© 2022 KGOU
KGOU_Header_72dpi-01_0.jpg
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Shining A Light On The Dangers Journalists Face In The Field

Muhammad Jassim Abdulkarim Olayan al-Dhafiri, known as "Jihadi John" in an ISIS video with two Japanese hostages who were later killed by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants.
YouTube
/
Muhammad Jassim Abdulkarim Olayan al-Dhafiri, known as "Jihadi John" in an ISIS video with two Japanese hostages who were later killed by self-proclaimed Islamic State militants.

On February 28, Ukranian journalist Sergei Nikolayev died shortly after being taken to a hospital for wounds sustained in an artillery attack in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. It’s just one recent example of the extreme danger journalists face every day around the globe.

Hannah Storm leads the International News Safety Institute, an organization that works to keep journalists safe as they willingly enter conflict zones, areas rebuilding after disasters, and regions experiencing humanitarian crises to inform the public about these situations.

“On average it’s two journalists and media workers dying every week,” Storm says. “There have been a little over that, on average, over the last 12 years … about 1,500 journalists [have died in the field] since 2003.”

The dangers reporters face has been a common topic in the news recently as the Islamic State continues to capture and murder journalists, and Storm says there are many more deaths around the world that we never hear about.

“Most of the journalists dying overseas are [local] journalists … covering conflicts which don’t make it into the big news,” Storm says. “They bear the brunt of this. And they’ve always borne the brunt of it.”

These local journalists make up 90 percent of journalists who are murdered in the field every year. And most of the time their killers are never brought to justice. Storm says over the past few years journalists have become even less safe.

“We used to have this sense that journalists are immune – now it seems like open season,” Storm says.

A number of factors have led to this change. The rise of social media and increased access to equipment means anyone can be a journalist. At the same time, the number of media bureaus around the world has decreased. Storm says this has created a vacuum of international correspondents, which has increased reliance on local and freelance journalists.

“It’s kind of like a perfect storm, all those different elements, as to why it’s becoming incredibly insecure to be a journalist,” Storm says.

Despite this increased danger, most journalists aren’t willing to stop reporting.

“They have a desire, and sometimes it’s an idealistic [desire] and sometimes it’s a naïve desire, but they want to shine that light into these dark places,” Storm says. “They want to give a voice to the voiceless.”

----------------------------

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On The Work Of The International New Safety Institute

I work for a charity called the International News Safety Institute – or otherwise known as INSI. And it was set up 12 years ago, around about the start of the Iraq War in 2003. And the reason it was set up was that there wasn't a really specific organization trying to promote the safety of journalists trying to proactively work with journalists to help them understand the risks they faced and mitigate those risks as well. As we've seen over the last 12 years, every year there are large numbers of journalists who get killed. Every year, most of the time we don't hear about most of those journalists, we only hear about the big names.

On The Safety Of Female Journalists

The reason we started at INSI focusing on the idea of safety of women journalists was after the attack on Lara Logan, the CBS correspondent, in Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011, February 2011, at the start of the Egyptian Revolution. It kind of opened a new chapter in the discussion about the safety of women journalists. There were a lot of questions being asked; there were a lot of people coming to us to ask for advice and tips on how to stay safe. But there were also a lot of questions about: Should women be out in the front lines? Should they, as mothers, be out on the front lines? Really were they being responsible? Now, people sit on different sides of the fence in that debate. And I'm a female journalist, and my personal belief is that everybody ought to have a choice to do as they feel fit, themselves. And that nobody should be forced to do something if they don't want to, and also that they shouldn't be judged on those choices. But the upshot of that whole conversation about safety and journalism was that we were inundated by comments and questions and stories from other female journalists around the world… So we pulled together 40 stories from journalists from around the world. It's a fantastic collection of these stories from people from the BBC and CNN. Lara Logan did the forward for us; Hala Gorani from CNN wrote for it; Jennifer Griffin from Fox News wrote for it. And they told us about the kind of experiences they'd had as women and as journalists – the kinds of doors that had been opened because of their work and because of their gender, and some of the problems and challenges they had faced as well… It's been really helpful because what we've been able to do over the course of this two-, three-year period, is work specifically with journalists in areas of the world where they're incredibly challenged because of their gender and the cultural issues around their gender, to help train them to better stay safe, really.

On Why Journalists Are Willing To Risk Entering Dangerous Situations

Nearly every single journalist I know feels completely compelled that it's not a profession, it's a vocation. They have a desire, and sometimes it's an idealistic and sometimes it's a naïve desire, but they want to shine that light into these dark places and they want to tell the story behind the headlines. And as I said, they want to give a voice to the voiceless. It's not dangerous for everybody. Let me make that clear. And even after 15 years of seeing some fairly grim stuff in my life, I wouldn't choose a different career at all… And I would certainly say that we shouldn't be paralyzed by fear. In terms of the safety thing, it is important. It's absolutely valid that we understand the role that journalists play and the safety considerations. But I think above and beyond that, we have an enormous responsibility to try and tell the truth in as close a proximity to that truth that as we can find, and be kind of that fourth estate – that first draft of history.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Hannah Storm, welcome to World Views.

