Foley murder puts focus on risks to journalists

The brutal murder of American journalist James Foley by Islamic State terrorists this week has highlighted the risks taken by media representatives covering conflicts in the world’s trouble spots.

Foley was shown in a jihadist video as he was beheaded by a masked terrorist who said his death was in retaliation for US air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

The group also threatened to kill a second US reporter who was shown the video, Steven Sotloff. The terrorist warned Sotloff’s fate rested on US President Barack Obama halting air strikes against the jihadist group.

Australian Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull reflected during his speech to the industry Future Forum in Sydney on Foley’s murder and the high price many journalists paid to deliver the news. “Journalists and journalism are in the front line of the battle for democracy,” he said.

“I condemn the murderers of James Foley, extend our condolences to his family and express the support of our government to all journalists, including our own Peter Greste wrongfully imprisoned in Egypt, who are paying a high and all too often cruel price for freedom’s sake.”

The Times reports that two journalists a week, on average, are dying in places such as Gaza, Ukraine and Africa as they try to cover events.

Syria has been the most dangerous place of all in the past few years, it says.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 70 journalists have been killed there since the conflict began, although precise figures are difficult to obtain.

Increasingly, journalists are being directly targeted by extremists and hostile governments, Britain’s National Union of Journalists said.

The CPJ believes that about 80 journalists have been abducted since fighting in Syria began, with at least 20 currently missing. Most of those are thought to be held captive by the Islamic State.

The Times says academics and NGOs are particularly concerned about reporters who are covering the regions as freelancers or for smaller media outlets, without the survival training, insurance and financial and logistical support that big newspapers and broadcasters provide.

Cuts to foreign bureaus of established media outlets and the proliferation of digital news providers have created opportunities for enterprising freelancers. Experts are concerned that they are dangerously exposed now that hostile forces see attacking journalists as a way to generate publicity or to stop their activities from being revealed.

AFP reports that Afghanistan has ordered New York Times correspondent Matthew Rosenberg to leave the country after he wrote an article saying government ministers and officials were threatening to seize power to end a stand-off over election results.

The attorney-general’s office said the article was “against the national interests and the national security of Afghanistan,” and that Rosenberg must depart within 24 hours.

The move underlined fears that media freedoms gained since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 are being lost as the US-led military intervention and civilian aid program in Afghanistan wind down.

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