War’s Media “Bloodbath’

July 24, 2009

There are old war correspondents and bold war correspondents but no old, bold war correspondents…
–  Joseph L. Galloway

In an age of seemingly perpetual war all over the globe, those reporting from the front are dying at an alarming rate.

From Agence France-Presse:

Fifty-nine journalists have been killed around the world so far this year, in an alarming rise from 2008 that has become a “bloodbath” of the media, a watchdog said Thursday.
The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC) said 53 journalists were killed in the first six months, up from 45 in the first half of last year, but highlighted another six killings in July including Russian journalist and rights activist Natalya Estemirova who was murdered on July 15.
Mexico leads the media blackspots with seven journalist killings this year, according to the PEC.
It said there were six in Pakistan, five each in Iraq, the Philippines, Russia and Somalia, four in Gaza and Honduras, three in Colombia, two each in Afghanistan, Guatemala, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Venezuela and one in India, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Madagascar.

The big threat is not necessarily from actual combat as politics plays the death card more often than not, and local news people are more apt to die than a foreign correspondent.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 742 news people have been killed since 1992 worldwide (through July 8, 2009) with murder the main charge in 71.8 percent of the time vs. only 17.8 percent dying in actual combat.
And the biggest perpetrators?

  • Political groups: 32.1 percent
  • Government officials: 18.3 percent
  • And the military: 5.8 percent
  • Local/national reporters die 86.5 percent of the time, while foreign news service people at only 13.5 percent.

The guts to these murdered journalists — those who actually did the killing received complete impunity in 88.7 percent of the cases.

In March 2007, Reuters reported on a study by the International News Safety Institute (INSI): More than 1,100 journalists and support staff have been killed carrying out their work in the past decade and the annual toll has jumped since 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
And it’s worse at home:

Worldwide, last year was the worst for media workers with 167 killed worldwide, up from 149 in 2005 and 131 in 2004. That compares with 94 in 2003, 70 in 2002 and 103 in 2001.
The total tally since the start of 1996 was 1,101, said the report, “Killing the Messenger.”
Nearly half were shot and the vast majority — at least 657 people — were murdered covering news during peacetime in their own country.

J-School with a flak jacket.

And according to Joe Galloway (from above) for a war reporter to avoid getting killed — among a long list:

Strive to look as much like a private of whatever service you are travelling with. You do NOT want to stand out like a sore thumb. BLEND IN! If you look different you may thus appear important to someone peering through a sniper scope. If he is low on ammo or short on time he will definitely shoot you first. Those on the recent media exercise who declared that they had to look different, and donned brightly colored shirts and vests or stripped the camo cover off their kevlar helmet and substituted white tape with a large PRESS emblazoned thereon, are idiots. It is not worth dying to make a statement about your civilian status.

Avoid animals. Period. Cute dogs and other critters bite. Then you go to the rear to get your rabies shots.

There is no way I can prepare someone who has never witnessed combat for the shock of the first sight of a badly wounded soldier, screaming in pain, begging for his mother. Or the sight of the face of a young soldier in death….a soldier of either side. You will learn to process the images and move on and do your job. But what you see in battle will never leave you.
In combat you may find that those around you may need a helping hand. Do not shy away from an opportunity to act first as a concerned human being and then later as a reporter. Help the wounded, if called to do so. Carry water or ammo or the dead if it seems needed. None of that violates either the Geneva Convention or your objectivity as a journalist.

And take care…

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