Arab journalists paying a steep price for war and terror

Friday 12/02/2016

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has released a report on media professionals who have been killed since 1990.
The report reveals that during the last 26 years, there have been 473 reporters and media staff killed in the Arab world and the Middle East out of 2,297 killed worldwide, making the region one of the most dangerous places for reporters to work.
Not surprisingly, Iraq accounts for the highest toll among all countries in the region (309 killed). War and terror in Syria and the civil war in Algeria (during the North African country’s “black decade”) account for most of the other casualties among media professionals in the Arab world and the Middle East.
In 2015, 112 media professionals were killed, including 25 in the Arab world and the Middle East. Among these were ten in Iraq and Yemen, six in Libya and five in Syria.
IFJ Senior Vice-President Younes M’jahed sees a pattern during the last five years as journalists are increasingly “being subjected to shocking and brutal attacks by terrorists and violent extremist groups”.
That was the case in Libya where five media professionals working for Al-Barka TV, a local broadcaster, were killed last April in the city of Al-Bayda in the eastern part of the country. They had been kidnapped near an Ansar al-Sharia (an al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group) checkpoint in the vicinity of the jihadist strong­hold of Derna.
There was also Naji Jerf, a Syrian journalist and film-maker who had documented the atrocities of the Islamic State (ISIS) before being killed in the Turkish town of Gaziantep last December.
There was Ghazi al-Obeidi, an Iraqi journalist who was kid­napped then executed by ISIS last July for an article he wrote.
There was Kenji Goto, a Japanese freelance correspondent who was beheaded by ISIS in February 2015 in retaliation for his country’s stand on the war against the terror group.
However, the salient trend in 2015, as in most recent years, is that media fatalities are virtually all among local reporters and staff. The risks involved in war and terror seem to have driven away foreign correspondents and left Arab reporters mostly alone covering the killing fields of the region.
One of the problems that media organisations are trying to deal with is the impunity surrounding the murder of reporters. IFJ President Jim Boumelha says his organisation is leading a “long-running campaign to end impunity for violence against media professionals”.
But that campaign is likely to take a long time: According to the IFJ’s estimates only one of ten killings is ever investigated. M’jahed notes that since the early 1990s no fewer than 50 journal­ists, including four foreign correspondents, have been killed in the Palestinian territories, but there is no progress in investigating the deaths.
To reduce the risks they face, Arab reporters and their employ­ers should improve safety training and accept that not all stories are worth the risks involved. But first and foremost, the globally accepted norm of media professionals being treated as neutral parties should be respected. Wars are ugly enough without reporters paying the ultimate price for keeping the rest of us informed.