Journalists have always faced extreme danger in war zones. It’s a risk of the job. But the past two decades have seen a horrifying rise in number of casualties and deaths. It appears that journalists and photographers are being targeted. But what can be done?
The numbers speak for themselves. In the last twenty years, nearly a thousand journalists have been killed in trouble spots around the world. Over seventy during 2012 alone. Many, many more have been either injured or abducted.
The dangers of working in war zones are nothing new, of course. Three reporters from Reuters, Newsweek and AP died in a single incident during the Spanish Civil War. ‘Wrong time, wrong place’ is a universally accepted hazard. But the dramatic rise in casualties, in recent years, reflects a new and very sinister trend: the deliberate targeting of journalists and photographers, in order to stop their stories getting out.
For Aidan Sullivan, our VP in charge of photo assignments, the safety of news people in conflict situations is right at the top of his list of professional priorities. But the issue is something more than that…it’s personal.
As a young photo editor at The Sunday Times, Aidan lost a close friend, when Ian Parry was killed during the Romanian civil war in 1989. Chris Hondros, one of Getty Images own, died in Libya in April 2011, in the same incident that killed his friend Tim Hetherington. And when yet another friend, Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin, perished alongside photographer Rémi Ochlik in a Syrian rocket attack on February 22 last year, it was the final straw.
“Their deaths had an enormous impact. Everybody was absolutely knocked sideways,” Aidan says. “When Marie and Rémi were killed – targeted and killed – it was a case of …you know what, that’s too much…I’m now really, really pissed off. We, as an industry and as a community, should do something. Our job is communication. That’s what we’re good at. It’s what we do. And we need to do something about this.”
Motivation turned into action when Aidan attended the World Press Photo exhibition in New York, a little later in the year. A panel discussion, about the risks facing journalists and the need to raise awareness of them, led to conversations with David Friend from Vanity Fair and photojournalists Lynsey Addario and Michael Kamber – two people who are painfully aware of the dangers, as a result of their own experiences in hotspots such as Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.
From this came the idea for A Day Without News (a title coined by David Friend) - a campaign that would centre on a single day when reporters and photographers in conflict zones would refuse to file stories or images, in order to draw attention to the escalating threat to them. This initial thought was soon abandoned, however. “Our job is to report, no matter what happens,” as legendary photographer and campaign supporter James Nachtwey pointed out. A question mark was added to the campaign title, making it thought-provoking rather than purely descriptive. And the aims became significantly bolder.
“One was to raise public awareness of the issue. One was to have a public diplomacy, that would have it debated at a very high level. And one was to investigate some of these crimes.”
MISRATA, LIBYA - APRIL 18: Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros stands in front of a burning building while on assignment on April 18, 2011, in Misrata, Libya. Hondros, who was on assignment in Misrata, Libya, was killed on April 20, 2011 by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). (Photo by Katie Orlinsky via Getty Images)
Achieving the campaign’s objectives
From the start, the intention was to complement the work already being done by organisations such as Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RWB), by focusing on giving the issue a greater profile.
“Ours is a very specific mission,” Aidan emphasizes. “Theirs is much, much broader. CPJ is a large organisation, well-funded and well supported. This is me and a laptop and some friends. So we decided we would keep it absolutely specific, and I think CPJ and the others like the fact that we’re not trying to do everything.”
What the campaign does have, is a wealth of useful contacts and the support of the global PR and communications resources of Getty Images. So when it was launched on the anniversary of Marie and Rémi’s deaths, the first goal was achieved in a big way.
“Our friends and colleagues really stepped up and we recorded an audience of over 121 million people,” Aidan reports. “121 million people on that day viewed something about A Day Without News?, be it on BBC World, be it on CNN, be it through the website. Social media networks played a crucial role and we were able to use them to great effect.”
Goal two was also reached, at least in part, on July 17, when the United Nations Security Council convened a session on the subject. This was the direct result of a lobbying campaign masterminded by Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, a world expert on international law, who was introduced to Aidan by our CEO, Jonathan Klein.
“We’d been lobbying for them to have a debate around the protection of journalists,” Aidan says. “Specifically around Resolution 1738, condemning attacks on journalists, which was unanimously passed in 2006. We felt that although there were many salient and strong points within the resolution, things had changed so much and the dangers faced by journalists had increased by such an enormous amount, it was time to revisit 1738.”
So far as the UN is concerned, though, that’s just the start. The ultimate ambition is to have the targeting and harming of journalists categorized as a war crime. An ambition which ADWN? hopes will be furthered by the fact that the new US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, was herself a reporter who covered the Balkan War in the 1990s.
If this can be achieved, it will be a huge step towards the third and most challenging of AWDN?’s goals – the identification and prosecution of those responsible for attacks on journalists.
“War crimes are enormously difficult to prosecute,” Aidan recognizes. “But it can be done. And I’ve always, throughout my life, believed ‘Effort in, result out’. If we continue to make the effort, I think we can make it happen. But if there’s impunity and there’s no retribution and people aren’t being prosecuted for murder – because this is murder – then the bad guys will win.”
With this in mind, there are plans to partner with one of the big New York law firms and a top American university with courses in both law and journalism, in order to pursue investigations into cases, such as the deaths of Marie and Rémi.
A final word from Aidan: “It would be great to have people support us by signing up to the website and following us on Twitter and all that kind of stuff. That’s very important, because that just grows the power of the social media side of it”.
So here’s where to go, to find out more and lend your voice to the campaign:
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