their welfare as they do for that of their own staff. We hope this will become the new industry standard.”
The guidelines were launched at Columbia University through a panel featuring members from CPJ, AP, Reuters, the Ground Truth Project, and numerous freelance journalists. They offer advice for journalist that might in the past have sounded shrill or unnecessary, but may no longer be today, including wearing protective ballistic clothing, completing an industry standard hostile environment training course, and getting insurance coverage.
“A core principle is that news outlets must treat local journalists and freelancers in the same manner that they treat members of staff,” CPJ added in the report. “The standards suggest that news organizations not assign a freelancer to cover a dangerous assignment unless it is willing to take the same responsibility for that freelancer’s wellbeing as it would a staffer.”
They now plan to advocate for these guidelines become the standard for all news organizations sending journalists on dangerous assignments.
The CPJ is also accepting donations to carry on their mission. To learn more, contact Samantha Libby, their advocacy officer, at 212-300-9007 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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