March 31st, 2014

Spanish Journalists Freed After 194 Days in Captivity in Syria

Spanish photojournalist Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova and reporter Javier Espinosa were freed by their Syrian captors Saturday night, 194 days after they were kidnapped while attempting to cover the Syrian civil war for the Spanish daily El Mundo, according to reports by NPPA and other news outlets.

Espinosa is a staff reporter for the Spanish daily El Mundo. Garcia-Vilanova, a freelancer, was on assignment with Espinosa when they were abducted by an Al-Qaeda affiliates at a checkpoint, shortly after crossing into Syria from Turkey last September 16.

Both men were reportedly in good health when they were released to Turkish authorities, and have since been re-united with their families in Spain.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Syria ranks as the world’s most dangerous place for journalists, who “are targeted, kidnapped by all sides in the conflict.”

Related:
Spanish Photographer and Reporter Abducted by Al-Qaeda Affiliate in Syria
Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

July 17th, 2013

UN Security Council Holds Debate on Protections for Journalists

UN-tvFour journalists who have covered war zones will speak before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) today as part of an open debate on international protection for journalists covering war zones and post-conflict zones. Correspondent Richard Engel of NBC, journalist Mustafa Haji Abdinur of Radio Simba in Somalia and Agence France Presse, Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad of the Guardian, and Kathleen Carroll, Associated Press executive editor and vice chair of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, will be speaking today to members of the Council on the need to address attacks against journalists and also pursue prosecution for their attackers. You can watch the event live via webcast starting at 10am EST at http://webtv.un.org.

The US Mission to the UN organized the debate. Ambassador Rosemary A. DiCarlo, charge d’affaires to the U.S. mission to the UN,  said at a press conference that the meeting would be “an opportunity to hear directly from journalists about the acts of violence they face while operating in conflict areas.”

Whether any UN action can actually help journalists around the world is unclear. The last time the Council considered protections for journalists was in 2006, when it ratified Resolution 1738, which condemned intentional attacks on journalists. Since then, DiCarlo noted, “worldwide violence against journalists has worsened and there has been a particular increase in murders and imprisonment arising from conflict situations.”

A “UN Plan of Action” report released earlier this year noted a “staggering number of journalists and media workers killed while performing their professional duties.” It also noted that in 9 out of 10 cases, their killers were never prosecuted.

Related Articles
Free Conflict Training Course (RISC) Now Accepting Applications

What to Expect if You’re Injured on Assignment

Body of Newspaper Photographer Found in Saltillo, Mexico

Photographer Remi Ochlik Killed in Homs, Syria

April 26th, 2013

Body of Newspaper Photographer Found in Saltillo, Mexico

Daniel Martinez Bazaldua, a photographer with the newspaper Vanguardia, was found dead yesterday in the northern Mexico City of Saltillo, the Associated Press reports. He had been missing since Tuesday, when he left the Vanguardia office in the afternoon.

The bodies of Martinez Bazaldua, age 22, and another man identified as Julian Zamora, 23, were found dismembered on a street. According to state prosecutors, the body parts were dumped along with a  hand-written message saying that the Zetas drug cartel was responsible for the killings. Saltillo is located in northern Coahuila, a state where Zetas is known to operate.

Coahuila state Attorney General Homero Ramos told reporters that investigators had indications both men “were participating in illegal activities.” Vanguardia, which hired Martinez a month ago to shoot for its society pages, rejected the attorney general’s claim, which was made before any criminal investigation into the murders.

In a statement issued yesterday, Carlos Lauría of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, “It is irresponsible for authorities to reach conclusions before conducting a full investigation.” CPJ called on Mexican authorities “to fully investigate this crime, examine all possible motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

CPJ reports that according to a Vanguardia editor who asked to remain anonymous, “Photographers covering the society section in Mexico have been targeted by organized crime groups in the past for inadvertently capturing images of cartel members, according to CPJ research.”

