Who will protect journalists in conflict zones?
Journalists put their lives at risks to cover stories and give a true picture of what is happening on the ground.
Free speech has been under attack around the world, and journalists in particular have been bearing the brunt of attacks on the fourth estate. Just last year, a huge number of journalists were packed to prison on various accounts. Around 250 journalists are under arrest on false charges. In some cases, they have been detained without any charges.
It is horrifying that a number of journalists are killed or jailed every year, just for doing their jobs, and in many a case the attackers are not even punished or held accountable. A report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) notes that nine out of ten cases involving killings of members of the media remain unsolved or under-investigated. Why have journalists become an easy target?
The term journalist is wide. It includes not only the reporters and correspondents but also the technical team and photographers who must have the same immunity as their colleagues.
Freelance journalists, in particular, are at a higher risk. News agencies, newspapers and other media outlets rely more on stringers and freelance reporters for reporting from conflict zones. Yet, they are often on their own without any institution backing them up, especially when it comes to legal matters. Most of them even lack proper safety equipment such as bullet-proof vests. Don't be surprised if you see or read about freelance journalists wearing a motorcycle helmet instead of real gear to protect themselves in conflict zones while reporting on events.
The stakes are higher for female freelancers who face greater risks, including risks of sexual assaults, while covering stories on the frontline without any security.
Budgetary constraints of news organisations are affecting the profession and the way news is covered. Investments are drying up and many journalists consequently are giving up on their jobs and switching careers.
Many are also questioning if all the hustle is worth it, especially the reporters covering the Middle East. Conflicts such as the ones in Palestine and Iraq, which once were issues of global interest, are now not getting the attention they deserve. People do not want to read this.
Take Syria, for instance. More than 100 journalists have been abducted since the start of the war. The news has affected unbiased coverage. Many journalists decided not to cover the war, at least in the regions that are not controlled by the Syrian government.
Journalists in the Middle East are also constantly harassed and receive death and rape threats on social media, and sometimes from fake accounts that are impossible to identify. Ideally, local police should take care of such issues but unfortunately in countries that have turned into war zones, the government and its security institutions have more important problems at hand than to nab cyber bullies.
Journalists in the region also suffer from psychological injuries such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from reporting from battlefields and witnessing horrible things. This is yet another reason that pushes them to quit.
Journalists put their lives at risk to cover stories and give a true picture of what is happening on the ground. At the core, they are missionaries of truth unless he is doing a public relation job trying to please certain parties.
If the international community fails to protect and promulgate tougher laws to protect journalists everywhere, it is failing to protect democracy. Journalists are the most ferocious guardians of free speech and the fourth estate remains a bastion of democracy. They also play the role of peacemakers and watchdogs to prevent warlords freely committing war crimes without giving a second thought about the consequences of their actions.
Everyone should team up to find solutions on how to save journalism as a business and find donors. Rallies should be organised to respect the pledges and governments must allocate funds from their budgets to help journalists continue their noble mission of unbiased reporting and uncovering the truth - no matter in which country or industry.
Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut