As the world stands on the brink of what could be the most dangerous war ever, there is one question facing those of us in the news media: How far should a journalist go to get the story? With rogue groups in parts of the world appearing to regard journalists as legitimate targets, the inherently unsafe news business is getting even more dangerous. Journalists increasingly are finding themselves on the receiving end of the worst types of violence.
The past year has been one of the most testing years the profession has ever endured. Journalists are being killed at an unacceptable and unprecedented rate. They are doing a professional job but are being viewed as representatives of their native countries’ governments.
Gone are the days when journalism was looked upon as a sacred profession. Indeed, some say journalists now are more likely to be killed in the line of duty than members of the armed forces are.
CNN, like other organizations, must cover news in parts of the world that are frightful. In order to deliver the news, more and more journalists face danger doing their daily work, risking injury or even death. This is a reality that we in the media cannot simply learn to live with or accept. We must do something about it.
As I see it, all serious news organizations have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that their staff are trained and protected. Equally important, organizations such as these cannot provide a true and impartial news service if they cower in the face of lethal aggression.
Let’s remind ourselves of the horrible facts. More than 50 journalists died around the world last year, including the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, whose brutal killing in Pakistan so profoundly shocked the world.
Over the years, CNN, like the BBC and others, has suffered terribly. Seven CNN colleagues have been fatally shot — five of them in one day. Camerawoman Margaret Moth was shot in the face by a sniper in Sarajevo. Cameraman Dave Allbritton was nearly killed in a mortar attack on a Bosnian TV building. Cairo Bureau Chief and Correspondent Ben Wedeman was shot in the Gaza Strip.
This cannot be justified. News organizations must dig deep into their pockets to ensure the safety of their staff in the field. All broadcast news managers — and those in print too — have a responsibility to ensure that neither their staff nor their freelancers are sent into a hostile area without proper training and suitable equipment.
Such is CNN’s commitment to the safety of our staff in the field that we have sent more than 500 people to hostile-environment training and another 200 or so to chemical and biological warfare survival training. With courses lasting a week and costs of up to $4,000 to fully train and equip each person, CNN’s investment in mandatory training for staff is around $1 million. It is tragic and depressing that some other news organizations are unwilling to sponsor measures to protect their staff.
No one should be deployed to a hostile environment — or one that’s likely to be hostile — without being adequately trained and protected. In addition, for those reporting from hostile regions, armored vehicles, helmets, flak jackets, bioterror chemical kits should be part of the standard gear issued to journalists. Similarly, safety coordinators can have a vital role in the field, alongside our film crews.
This commitment should not end when the journalists come back. Just as members of the armed forces, police and fire personnel are cared for after dealing with a traumatic incident, journalists need to be cared for as much as ever. Debriefing, voluntary and confidential counseling should be available, if necessary, for those who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the past, death and injury in journalism was often put down to bad luck, a rogue event and, for some, just part and parcel of the job we do. But as journalists around the world report from newsworthy but dangerous places, their safety has become the most important priority for a news organization.
Now, more than ever, everyone in the news industry must face up to the perils of frontline journalism and equip themselves to handle them. We have a responsibility to do so. No story is worth a journalist’s life.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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