In May, three news photographers who covered organized crime and drug violence in Veracruz were found dead and dismembered.
CPJ reports that more than 50 journalists have been killed or disappeared in the last six years

Related Article
Three News Photographers Murdered in Veracruz, Mexico

February 21st, 2013

Is It More Dangerous than Ever to Be a Female War Reporter?

In an interview with the Atlantic, author and former Reuters correspondent Anne Sebba makes several points about women war reporters that current female conflict journalists find insulting.

Sebba, who is the author of a history of women reporters called Battling for News, told the Atlantic’s Emily Chertoff: ”A lot of these conflicts are now in Muslim countries, who see Western women wearing provocative—that’s their word, not mine—provocative clothes, and therefore, they feel, the West has to be taught a lesson, that they’re fair targets, fair game.”

Sebba points out that more women are graduating from media studies programs and argues that editors “are prepared to exploit” young women because “you see a gorgeous woman on your screens in a flak jacket, and it’s almost like entertainment.”

In particular Sebba singles out young freelancers who don’t have the training and backing of a major news organization. “These young kids, who are barely out of media college, try and be freelance journalists, and so they often go off on their own and get a story. Those are the danger areas,” Sebba says.

In a response to the article posted on her Facebook page, Scout Tufankjian, a photojournalist who has worked in Egypt and Gaza, among other conflict zones, wrote that she “found lot of the assumptions within [the interview] to be pretty insulting. Especially the assumption that ignorance and inexperience is a gender issue, such as [quoting Sebba] ‘More women than men graduate in media studies. They don’t know how to find a fixer; they don’t know about weaponry; they don’t know where is safe, where is not safe—they just want to prove themselves.’”

Photojournalist Nicole Tung, who has worked in Syria, Libya and Egypt, agrees with Tufankjian. “It seems like Anne Sebba hasn’t been out in a conflict zone for some time now,” Tung told PDN via email. “I feel incredibly insulted, as do a number of other female journalists who’ve voiced their concerns over social media networks…. I have come across both men and women who started out as inexperienced as I was. In Syria in particular, there are many rookies heading in without any conflict experience and they are predominantly (I would say 80 percent) males going in, emailing me with questions about how to do this or that, how to find the right people, etc.”

“I think she also fails to mention that women weren’t the only gender targeted in attacks in [Egypt's] Tahrir Square,” Tung points out. “Men were, too, and continue to be targets until today. Few people come out and talk about that. Why? It’s not only because both women and men are risking losing an assignment, but because sometimes we personally feel we can overlook some incidents and keep on moving, working. It is about the story we’re covering and not about us. That’s the mentality a lot of us go in with, and turning the focus on us is something we try to avoid until it becomes something we deem necessary. I think social media is a big part of why we hear more about attacks on the press and in particular, women, these days.”

Sebba also argues that having children impacts female journalists more than male journalists. “I think a woman has carried a baby for nine months, and she worries more about that,” Sebba tells the Atlantic.

After war photographer Lynsey Addario was captured along with three male journalists, Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks, while on assignment for the New York Times in Libya in 2011, she said she felt that being groped by her captors was no worse than being hit in the head like her male counterparts were. (The Libyan driver for the Times journalists was killed by the captors.)

In an interview with the Committee to Protect Journalists, senior editor Lauren Wolfe asked Addario what she thought when one of her colleagues, Tyler Hicks, said during a panel discussion that it was a worse experience for Addario.

“Well, that’s his perception,” Addario responded. “Who can qualify what’s worse? Who has the right to say what’s worse? For me, when I was getting groped, I was listening to them—and I could only listen because I was blindfolded—I was listening to them get smashed on the head and I can hear them scream, like, grunting, and to me that was so painful…. It was horrible for all of us. I don’t understand why this is so much worse for me? Is it because I’m a woman? I don’t know who has the answer to that question.”

“I definitely think that more training needs to take into account female-specific issues,” Tufankjian wrote in her Facebook post, “but at the end of the day, of the 70 journalists killed last year, 3 were women and 67 were men. Has anyone heard any discussion about using these numbers to keep men out of dangerous situations? Maybe it’s just more dangerous than ever to be a war reporter.”

