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Events over the past week have offered a sobering reminder of the risks to journalists around the world. They started with the murder of James Foley in Syria, the video of which closed with a threat to the life of fellow journalist and hostage, Steven Sotloff. Our spirits were raised somewhat yesterday with the news that Theo Curtis, held since 2012 by Al Nusra, had been freed. But scores of other journalists remain captives around the world; in the last year alone, there has been a 129 per cent increase in the number of journalists kidnapped worldwide.

Security risks for journalists

The latest figures from Reporters Without Borders show the whole picture of violence and security risks facing journalists. This is what 2013 looked like globally:

  • 71 journalists were killed
  • 826 journalists were arrested
  • 2160 journalists were threatened or physically attacked
  • 87 journalists were kidnapped
  • 77 journalists fled their country
  • 6 media assistants were killed
  • 39 netizens and citizen-journalists were killed
  • 127 bloggers and netizens were arrested
  • 178 journalists are held in prison

The regions with the most number of journalists killed in connection with their work were Asia (24) and the Middle East and North Africa (23). 39 per cent of these deaths occurred in conflict zones – Syria, Somalia, Mali, the Indian province of Chhattisgah, the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the Russian republic of Dagestan.

The five deadliest countries for the media were Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, India and the Philippines.

The overwhelming majority of victims were men (96%) and there was an even spread between print, radio and TV journalists.

Security risks for aid workers

Journalists are not alone in facing a sharp rise in security risks around the world. Last week, Humanitarian Outcomes published its annual Aid Worker Security Report. It made for sobering reading; 2013 set a new record for violence against civilian aid workers, with 251 separate attacks affecting 460 aid workers.  This is what 2013 looked like for the humanitarian community:

  • 155 aid workers were killed
  • 171 aid workers were seriously wounded
  • 134 aid workers were kidnapped

Like journalists, the threat to aid workers is increasing at an alarming rate; in the decade since 2003, the number of aid workers killed has increased by 78 per cent, injured by 249 per cent, and the number kidnapped has grown by a staggering 1814 per cent from 7 to 134 last year.

Violence against aid workers occurred in 30 countries, but three quarters of all attacks took place in just five settings: Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Sudan. Somalia finds itself outside the top five for the first time in many years, but the reduction of incidents in the country is a result not of growing stability, but because the situation has become so bad. 2013 saw the wholesale withdrawal of Medicins Sans Frontieres from Somalia after 22 years of operating there.

Most victims (87 per cent) were local staffers, but international personnel who account for approximately 8 per cent of humanitarian staff in the field were overrepresented as 13 per cent of victims.

The security challenge for media and aid organisations

It is obvious that journalists and aid workers – who for many years enjoyed safe passage through conflict zones – no longer enjoy these privileges in some places. The people of countries, such as Syria, Pakistan and South Sudan need their help more than ever, but they are less able to perform their vital roles.

It is imperative that organisations sending local or international staff and freelancers to such places enact the necessary security measures needed to keep their people as safe as possible. Reporters Without Borders is lobbying the UN to amend Article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s statute amended so that “deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel” are defined as war crimes. And when – inevitably – things do go wrong, it is vital that victims and their families and colleagues get the practical and psychological support they need to respond to what has happened.

 

 

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The Institute for Strategic Dialogue launched a new report on Friday on the way Muslims are covered in the media in the UK and Germany. It was sparked by concerns that the growth of specialist media – especially that aimed specifically at Muslims – could lead towards the development of parallel media societies. It involved focus groups with journalists in both mainstream and specialist/Muslim media, focus groups with media consumers (Muslims and non-Muslims), and a survey of media consumers in the UK and Germany.

The key findings were:

  • There is no such thing as a parallel media society in terms of news and current affairs coverage. Both Muslims and Muslims still rely on a small number of mainstream media outlets for their news, and consumer roughly the same amount of current affairs from specialist outlets.
  • Muslims rarely consume media on the basis of their religion or as a religious community – but they do, like other groups, rely on it for languages, diaspora links, and special interests.
  • The Internet and social media are important for all groups, especially as a go to place to check media coverage from other sources.
  • All groups believe that coverage of Muslims in the media is negative and stereotyped, but especially in Germany and among Muslims. Consumers were easily able to recall negative news stories about Muslims, but not positive ones.
  • Journalists accepted that this negative portrayal was disproportionate to the balance of reality – but didn’t on the whole recognise that their own organisations were guilty of negative portrayal.
  • Media consumers also feel that Muslims are underrepresented in the media, both in front of and behind the camera.
  • There was broad agreement that the media – amongst other things – has an impact on community relations on the ground. It impacts on the perceptions of Muslims, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, and sometimes real life events are affected.
  • There is a need for critical media consumption – and also critical media production. This was recognised by both consumers and producers alike.
  • But overall, most people felt that the media has the potential to have an enormously positive effect on community relations.

The research will be published along with a policy brief with detailed policy and practical recommendations in the next month or so. A further discussion event will be held in Germany in May. Get in touch if you would like more information about this project.

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