More world journalism organizations endorse protections for freelancers

AP

More global media organizations have signed on to protections for freelance and local correspondents who face increasingly lethal dangers in the field.

The Guardian News and Media group, Newsweek and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines on Friday became the latest entities to agree to a set of “principles and practices” that were launched Thursday during an event at Columbia University’s school of journalism.

Media and advocacy groups including The Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, Bloomberg News, the BBC and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists say “news organizations have a moral responsibility to support journalists to whom they give assignments in dangerous areas.”

The recent beheadings of two Japanese nationals and U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by the Islamic State group illustrated in horrific detail the risks to correspondents on the ground.

Creators of the media guidelines say the list of organizations signing on, now numbering about 30, should grow steadily as word of the global campaign spreads.

“Everyone who signed understands what we see day in and day out: that dangers to freelancers on assignments is actually a danger to the press to do its job,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the New York-based Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Of the 61 journalists killed around the world last year in the line of fire, 13 were freelancers, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Reporters Without Borders, which also has agreed to the new guidelines, lists at least seven freelancers among its count of 69 journalists killed in 2014.

The guidelines urge news groups to treat regular freelance and local correspondents the same as staffers in safety and training, and to be prepared to take similar responsibility in the event of kidnapping or injury.

The principles also urge journalists working in dangerous areas to obtain the basic training and equipment to care for themselves or injured colleagues and to have a planning and communications strategy with news organizations while on assignment. They should also engage in a strict risk assessment with editors, measuring the value of a story against the dangers.

News outlets should offer freelancers “prompt payment” and fair recognition of their work, according to the principles.

Board members of the Frontline Freelance Register, which lists over 500 global correspondents, called the principles a good first step. “We’re going to continue pushing for more in the coming months, with emphasis on fair pay as well, but that will be for later,” said Nicole Tung, a board member and freelance photojournalist.

Shapiro of the Dart center said: “Will the guidelines evolve? Possibly. Probably.” He called them one step in an ongoing process.

He said some news organizations have debated whether the principles are binding or aspirational, and that “some groups who work actively with freelancers feel there’s too much ‘should’ in this document and not enough ‘must.’ “