July 2nd, 2012

Your Cellphone Is Not Your Friend, and Other Security Tips For Conflict Zones

The surveillance of journalists covering Syria has heightened concern about the risks journalists face in relying on mobile communications and cellphones. In February, journalists Remi Ochlick and Marie Colvin were killed when shells struck the press center that they and other journalists were using to transmit their stories; the Syrian army may have used satellite signals from the center to target it.

More recently the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that  Syrian security agents in October arrested a British journalist, seizing his laptop, cellphone, camera and video he had shot while interviewing anti-government Syrian activists; several of these dissidents have been arrested, one has fled the country and another has disappeared.

In the wake of these incidents, as well as attacks on journalists and their sources elsewhere, several journalism organizations have been hammering on the need for journalists to take precautions when using cellphones and laptops in certain areas, to protect the contact information they store electronically, and to make sure their communications are secure.

Several guides to protecting and encrypting your data are available online for free:

- The 2012 edition of CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide from CPJ has added chapters on how to protect your communications from surveillance and secure your data. You can download the guide here.

- SaferMobile.org, a non-profit helping journalists, has a new Mobile Security Survival Guide. It covers topics such as how to disable the GPS in your phone, set up secure communications and protect sensitive information. It also has links to best practices for using satellite phones.

- The web site Media Helping Media recently posted “Tips for Staying Safe on Mobile,” which includes information on staying anonymous while using social media, uploading photos and stories safely, and browsing the internet securely.

- If you want a condensed summary of these and other security tips,  Lauren Wolfe, a former editor at CPJ and director of Women Under Siege, Tweeted tips from two seminars on journalism security held on World Press Freedom Day. You can find a Storify of the information she gleaned here.

Here are a few precautions suggested in all these guides:
-Take the battery out of your phone (don’t simply turn it off) to make sure it’s not transmitting its location to the cellphone network. (Don’t take an iPhone to meet sources who may be targeted.)

-If you connect to social media or other major web sites from the field, install HTTPS Everywhere browser extension, which makes your web browsing more secure. Make sure your smartphone supports sites with the https:// prefix.

-Download contacts, captions and story notes to a secure computer when possible, then wipe your phone, including the log of calls and SMS messages.

-Text messaging is one of the least secure ways to communication. Encryption software is available to encode your messages. But note: CPJ’s Security Guide and other resources point out that using encryption may call attention to your communications.

Paranoid? Sure. But it’s not only your own safety you have to be concerned about.

Related articles
Were Journalists in Homs Targeted for Bombing?

Survival Training for Conflict Zones

 

June 1st, 2012

Fleeing Violence against Journalists, Veracruz Photographer Seeks Asylum in US

A photojournalist from Veracruz, Mexico, is seeking political asylum in the US following a wave of killings of journalists who have covered drug trafficking in the violence-ridden Mexican state. The El Paso Times reports that Miguel Angel Lopez Solana, a photographer for La Jornada, a daily newspaper in Mexico, has decided to seek political asylum for himself and his wife almost a year after members of his family –who were also fellow journalists–were murdered.

The photographer’s father, Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, a columnist at the Veracruz paper Notiver, his brother, Misael Lopez Solana, a photographer with Notiver, and his mother were shot and killed in their home on June 20, 2011.

Last month, three news photographers who covered organized crime in Veracruz were found murdered; their dismembered bodies showed signs of torture, according to the Veracruz police.

Miguel Lopez Solana himself was kidnapped and threatened at gunpoint in 2009 over his coverage of the police beat.

Fearing for his life, he recently contacted Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders, and received a visa to travel to the US. He will file a request for political asylum later this month in Houston, according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector, who has represented other Mexican journalists fleeing anti-press violence in Mexico.

At a forum on press safety held May 23 in Austin, Texas, Lopez Solana told the audience, “They aren’t just killing us journalists, they are drawing and quartering us…We are living in terror.” The Texas Observer reports that Lopez Solana said his colleagues back in Veracruz feel isolated and afraid. “They are traumatized and living in fear. It’s way beyond any fiction you could ever imagine.”

