By: Jennifer Loven, Associated Press Writer
(AP) As journalists face increasing dangers around the world, news organizations must create strict safety policies and mandate training for reporters headed to conflict-ridden regions, experts said Monday.
Reporting in war zones and other hostile situations always has been dangerous. Journalists often move freely with little of the protection afforded diplomats or military personnel and carry cash and valuables that invite opportunists.
But now, in an era of regional conflicts and terrorism in which groups seek influence and publicity, reporters are more frequently becoming targets because of their craft rather than in spite of it, agreed members of a panel of media representatives and security experts convened by the National Press Club.
“Not only are you soft targets, you are attractive targets because terrorism is about changing opinions,” said Robert Klamser, executive director of Crisis Consulting International, which helps aid groups and religious organizations cope with hostage situations.
The kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, who disappeared in Pakistan while reporting on Muslim militants, has brought new attention to the hazards journalists face. In the last 15 months, 40 journalists including Pearl have been killed, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
But few major news organizations are trying to ensure the safety of their staffs, media panelists said.
“This profession is really stupid when it comes to certain things — safety, stress,” said Chris Cramer, president of CNN International Networks. “There are an army of news organizations in this country who do not get it.”
Terry Anderson, honorary co-chairman of CPJ, noted that journalism — especially in violence-wracked areas — is inherently dangerous. Though some important stories require taking reasonable risks, no story is worth a life, he said.
“We are journalists. We do take risks,” said Anderson, a former Beirut bureau chief for The Associated Press who spent nearly seven years as a hostage in Lebanon. “The point is not to encourage risk-taking beyond the line.”
Panelists urged news organizations to create a culture in which discussing safety before a reporter heads out on a story becomes as routine as checking for the right camera or route.
News organizations also should establish policies to guide journalists as they make decisions about what risks are acceptable and what to do when a situation goes bad, the panelists said.
Those guidelines should address whether to ban journalists from carrying weapons or using armed guards, whether to pay ransoms in kidnappings, and how to discourage reporters from taking unnecessary risks for stories.