SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Disposable Journalists?

Source ASML/Syria
Wednesday , 22 July 2020

Since 2012, the international community’s view into the horrors of the Syrian war has been primarily through the eyes of local Syrian freelance journalists, working under deadly conditions to document the war and protect civilians. Having emerged from the grassroots civil society movement and professionalized through practice, these reporters are mostly inexperienced, lack formal training and protective equipment, and are unaware that they might be entitled to rights or protection from their employers.

From the start of the revolution in March 2011 through May 2019, the Syrian Network for Human Rights documented that 695 journalists and media professionals have been killed in the conflict, most of them local. Hundreds of local journalists who survive their injuries remain permanently disabled and receive little or no help from their employer.

This study was organized by ASML/Syria, a Syrian-French NGO that supports independent Syrian media and civil society. ASML/Syria coordinates a wide network including Syrian media outlets and journalists to implement projects together, improving the lives of Syrians and creating opportunities for their voice to be heard. Based on data collected from 72 journalists, this study investigated the conditions under which Syrian journalists were working when they were injured and the support they received.

Only in 22% of cases did the journalists receive security training prior to the injury, and this was provided by the employer in only 12% of cases. Similarly, only 16% had any protection equipment, which was provided by the employer in 8% of cases. Their experiences shine a light on the complex calculations of physical risk and cost that are being made both on the individual and organizational levels across the media industry with regard to working in conflict zones.

The tragic deaths of journalists in Syria were not all unavoidable, and the blame is shared globally among various parties. Media organizations that employ journalists in Syria and buy content from local freelancers have obligations to provide them basic protection and support, but the neglect of these obligations is widespread. There are many structural factors that contribute to this failure, and while dangerous conditions that lead to injury are inherent to a conflict zone, some of the factors that result in journalists being permanently disabled or killed by their injuries could be mitigated.

In addition to failing to meet minimum protection and provide injury support, by accepting noncommissioned work from independent freelancers, the industry rewards high-risk reporting by typically undertrained, under-equipped, inexperienced young stringers who then do not receive any support in case of injury because they are not employees. While the media industry globally faces a crisis of its business model, this is an informed collective choice by the media sector to reduce expenses and mitigate legal risks at the expense of local journalists’ safety. This growing trend has led to the deaths and permanent disabilities of numerous freelancers in Syria alone and has tragic implications for the future of conflict-zone reporting.

The Arab Spring opened a new era of news reporting with the active participation of volunteer citizen journalists. This undoubtedly strengthened freedom of information by circumventing censorship. However, in a time of global financial difficulties for the media industry, their growing reliance on this cheap available content dilutes their responsibility towards the content providers and makes local journalists’ work even more precarious.

Founded in 2011, ASML/Syria is a French-Syrian organization that supports the development of independent journalism and media in Syria. Our international team coordinates a wide network including Syrian media outlets and journalists to implement projects together, improving the lives of Syrians and creating opportunities for their voice to be heard. Since 2011, journalists are among the most important actors in this civil society and are forming the backbone of the Syrian progressive civil society. Ensuring local journalists the right to work with dignity and to contribute to the future of their country is at the core of our engagement.

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