The risks are huge, but freelance war correspondents shouldn't be shunned for having the courage to take them

Major broadsheets will no longer accept speculative submissions from Syria

Share
Related Topics

This month marks one year since veteran foreign affairs correspondent Marie Colvin and award-winning photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed in the city of Homs, reporting from the Syrian frontline. 

As the targets of government shelling, many have speculated their deaths were a warning to the outside world; scare tactics designed to drive foreign journalists out of a war that has so far claimed the lives of over 60,000 people.

Similar strategies deployed around the world saw 2012 become one of the deadliest years for journalists on record. Overall, journalist fatalities soared 13 per cent, with a total of 121 losing their lives in Syria, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil, Iraq, the Philippines, and Somalia, described by the International Federation of Journalists as a “media killing field”.

Sadly, rather than uniting journalists, it appears these figures have opened a rift in the industry. Earlier this month, Press Gazette broke the news that the Sunday Times would no longer accept speculatively submitted pictures from the Syrian front because they did not “wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks”. The Times, Guardian, Observer and Independent all have similar policies in place.

This boycott of the Syrian conflict does not extend to coverage by staff. It is, in the words of BBC World Affairs producer Stuart Hughes, an attempt to stem the rising tide of fresh-faced freelancers who are “skipping the unglamorous training grounds of local newsrooms” to report from hazardous locations in search of that coveted career break.

Ironically, such commemorative efforts as last Friday’s ‘A Day without News’, imagining the impact 24 hours without war reporting would have on the world, could become reality if foreign editors are no longer willing to accept material from aspiring freelancers.

In many cases the editors’ reservations are justified: a warzone is no place for gonzo journalism and an increasing amount of young, inexperienced journalists are attempting to cut their teeth in regions of the world where they have limited understanding of the cultural or political climate.

For every Kurt Schork Award winning Sarah Topol or tenacious Ruth Sherlock, there is a 20-something adrenaline junkie who will inadvertently damage the profession’s reputation. When Mr Hughes asked freelancer Sunil Patel whether he had taken a flak jacket to Syria, he replied via Twitter: “No… I had my brain which told me use effective cover at all times. Also I’m not a pussy.”

Such brazen attitudes not only make freelancers a risk to themselves, but also to others. Published in Vice magazine, Patel’s self-centered account of the war maybe stark and emotive, but the series of naïve blunders that nearly cost him his life are a frightening example of why newspapers are turning their backs on people playing at war.

Others have not been so lucky. In August 2012, American freelancer Austin Tice went missing in Syria. The 31-year-old, who recently received the George Polk Award for his work, is currently believed to be in the hands of Assad loyal forces. Clues to his whereabouts are scant; a YouTube video posted in September shows armed men leading a blindfolded Tice through mountainous terrain. While some experts have refuted the disturbing footage, the former marine’s disappearance proves that, regardless of age or experience, no reporter is safe in Syria.

Young journalists are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Despite financial constraints, there will always be a place for good war journalism, and those freelancers determined enough to make it in the industry will find an audience regardless of boycott. It falls on editors to ensure this new generation receives the same advice and respect that all journalists are entitled to. Such courage does not deserve the cold shoulder.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine