How should editors act towards photographers and journalists in a time of war?

An interesting development that brings a necessary discussion about how the media should report a conflict. Surely it’s vital for a readership to know what’s happening inside Syria. The question is how those details are gained. Via the UK Press Gazette:

A British war photographer has been told not to submit his pictures from the Syria war zone to The Sunday Times because they “do not wish to encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks”.

After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”.

Findler, 28, has been published before in The Sunday Times and has been to Iraq, twice, Libya and this is his third trip to Syria.

He said: “Surely it is that photographer’s decision to choose whether or not they take the risks.

“I thought part of photography was the fact that some people in this world do take exceptional risks to show the rest of the world what is happening.

“I just don’t know what else to do any more. I really feel disheartened and extremely let down.”

Vice chairman of the British Press Photographer’s Association Eddie Mulholland said: “I agree that ideally this is staffman’s job.

“The backup of a large organisation that can pull out all the stops for you if things go wrong is certainly preferable.

“But I totally understand why Rick does it. I did the same without any cover as did lots of my contemporaries.

“And one advantage of a young keen freelance is that he or she may not have the family commitments of an older staffer. The same reason we put our young, fit men into the army.”

Telegraph photographer Warren Allott thinks the problem of taking freelance copy may not be confined to The Sunday Times.

“I’ve just come back from Syria, and would be hesitant to go back again at this stage.

“To get to the frontline you have to pass through many small towns. Each is controlled by a different group.

“Many of these gangs go in for kidnapping and a Western journalist is seen as top prize.

“They get hold of you, sell you to another group, maybe an Al Qaeda team, who then demand a huge ransom.

“If you are attached to a newspaper then it’s their responsibility to get you out. They understand that risk before they send you and send in a crack team to get you out or pay them off.

“But I heard a rumour that a freelance who’d submitted copy to another broadsheet and, then got kidnapped, claimed to be working for them. This caused the paper enormous problems and now they are steering clear of freelance copy.”

Asked to explain The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson said: “In the light of what happened to Marie Colvin we have decided we do not want to commission any journalists to cover the situation in Syria.

“And we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely.

“This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future.

“The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”

“We have had our own staff journalists out there, so it’s not that we do not want to cover the story. We know that’s important.”

He added: “As far as I know we have not been advised to do this by our lawyers. This is not a financial decision. It is a moral one.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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