The dangers of war reporting are not just for the reporters

Torin Douglas has an interesting blog on the BBC site today about the dangers of war reporting, stemming from the praise that Sky News received for entering Tripoli with the rebel convoy, and criticism of the BBC for its decision not to do so.

He references the plight of dozens of journalists who were trapped in the Rixos hotel in Tripoli, including BBC reporters.

It’s easy to say in hindsight that Sky made the right choice and the BBC didn’t – after all, Sky’s Alex Crawford has been widely applauded for her reports from the convoy. But the beeb is also right to say that a balance has to be struck. Reporters’ lives are at stake, after all.

Every year at Amnesty’s Media Awards we’re reminded how many journalists have been killed each year while doing their jobs. Many are war reporters. Others are murdered by those who have something to hide. It’s welcome news that there was another arrest on Tuesday in relation to the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskya, but we still don’t know how far up the chain of command the order to kill her went. And the murder itself was five years ago.

Journalists do a difficult and dangerous job, without which the wider public would struggle to know what was happening in their world.

But it’s not just the journalists who are risking their necks. A big part of their work is talking to local people on the ground to find out information. And those people don’t get to fly home after the story’s ‘ended’, nor do they have any security advisors or the protection of being with a big media outfit like the BBC or Sky.

Local journalists and activists in Syria, for example, who pass on information about the country's unrest to the international media, face a very real threat of torture.

'Adel Walid Kharsa was arrested by security forces in his hometown of Hama on 17 August, seemingly in connection with his news reports on the protests. Despite taking precautions by making his news reports anonymously by phone, ‘Adel’s identity became known to Syrian security officials. He received calls on his cell phone from security officers urging him to “repent” and to give himself in to the authorities. He refused and went into hiding.

At 5am on 17 August, Kharsa was arrested by security forces at the house where he was hiding. He has since been held incommunicado.

Other detainees have also been tortured to find out whether they have given news about events in Syria to regional and international media, according to info that we’ve received.

While I have to applaud the bravery of journalists who are ducking bullets to get stories out of Libya and Syria, they’re not doing it alone. Their sources – ordinary people who live on those bullet-ridden streets – are risking their lives too.

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