HANNAH STORM: Thank you.

GRILLOT: Well, Hannah, you work in the field of journalism, and particularly regarding safety and security issues. You've done a lot of work in post-conflict zones, after natural disasters, areas of the world in humanitarian crises: places where it's not necessarily safe for people to be coming in and reporting on stories there. You're enlightening us as to what's going on in these situations. And so you've developed this approach to enhance safety and security for other journalists. But first, can you tell us: why are we even having to focus on this? What is it about journalists in particular that puts them in unsafe and insecure positions?

STORM: Well, I work for a charity called the International News Safety Institute – or otherwise known as INSI. And it was set up 12 years ago, around about the start of the Iraq War in 2003. And the reason it was set up was that there wasn't a really specific organization trying to promote the safety of journalists trying to proactively work with journalists to help them understand the risks they faced and mitigate those risks as well. As we've seen over the last 12 years, every year there are large numbers of journalists who get killed. Every year, most of the time we don't hear about most of those journalists, we only hear about the big names.

GRILLOT: So how many do we lose in a given year?

STORM: So, on average it's two journalists and media workers dying every week. So it's about 100 a year. There have been a little over that, on average, over the last 12 years. I was counting before and it's around about 15 hundred journalists since 2003. And they die in all manner of difficult, dangerous, and awful places. Some of them are targeted for the work they do. And that's often the case with local journalists – so in places like Mexico, or Somalia, or Honduras, and places like that. But also sometimes it's going on dangerous assignments. And it might be something like being in the wrong car at the wrong time. It might be something like when Anthony Shadid died. Something like that. His was a health issue, but he was on an assignment where he happened to pass there. And it's a very difficult situation in an environment that journalists work. And the reason it's so important that we try and work with them to protect them and help them understand the risks they face is, obviously, they are providing a voice to the voiceless. They're providing truth. They're shining a light in the dark corners of society. Without journalists we wouldn't have any way of seeing these things. So aside from the numbers of journalists who are killed – the two every week – there are many, many more journalists who are attacked, assaulted, threatened, kidnapped, detained. And what we seem to be seeing in this day and age – and particularly since the start of the Arab uprisings, say four and a half, five years ago – is that there seems to be many more attacks on journalists. This seems to be a change with regard to we used to be respected, much more respected. And now it's kind of almost, as you say, open season for attacks on journalists.

GRILLOT: Well I do want to get to this issue of it becoming more serious now. I mean, the numbers you just quoted are astonishing – that this many journalists have died in the line of duty, basically. I have this image in my head: the press used to wear around their credentials because it protected them, because it was "you can't touch them, they're a member of the press. They're not involved." But now, it's just the opposite it seems. And so this does seem to be something new, although not brand-new. You quoted figures going back to 2003 since the beginning of the Iraq War. I presume that we had journalists in harm's way before that. I know this is the case, for example, throughout the Balkan Wars in the 90s and wars in Africa. So it's not brand-new, but it's certainly picking up steam. So what has happened here? You said there are lots of reasons that help us understand and explain what has happened.

STORM: Sure. And there's a couple of things I'd say, as there certainly used to be this sense that journalists were immune, that journalists were somehow protected, that journalists were somehow sitting on a pedestal. That's certainly not the case now. Although, as I mentioned before, journalists, local journalists as we call them –journalists working in countries far afield on stories that we very rarely even hear about in the international media – they bear the brunt of this. And they've always borne of the brunt of it. So most of the journalists dying overseas are journalists, as I say, working in places like Mexico covering the drug wars, in Somalia covering conflicts, which don't make it into the big news. So that's about 90 percent of the journalists who die every year. And of those, 90 percent of those, their killers are never brought to justice. In my mind, the way it's changing is there seems to be more of a focus on targeting and attacking international journalists recently. And that's been over the last couple of years. As I said before, we used to have this sense that journalists are immune – now it seems like open season. Journalists are not allowed to be attacked and assaulted under a Geneva Convention that basically says that journalists should be protected in the same way that civilians are protected. So journalists are civilians. There is some talk now that maybe we need to reconsider that and have a special war crime. So basically it's a war crime if you do target journalists. Now, there are various [many] different reasons as to whether that should be the case or whether actually it's even going to put off people who target journalists. I mean, is it worthwhile saying to the Islamic State Militia, "oh, by the way, guys, we're going to take you to The Hague if you kill a journalist"? Probably not. But it's been a really interesting period of time. So, just briefly, I guess the reasons why it's changed in the past four years or so is that the rise of social media has really increased the number of voices and platforms for news out there, that it basically means that anybody can be a journalist. And also it means that outfits who aren't traditionally journalists can use it as a form of propaganda. So they can say bad things about journalists and use journalists to say bad things. There's also the conflicts of the last four to five years have been very easy geographically to reach for many journalists. So it's quite easy to get to the Middle East, for instance – to get into Egypt, to get into Tunisia, to get into Libya. Less easy to get into Syria, but still kind of easy; although I wouldn't advise it, absolutely. And there's a couple of other points. Equipment that can be used by journalists is also much more affordable than it was in the past, and you can effectively be a journalist just with your iPhone. And the final thing is the economics of journalism. Over the past few years, bureaus have been cut massively around the world. So most of the major news organizations have really sliced the numbers of overseas bureaus. That's left a vacuum for journalists who are the kind of guys they used to employ. The foreign correspondents are no longer there. There's a reliance on the local journalists. And there's also a vacuum that freelancers are going in to fill. Added to that on the economics side, when people are going to journalism school, when they come out of journalism school there's no jobs for them. So they want to go and try and sometimes do some journalism because they don't want to be stocking shelves at supermarkets. They think, "Hey look, I can add all those factors in, and I can go and cover the Middle East.” I'd say to them, "that is not the place to cut your teeth." So that is one of the reasons. It's kind of like a perfect storm, all those different elements, as to why it's becoming incredibly insecure to be a journalist.

