A day without the news

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BitDepth#961 for November 04

Delphine Hagland, Santiago Ryan and Antonio Bolfo speak at PhotoPlus Expo last week. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Delphine Hagland, Santiago Ryan and Antonio Bolfo speak at PhotoPlus Expo last week. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Increased danger in field reporting has grown troubling enough that it’s not only captured the attention of the United Nations, it led to the strengthening and re-emphasis in December 2013 of the 2006 Security Council Resolution 1738 following recommendations from Reporters Without Borders.

That hasn’t slowed the appalling statistics offered by the US Director of the journalist’s organisation, Delphine Hagland at the opening keynote of PhotoPlus Expo, A Day without News, in New York last week.

There are 177 journalists in jail at last count, along with another 178 bloggers and net-based citizen journalists. Of the 71 journalists killed in 2013, 39 per cent of them died in a war zone. There have been 56 journalist killings in 2014.

More than 80 per cent of such crimes go unsolved and 94 per cent of the killings targeted locals covering news in their homeland.

The incidence of such indifference to these crimes is so high that last Sunday, November 02, was marked as the second Day to End Impunity, an effort to make nations aware that allowing and even encouraging situations in which the killers of journalists can escape trial or punishment is unacceptable to the global community.

Antonio Bolfo, a Reportage by Getty photojournalist emerged as the star of the discussion, an impassioned, disturbingly young and surprisingly experienced veteran of conflict zones both in America and abroad.

Bolfo is one of hundreds of young photojournalism graduates and freelancers who have chosen to pursue the news, but he recently drew the line at returning to Syria, where journalists are being specifically targeted by ISIS militants.

“You find yourself in an environment in which fixers, their family and friends are rewarded for turning over journalists,” he explained.

“Even if you can trust your fixer (a local person engaged to provide or source services or contacts), can you trust everyone they know?”

“Why are we taking the risks we take today?” he pondered aloud.

“Young journalists wanting to break into the field are willing to take more risks, but here’s a need for security protocols and safety procedures.”

“Journalists must place more emphasis in planning and preparation. You simply can’t go into a conflict zone without proper training, insurance and a satellite phone.”

“In some conflict zones, journalists are worth ransom money,” said Ron Haviv of the news photo agency VII.

“When it’s about money and not ideology, things are very different.”

“And it’s not just about money,” Hagland added.

“There is also the widespread publicity that the ISIS killings brought to that organisation.”

“Twenty years ago, reporting in the Balkans, the reporting was remote,” explained Santiago Lyon, AP’s Director of Photography.

“The immediacy of news has changed the dynamic. Our subjects are now aware of the impact of the news and the immediate value of engaging with journalists – to ransom and to execute them.”

“AP has a reluctance to take unnecessary risks,” Lyon explained.

“There are fewer agencies now, and those that remain must evaluate their responsibility to freelancers.”

To bridge that gap in coverage, AP has been working with user-generated content from activists, but now finds that ISIS is using the same channels to tell their version of the story.

“We do evaluate all user-generated content according to the circumstances of its posting,” Lyon said.

“We want to be right, to be accurate when we publish, but we are also managing pressures from customers who want news right now.”

Moderator David Friend, editor for creative development at Vanity Fair, noted that such pressures do not only happen in foreign countries.

“There has been a chilling effect arising from intimidation techniques both in the US and abroad,” Friend said.

“Even in democratic societies there are moves to limit access to information, and threats to whistle-blowers and those who report on their revelations continue.”