Committee to Protect Journalists reports that since 2006, 45 journalists have been killed or disappeared in Mexico.

(Thanks to Emphas.is for alerting us to Lopez Solana’s story.)

Related story
Three News Photographers Found Murdered in Veracruz, Mexico

May 4th, 2012

Three News Photographers Murdered in Veracruz, Mexico

Three photographers who had covered organized crime and drug violence in the Mexican state of Veracruz were found dead yesterday, AP reports. The bodies of  Guillermo Luna Varela, Gabriel Huge and Esteban Rodriguez were recovered from a wastewater canal near the port city of Veracruz, about 250 miles east of Mexico City. Their bodies had been dismembered and stuffed into black plastic bags. The Veracruz Attorney General’s office also reported that their bodies showed signs of torture.

Their deaths, discovered on World Press Freedom Day, bring to seven the number of journalists killed in Veracruz in the past year and a half. “Veracruz has seen a wave of lethal anti-press violence that is sowing widespread fear and self-censorship,” Carlos Lauria of Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.  Lauria called on Mexico’s government “to end the deadly cycle of impunity in crimes against the press.”

Luna was a photographer on the crime beat for the web site veracruznews.com.mx who was last seen on Wednesday May 2. He was the nephew of Huge, a journalist who had been working for the local newspaper Notiver until he fled Veracruz after two of the newspaper’s reporters were murdered last year. According to a fellow journalist who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, Huge had recently returned to the state. Esteban Rodriguez had been a photographer with the newspaper AZ until he too fled; according to some news reports, he had recently been working as a welder. Also found on the scene was the body of Luna’s girlfriend, Irasema Becerra.

August 25th, 2011

Photojournalists Assaulted in Kashmir by Indian Forces

Zuma Press photographer Narcisco Contreras of Mexico and freelance photographer Showkat Shafi of India were beaten by police and government forces, then arrested while covering a violent street protest in Srinigar, Kashmir on August 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports.

Shafi, who has shot for Al Jazeera online and Reuters, reported that he and Contreras were covering a clash between youth protesting Indian rule in the disputed region of Kashmir when police and soldiers charged the crowd, beating protesters and the photographers.  “We were covering the protests, standing on the side of the demonstrators, when the police charged the protesters … we were verbally abused and beaten with bamboo sticks and batons,” he told Al Jazeera.

Contreras said he tried to take shelter in a tailor’s shop. “The soldiers descended there and started beating everyone, including me.”

The photographers were then taken to a police station, along with protesters; according to the photographers and eyewitnesses, they were held for hours. The two have reported that they were beaten while in police custody. Contreras told Al Jazeera, “I repeatedly told them I’m a foreign journalist, but they continued beating me as if I was some criminal,” he said.  A police officer told Al Jazeera that the two photographers were released after they showed their press credentials, and denied that they were beaten.

Responding to reports that the photographers had been beaten, Farooq Khan, president of the Kashmir Press Photographers Association, told Al Jazeera, “Let’s remember that incidents like these have become a routine here.”

June 6th, 2011

CPJ Names The Most Dangerous Countries for Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its 2011 Impunity Index, which calculates the most murderous countries for journalists. And the 2011 winner of the most dangerous country for journalists is…..Iraq!

Yes, Iraq held onto its spot at number 1. In fact, the Iraqi government’s record for investigating and prosecuting anti-press violence actually got worse in 2010, a year that saw a spike in the murders of journalists. Somalia, from which nearly 60 journalists have fled in the past decade in the face of threats, ranked number 2 for the second year in a row. Also making the list are the usual suspects when it comes to anti-press violence: Afghanistan, the Philippines, Mexico and Pakistan.

The CPJ’s Impunity Index identifies countries where journalists are regularly murdered in retaliation for their work, and where governments fail to find and convict the killers.

There isn’t much good news on this year’s Impunity Index. Colombia saw a lessening of anti-press violence, but still ranks 5th on the list.  Russia had its first year without any journalists being killed in reprisal, and won convictions in two 2009 murders. However,  there have been no convictions in some high-profile murder cases, including the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskaya, the journalist and author who reported on the war in Chechnya.

