Newsman Out On A Limb
The Journal of the CIoJ 00-04-1992
Written for 'The Journal' of The Chartered Institute of Journalists as a follow-up to an item in a previous issue.
Having returned from four months covering the Serbo-Croat War from Dubrovnik, Zadar and Knin through to Karlovac, Sisak and Eastern Slavonia, it was heart-warming to see some concern being shown for the poor bloody infantry (Reference to an item in a previous issue).
The issue raised is extremely important. Having written an obituary for The Independent about a colleague, Paul Jenks, killed near Osijek, I do hope the IoJ will consider lending its authority to several aspects of the risks taken (willingly, of course) by foreign and war correspondents.
My position in recent months was interesting. I was reporting on a semi-contractual, freelance basis for the Evening Standard and also, at their invitation, for Globus, the principal independent newspaper in Zagreb (in addition to contributions to Channel 4 and BBC Radio News).
However, none of them had any legal duty or obligation to me in the event of my death, injury, arrest, imprisonment, torture or persecution.
Furthermore, I doubt very much if, in the prevailing circumstances, they would have been able to achieve very much even if they had known I was in difficulty. As it happens, I was immensely lucky on many occasions luckier than the many journalists who have already died in Croatia.
It has to be said that many of those killed or in difficulties were woefully unprepared for the appalling realities of war. Many were freelancers with no support or back-up. Many felt themselves to be under pressure, real or imagined, from their editors to take exceptional risks. Some were just plain bloody stupid.
It's vital that correspondents going into risky zones get some basic training in operations, precautions and survival.
Furthermore, there must be some clarification of the responsibilities (if any) borne by publishers and broadcasters for their reporters (freelance or otherwise). Certainly there should be, in collaboration perhaps with the Foreign Office, a record of who is going where and when, coupled with some clear notification to British consuls or embassies.
Finally, there is, I feel, an important role for the IoJ in providing some sort of briefing material for those heading into the world's trouble spots coupled with some monitoring of their welfare while in the field.
I've been lucky and I've also had enough close shaves over the years to hone some sort of sixth sense. But I would still welcome the assistance, interest and concern of the IoJ next time I find myself freezing to death, under arrest at a border post, or being shelled by 'friendly fire' from my captors' reserve positions.
It's at moments like that that you might remember to ask yourself whether you'd paid your IoJ subs...
Regrettably and needless to say, perhaps the CIoJ took no action on this proposal!
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