Along with today’s fast pace of war and conflict, comes faster news - and sometimes, faster injury and death. Newspaper sales increase greatly in wartime and television news ratings go up. However, reporting from conflict zones has always been dangerous, but has it become even darker over the past decade? Have journalists become a trade currency between enemy countries?
It is no new phenomena that reporting from conflict zones has a significant life risk to it, but the risk has significantly increased over the past couple of years as terrorists, drug mafia and even governments seek to control the flow of information that is spreading faster than ever before due to our highly developed technology. Thousands of journalists have been attacked, murdered, kidnapped and imprisoned over the past decade. Nevertheless, even the terror attacks have developed into targeting journalists in specific, from the beheading of American journalist James Foley in 2014 to a severe attack on the French Magazine, Charlie Hebdo in 2015. In fact, according to Committee to Protect Journalist, 2015 was one of the worst years on record for journalist killed in the line of duty. Nonetheless, according to Reporters Without Borders, 110 journalists are reported killed around the world in 2015. The most dangerous countries for journalists are considered to be Iraq and Syria but there was in fact a newbie country from the West that topped the list in 2015. The raise of terror attacks in the West changed the statistics for the first time in decades, making France the most dangerous country for journalists the year of the attack. Studies even show that Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with drug and alcohol abuse has become a part of war-correspondent’s daily life. PTSD among war correspondents is almost as high as 33 percent, nonetheless many suffer from broken marriages and families.
Statistics for 2016 from Committee to Protect Journalists Abroad
Journalism has like anything else changed with time. The way the digital world has changed has affected the results. Historically, most wars fought were between national armies with well-defined battle zones and journalists covering the wars used to work closely with one army that gave them protection and immunity from being targeted. For instant, during the Second World War, American reporters used to be handed military uniforms and went along with the troops giving that gave them protection and medical assistance if necessary. However, war as we know it used to be a conflict between states, but has developed more into a conflict between states and non-state actors. For instant, of the 216 peace agreements signed from 1975 to 2011, 196 of them were between a state and a non-state actor. To use Syria as an example, during the upraise of the Arab spring, government forces had to battle rebel protestors and reporters had no other option than to go with the rebels in order to get the best stories, even if the risks were dangerously high. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 stated that journalists are to be treated as civilians in times of conflict; harming or killing them is a war crime, which in reality should give them international protection. Journalists captured while accompanying an army were entitled to the same protections as soldiers and were effectively prisoners of war. The idea worked fine until the Balkan war in the early 1990s where enemy sides particularly started targeting journalists to raise attention.
Conflict correspondents have more or less voluntarily been dogging bullets since the day they got into this field, but they are not naïve. The risks and dangers are clear long before the moment they pick up their notebook or camera. The perverse truth of the risk of getting hurt, raped, assaulted, kidnapped or even murdered is understood,. So, why do so many conflict correspondents continue to jeopardize their live, nevertheless, in most cases go solo or with one camera man only? The answer is simple; continuing budget cuts in the media industry has changed the rules of the game. However, putting aside the fact that war correspondence is considered the most dangerous form of journalism, it is also often considered the most successful and respected one. The need and demand after conflict news have everything but decreased and the gap is being filled by freelance journalists that have lost their bulletproof vests. Due to the budget cuts, freelancers are forced to take extra risks, like not hiring a translator or staying in an unsafe hotel. Nevertheless, rapidly growing technology has opened the doors for close to any freelance journalist that can afford a plane ticket. In addition, commonly, but not necessary, freelancers tend to be younger and less experience while in search for the right story and shot to make their name big in the journalism world.
A quick scan of war zones, from Syria to Somalia, shows the world is not getting safer for journalists trying to report on these conflicts. But it's a reminder of the risks assigned journalists never afraid to take. James Foley, Lara Logan and Taras Protsyuk are three out of many innocent journalist that have had a brutal end to their career.