Editorial – Media, Conflict Reporting and the ICRC
Even as inspiring images from the Tahrir Square protests were beamed all over the world, sharing in the euphoria of a new generation demanding change, disturbing reports of sexual abuse and violence, including against women reporters surfaced. The most recent case was of a young woman reporter who barely survived an attack during the latest wave of protests underscoring how media professionals, women and men, alike continue to be targeted for the work they do.
The year 2012 was dubbed the deadliest year for journalists by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders with at least 107 journalists killed in the course of their work, reflecting a 33% increase from the previous year. 2013 hasn’t done much better with over 60 journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists around the world killed and approximately 340 imprisoned this year alone, all of them while performing their professional duties. While it is worrying that many of these attacks were perpetrated by police and security personnel, as well as non-state actors, what grants further impunity to such acts is the fact that few investigations have led to convictions.
Violence against media persons is an excessive form of censorship. The media shape what we see and hear about conflict and thereby, can play a powerful role in helping to change people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviour. Thus, as a responder to armed crises, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) sees today’s media as being not just a messenger but a vital catalyst in shaping HOW the world responds to humanitarian needs.
Media professionals - including citizen journalists - are ever more on the front lines today and hence, under increased scrutiny and at risk of being directly targeted. The ICRC, deeply concerned by increasing acts of violence against journalists and other media professionals, has made a permanent hotline available not only to journalists, but also their employers and relatives to report a missing, wounded, or detained journalist and request assistance in areas where the ICRC is conducting its humanitarian activities. Since 2011, over 60 media professionals working in conflict zones or other areas affected by violence have requested and received some kind of assistance from the organisation. The evacuation, in August 2011, of more than 30 journalists from the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli by the ICRC received extensive media coverage, but most efforts take place out of the public view.
In recognition of the enormous contribution of the media as honest carriers of stories, sentiments and conditions from the humanitarian landscape the ICRC endeavours to be constantly engaged with them. The recently concluded Regional Senior Editors’ Conference in New Delhi is one of many such forums where media professionals particularly from Asia and all over the world find the space to discuss, debate and deliberate on the constraints and challenges they face while reporting from situations of conflict and violence. The Regional Delegation has, over the years, also been acknowledging the work of journalists who report on humanitarian issues under difficult circumstances. Capacity building, awareness campaigns and training programmes for young journalists continue to remain central to our interactions with the media.
Head of the Regional Delegation