Dying to Tell the Truth

It’s no secret that journalism is a dangerous profession but in a country where it’s all too easy to take freedom of press for granted we’re not often aware just how dangerous journalism can be.

When the reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza the BBC issued a statement saying they were “concerned for his safety” and later made a plea for information on his whereabouts. The killing of Danny Pearl prompted the Wall Street Journal to announce they were “heartbroken at his death”.

It’s simple to assume that all journalists who go ‘missing’ experience the same level of concern from their employers. However, in many areas around the globe – where reporters disappear at an alarming rate – the numbers are not even recorded and it’s rare that threatened reporters receive any support from their media outlet.

Most of the journalists who go missing are not international correspondents, parachuting into uncharted waters, but locals who die in their own country during peace times.

The New Internationalist has reported how correspondents from some of Guatemala’s leading newspapers are being hunted down by drug traffickers for stories they have written about them. In one particular case the journalist had to leave his job – fearing for his family’s safety. He has not received any assistance from his employer, it has washed its hands of him.

International News Safety Institute (INSI) is the only global organisation dedicated to safety in journalism. They are a non-profit charity that offers a global hostage help service and provides safety training free of charge to journalists in areas of the world that need it most. In many countries ‘at risk’ journalists can’t turn to their Government for help as it’s often them they’re running from, so it’s essential that organisations like INSI are there to help.

The official death toll for journalists this year is 63, but the unofficial toll is thought to be much higher. Too many journalists that disappear are found with their throats cut, and ‘suicide’ is recorded as their cause of death.

While over £150,000 is spent each year on media development around the world, £0 is spent on media safety training. The armed forces, aid workers and medical professionals all receive intensive safety training before being sent to hostile environments. However, few journalists receive the same treatment.
According to INSI’s director, Rodney Pinder: “On a modern battleground the journalist is the only person untrained.”

It’s unacceptable that courageous journalists who shine a light on corruption spend the rest of their life in hiding, or worse ‘disappear’ from life all together.

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