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World: New Group Attempting To Increase Safety For Journalists Under Fire

  • Don Hill

More than 1,200 reporters and media staffers have been killed on the job since 1990, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The International Press Institute (IPI) says the need for increased security for journalists has never been more urgent. Safety for war correspondents and other journalists is a central aim of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Now into this alphabet soup of journalistic organizations a new entry has been added -- INSI, the International News Safety Institute, reports RFE/RL.

Prague, 6 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A new nongovernmental organization focusing on the press announced itself this week -- INSI, or the International News Safety Institute.

INSI is so new it doesn't yet have a staff, a home, or a budget. One of its founding organizations, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is supplying all that for now.

IFJ human rights officer Sarah de Jong, speaking for INSI, says the need for an organization that focuses exclusively on the safety of journalists has multiplied over the last decade or so.

"So what we have seen is a definite increase in victims in the journalist community. And the IFJ has, since 1990, [counted] more than 1,200 journalists and media staff killed in the line of their work. Of course, not all of those are necessarily related to wars. However, out of that number, there are approximately 280 journalists killed in war zones, out of which the majority are what we would call local journalists," de Jong said.

INSI's organizers conceived the new entry in the field of nongovernmental press organizations last November, but it took on new urgency with the war in Iraq, which the IFJ says was "one of the bloodiest events in the history of journalism." The IFJ counts 16 media workers dead or missing and presumed dead in the three-week war.

The IFJ's general secretary, Aidan White, and Johann Fritz, director of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) convened a meeting of their staffs and gathered a broad coalition of news organizations. One of the concerns they identified at the outset was the special vulnerability of local journalists, as compared to international correspondents.

De Jong says, "As opposed to international correspondents who parachute into a conflict and are able to leave, as well as to have the necessary backup, such as the appropriate insurance, the appropriate risk-awareness training, as well as, you know, the flak jackets, the satellite telephones, the armored vehicles and everything else that they would require in order to do their job in the safest possible way."

In many cases, as the INSI founders see it, local journalists and foreign correspondents often go into dangerous situations side by side. Frequently, the locals act as assistants, interpreters, or drivers for the foreign correspondents. But there may be a wide gap in experience, equipment, and support. And when the correspondents go home, the locals remain behind.

"So one of the main aims of the International News Safety Institute is to make the information and, hopefully as soon as possible, the necessary training, as well as equipment, available to all corners of the world," de Jong says, "especially those corners that could never afford this type of training or equipment or insurance, etc, etc."

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based in New York, is already dedicated to the safety of journalists. INSI might be suspected of being unnecessary or redundant. Not so, says de Jong.

"As a matter of fact, the Committee to Protect Journalists is a supporting organization, is one of the founder organizations of the International News Safety Institute. And one of the CPJ members -- how do you call it, board members -- is actually also a board member of the INSI," de Jong says.

At the CPJ, Deputy Director Joel Simon concurs. "They [INSI] do safety training and help journalists narrowly on safety issues. And we do advocacy, such as sending letters and organizing missions on a wide variety of press freedom issues," he says.

Simon says INSI will work to lessen the likelihood that a given journalist will be killed or injured, while the CPJ works to make the environment safer for journalists in general or to protest against conditions after the fact.

"So, in a sense, the INSI is going to be largely proactive, and we are largely reactive," Simon says.

The International Press Institute issued a statement this week that journalists around the world have been killed at a rate of five per month since 1997, and suggested that safety for journalists may be the ultimate press issue.

As the IPI statement put it, "Such deaths have placed a high price on the right of everyone under Article 19 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights to 'seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.' "

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