GRILLOT: Some of your work has focused on, in particular, female journalists. And so help us understand how all of these things that you just described and that the targeting of, or the use of and the lack of respect for journalists in general, is different in particular for female journalists. And what the challenges are for you, as somebody who is focusing on safety and security of journalists and helping train journalists? What are the things that you're helping female journalists do in particular?

STORM: Well the reason we started at INSI focusing on the idea of safety of women journalists was after the attack on Lara Logan, the CBS correspondent, in Tahrir Square in Egypt in 2011, February 2011, at the start of the Egyptian Revolution. It kind of opened a new chapter in the discussion about the safety of women journalists. There were a lot of questions being asked; there were a lot of people coming to us to ask for advice and tips on how to stay safe. But there were also a lot of questions about: Should women be out in the front lines? Should they, as mothers, be out on the front lines? Really were they being responsible? Now, people sit on different sides of the fence in that debate. And I'm a female journalist, and my personal belief is that everybody ought to have a choice to do as they feel fit, themselves. And that nobody should be forced to do something if they don't want to, and also that they shouldn't be judged on those choices. But the upshot of that whole conversation about safety and journalism was that we were inundated by comments and questions and stories from other female journalists around the world. And I decided from that to try and create a resource for other women journalists who wanted some information about how to stay safe, and also the kind of experiences they had had. It might not be, for instance, that the challenges they faced were any worse than their male colleagues. It might have been that being a woman journalist actually opened many more doors. So we pulled together 40 stories from journalists from around the world. It's a fantastic collection of these stories from people from the BBC and CNN. Lara Logan did the forward for us; Hala Gorani from CNN wrote for it; Jennifer Griffin from Fox News wrote for it. And they told us about the kind of experiences they'd had as women and as journalists – the kinds of doors that had been opened because of their work and because of their gender, and some of the problems and challenges they had faced as well. And it somehow inadvertently made us an expert in that area. Obviously it was a passion of mine because I was born female and I'm a journalist as well. But it's been really helpful because what we've been able to do over the course of this two-, three-year period, is work specifically with journalists in areas of the world where they're incredibly challenged because of their gender and the cultural issues around their gender, to help train them to better stay safe, really.

GRILLOT: So, given these challenges, how and why is it that journalists then continue to do this work? Obviously the passion, the professionalism, the commitment to – as you said earlier – giving a voice to the voiceless and making sure that we know about and are aware of all of the horrible things, in some respects, that are going around the world. But you also mentioned these killers of journalists are never brought to justice. I mean, there are all kinds of safety and security concerns. So why do people, despite this, continue to go down this path? I know you've talked about economics. I know you've talked about the fact that there are just more people out there doing this kind of work and it's easy given the access. But is there anything else fundamentally influencing these decisions? That there's, as you said, in the rise of social media, that you can make a name for yourself? That there's a real strong need or desire? Is it really just strong passion?

STORM: I honestly think it is. I mean, yes, there are certain people out there who want to make their name. And yes, as in every profession and every career, there are people who perhaps go in with the wrong motivations. But nearly every single journalist I know feels completely compelled that it's not a profession, it's a vocation. They have a desire, and sometimes it's an idealistic and sometimes it's a naïve desire, but they want to shine that light into these dark places and they want to tell the story behind the headlines. And as I said, they want to give a voice to the voiceless. It's not dangerous for everybody. Let me make that clear. And even after 15 years of seeing some fairly grim stuff in my life, I wouldn't choose a different career at all. It's allowed me to see the world. It's allowed me to make friends in places that I'd never anticipated going, and it's allowed me to make friends with strangers. And certainly be able to help my family understand how important it is to carry on telling those stories as well. And so, I think it's a combination of all of those. And I would certainly say that we shouldn't be paralyzed by fear. In terms of the safety thing, it is important. It's absolutely valid that we understand the role that journalists play and the safety considerations. But I think above and beyond that, we have an enormous responsibility to try and tell the truth in as close a proximity to that truth that as we can find, and be kind of that fourth estate – that first draft of history.

GRILLOT: Well, Hannah, thank you so much for being with us today and helping us shine light on this important issue of media safety. As we know, the media workers are out there shining light on those important issues. It's important for us to keep in mind that they put themselves in harms way so that we can see those things. So thank you for being with us today and sharing that.

STORM: Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2015 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

More News
Support nonprofit, public service journalism you trust. Give now.