Reporting Dangerously: Journalist Killings, Intimidation and Security, by Simon Cottle, Richard Sambrook and Nick Mosdell

Ivor Gaber welcomes a work that gives overdue attention to the risks that members of the press and those who help them too often face

June 30, 2016
Male war photographer wearing protective helmet and vest
Source: Alamy

Last year, more than 100 journalists were killed. One hundred deaths in the world over a year might not sound like a large number – but every time a journalist is killed, we are all diminished. The democratic space that a free media needs to operate exists only because there are people prepared to risk their lives to defend it.

Strangely, the safety of journalists, and the impunity with which so many of their killers operate, is not a topic that has been of great interest to either the media or media scholars, with the exception of Chris Paterson’s War Reporters Under Threat: The United States and Media Freedom (2014). Only if the journalist is from the West, or is killed in particularly horrific circumstances (an Islamic State speciality), do the world’s media sit up and take notice. But the vast majority of journalist casualties over the past decade (787 and counting) were local journalists or “fixers”, the people who work with international camera crews helping to ease their path through the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) minefields of conflict coverage.

This study, however, signals a welcome departure from the marked lack of interest in the issue of journalists’ safety that has been common to much media scholarship. It is very much a book of two halves. The first half consists of a series of thoughtful essays, mainly by Simon Cottle, that take an overview not just of the specific issue of the safety of journalists, but of a much wider sweep of related topics, from the role of journalists in civil society to the changing globalised nature of violence. The second half is practitioner-oriented, with two of its main chapters consisting largely of quotes from interviews with international journalists who have specialised in covering conflict. Their testimonies are graphic and insightful, and the authors are to be congratulated for running them at substantial length, providing more rewarding and profound insights than would be achieved by shorter soundbites. But although the numerical bias in favour of reporters from the UK is understandable, it means that we do not hear the voices of the less glamorous foreign fixers whose names, year in and year out, dominate the list of murdered journalists.

The authors might also have offered a small plaudit to the UK government, which in the teeth of significant opposition, took the lead in initiating a series of measures that have largely succeeded in getting the United Nations and the international community to take the problem of journalists’ safety seriously. The UK initiative resulted in the adoption in 2012 of a comprehensive UN plan of action that increases safety training for journalists and exerts greater pressure on those governments that continue to grant immunity, tacit or otherwise, to the killers of journalists.

Reporting Dangerously is to be warmly welcomed, even if it’s difficult to determine which market it has been aimed at. The theoretical chapters would not necessarily be accessible to the lay reader, such as journalists cynical about what contribution the academy is likely to make to addressing these issues – although any lingering doubts in that direction should be more than assuaged by the powerful testimonies in the book’s second half.

Ivor Gaber is professor of journalism, University of Sussex. He is the UK representative on Unesco’s International Programme for the Development of Communication, the body that originated the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Reporting Dangerously: Journalist Killings, Intimidation and Security
By Simon Cottle, Richard Sambrook and Nick Mosdell
Palgrave Macmillan, 208pp, £60.00, £19.99 and £15.99
ISBN 9781137406699, 6729 and 6705 (e-book)
Published 3 May 2016

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