Wednesday, March 23, 2011

IN THE LINE OF FIRE

"At last we are in it up to our necks, and everything is changed, even your outlook on life."
Ernie Pyle

Is there such a thing as being too on-the-scene? That's the question some are asking now as we are seeing incident after incident in the middle east of reporters being attacked, raped, and the cause of government hesitance to attack.

A BBC reporter was beaten with steel bars by the Egyptian Police in Cairo. A reporter was sexually assaulted by a crowd of men in Egypt, a group which beat her associates down and molested her, beating her until she was freed by others. In Libya recently, a photographer was beaten and groped until finally set free.

Then we have the news of CNN and Reuters reporters who were in Tripoli, visiting Gaddafi's compound. According to reports, the British government blocked missile attacks on the compound because of the presence of those reporters, who became unwitting human shields for the dictator.

Previously CNN under Eason Jordan bragged about how they refused to report on certain atrocities and horror stories out of Baghdad so they could retain their news bureau in the place. Reporting would have enraged Saddam Hussein, possibly putting these reporters in danger and certainly costing CNN their bureau and access to Iraq.

There's no question that reporters have a job to report the news, and that they are willing to face personal risk and danger to get a story, but at what point does that go too far? Conversely, what responsibility does a news organization face when they put a news crew in danger and something bad happens to them?

Its difficult to believe that story comes first when a major news organization admits they suppressed some stories to maintain the bureau. Yet at the same time, CNN claimed they wanted to protect their staff in Baghdad, something these other reporters were not apparently extended. Either that was just an excuse to maintain access or they have since changed their mind.

The CNN and Reuters story above demonstrates to tyrants and thugs that if they put reporters around them, they can rely on western governments to not take action for fear of hurting reporters. How much do news agencies need to take that into account when they send people to get a story?

Certainly one has to question the intelligence of sending a beautiful former swimsuit model into a war zone salted with religious extremists to get a story. How many women are going to be assaulted and abused before the people who sent them into this step back and question their policy?

There's no question some of the best news stories in the world have come from brave reporters willing to risk their safety and lives to do their job; most people venerate combat reporters such as Ernie Pyle who spent years during World War 2 with the troops in danger. And it is the job of reporters to go and get the story, even if that story takes them into certain danger. But where's the limit?

When a reporter gets mobbed and attacked, beaten, even raped, does their bureau or boss bear some responsibility for putting them into such a situation? And with female reporters, does that line of responsibility become a bit more clear when they're sent into the middle east and Norther Africa? These are places more or less infamous for mistreatment and oppression of women, and when mixed with lawless chaos the results are fairly predictable.

In Iraq, the reporters stayed almost exclusively in nice hotels, getting their stories from (usually enemy) informants and going out on short drives surrounded by guards. Their desire to get the story at all costs and danger was not on display then. What's different about the rebellions that makes them willing to go take the risk?

I can't help thinking that the presumption about Iraq was that it was totally out of control, endlessly deadly, and impossible to be safe in, while these rebellions are treated with a certain romantic sheen, as if they are safe and wonderful because it is the people rising up against a tyrant, and how can that go wrong?

I don't really know the answers, but I can't help but think that putting women into these situations is an incredibly bad idea, but the news agencies can't come up with a reason to deny it that doesn't sound sexist to them. I do know one thing: it would be cheaper and less threat to their staff if they'd just use the social media information coming out of the area.

1 comment:

Philip said...

Remember, there will be hundreds of reporters at the royal wedding; only a handful in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.