Freelance journalists regularly risk their lives reporting from dangerous places, but they have few of the protections full-time employees do. News organizations—with the backing of journalists groups—aim to make their safety a priority with new protection standards.
For journalists reporting from conflict zones, every day is a battle for survival in the pursuit of news. But for all of their valiant efforts, freelance journalists are afforded few of the critical protections to ensure their safety in the field that many news organizations’ staffers take for granted.
The conversation has been highlighted by the Islamic State’s murder of freelance journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff last year.
“The spate of abductions and killings of journalists that we’ve seen over the last couple of years, particularly in the Middle East, has been horrific and demands some kind of action on the part of all of us in the news industry,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, in an article for the Poynter Institute’s website.
In the midst of this crisis, several major news outlets and journalist advocacy organizations have endorsed industrywide standards designed to help keep freelancers safe while on dangerous assignments. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Associated Press, and Bloomberg, among others, have signed onto the Global Safety Principles and Practices, a set of guidelines for both news organizations and journalists.
“We see this as a first step in a long-term campaign to convince news organizations and journalists to adopt these standards globally,” the Global Safety Principles and Practices document states. “In a time of journalistic peril, news organizations and journalists must work together to protect themselves, their profession and their vital role in global society.”
Under the recommendations, journalists are reminded to take necessary precautions—including first-aid training, the usage of secure communications lines, and the wearing of proper clothing—to protect themselves in case of emergency. News organizations are urged to show respect and concern for their freelancers and to keep them out of harm’s way as much as possible. The guidelines state that news outlets should not assign freelancers to conflict zones or dangerous environments unless they are prepared to bestow the same protections on them that they would give staffers in the event of kidnapping or injury.
These standards underscore the importance of holding freelancers in the same regard as staffers, as both engage in the same crucial line of work.
The goal, according to the undersigned organizations, is for staff and freelance journalists and news outlets “to actively join in a shared commitment to safety and a new spirit of collegiality and concern.”