Other details from the CPJ’s Special Report:
Local journalists make up the overwhelming majority of victims of unsolved murders.
About 28 percent of the victims were covering conflict zones.
South Asia is a dangerous place to try to cover politics or crime.

More details on the 13 countries that made the CPJ’s Impunity Index, and an explanation of CPJ’s methodology, can be found in the CPJ’s Special Report, aptly titled “Getting Away With Murder.”

May 4th, 2011

Talking About the Deaths We Don’t Talk About

In the two weeks since the deaths of photographers Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, the photojournalism community has been working through the stages of grief – bargaining, depression, lots of anger—and searching for ways to make something positive out of tragedy.   Forced to admit their vulnerabilities, conflict photographers are facing some unpleasant truths about the inequities in their industry. As the publishing industry shrinks, media companies are retreating from obligations to help freelance journalists when they get into trouble. They are also avoiding responsibility for the fixers, translators and drivers whose dangerous work is essential to war zone coverage.

An article in PDN’s June issue explores what freelance photographers can and can’t expect from clients if they are injured. In reporting the article weeks before the tragedies of April 20, writer Jay Mallin could find no newspapers or magazines willing to state their policies regarding support for injured freelancers– or even if they have a policy at all.

Photographers often put their trust in the photo editors they work with to bail them out of dangerous situations; there are plenty of anecdotes of photo editors working the phones to make sure contributing photographers get proper medical care. But in corporate media entities, legal and accounting departments hold sway.  Tom Kennedy, who has worked as director of photography for National Geographic and editor for Washingtonpost.com, says, “Most organizations that I am familiar with that are working with freelancers regard them as independent contractors who are responsible for their own insurance, their own well-being.”  As magazines move from contracts and assignments to more tenuous “guarantees,” their obligation to photographers becomes more vague.

And what help can the fixers, translators and drivers whom news organizations employ in war zones expect? Every conflict photojournalist acknowledges that a veteran fixer with proven local knowledge, contacts and language skills is an invaluable asset. They also admit that these locals (whom the Committee to Protect Journalists call “media workers”) face far greater risk for retaliation or attack than the foreign journalists they work for.  Paid by the day or the job, they face the same hazards without insurance, workers compensation or contracts with their employers. When they are killed doing their jobs, their families receive no pension or insurance settlements.

In an article published last week on Gizmodo, photojournalist Teru Kuwayama, wrote, “Those people constitute a vast, grey, undocumented labor force that the international news industry is 100 percent dependent on. They face the highest risks, and almost invariably, they pay the highest price.”

Statistics and anecdotes bear this out. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that of the journalists killed in 2010, 89 percent were local, 11 percent were foreign.

In their first-person account of being taken captive by pro-Qaddafi forces in Libya, photographers Lynsey Addario, Tyler Hicks and two New York Times reporters reported that their driver, Mohammed, tried to plead with the soldiers, shouting, “Journalists!” The four Times journalists were about to be shot when a soldier spared their lives with the words, “You can’t. They’re Americans.”  As they were driven off in a truck, “Lynsey saw a body outstretched next to our car, one arm outstretched. We still don’t know whether that was Mohammed. We fear it was, though his body has yet to be found.” To date, The New York Times has described Mohammed as “missing.”

Kuwayama argues that the disparity in treatment, attention and concern paid to “internationals” and “locals” kidnapped, injured or killed on the job is “the Achilles heel of the war reporting business.”

It’s a topic the photojournalism community has been reluctant to discuss.  Kuwayama’s decision to talk of “bodies swept under the carpet” in the midst of the mourning for Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros has offended so many, Gizmodo’s editors introduced his essay with a disclaimer:  “The words are provocative. We ask that you read them with an open mind.”

We would encourage readers to do the same, and also to openly and candidly ask clients what support they and their colleagues – all of them, local and not—can hope for if they find themselves in danger.  There’s no bad time to try to make something positive out of tragedy.

Related story:
What To Expect if You’re Injured on Assignment