Under Threat – The Changing State of Media Safety

Journalism has never been more dangerous, and journalists say they have never felt so unsafe doing their jobs.


The overwhelming majority of respondents to our quantitative survey, 88 percent, agreed that the safety of journalists and media workers is more of an issue than it was 10 years ago , with 86 percent saying that journalists are more likely to be targets of violence. Local journalists are particularly at risk. We found that even those who don’t work in hostile environments face greater dangers than they did in the past. Our interview respondents also corroborated this.

INSI research done for this report shows that 1,480 journalists and media support workers have died doing their jobs in the past 10 years , an average of 131 every year. The majority, 822, died during peace time.

Terror groups like ISIS are using new technologies to control what one interviewee called the “information battlefield” and they have declared war on journalists through high profile kidnappings and killings broadcast on social media. Meanwhile, the frontlines in places like Syria and Iraq have blurred – journalists are no longer sure who to trust and where they can go safely. For their part, news executives are often not sure who to turn to for information and help when reporters go missing or get hurt in today’s chaotic conflicts.

We heard that technology also helps journalists deliver their messages, and in some situations is keeping them safer, but makes them increasingly vulnerable to the powerful entities that seek to track and harm them.

Also blurred since the advent of social media and user-generated content is the role of journalists. Who is a journalist and who isn’t has confused the industry and general public alike. What hasn’t changed is audience expectations of being instantly and accurately informed about even the remotest corners of our world – pushing journalists into ever more dangerous places.

Lack of respect for the profession was among the main reasons given by all respondents for the increased attacks, coming in ahead of terror groups, corrupt individuals and kidnapping as the main risk to media workers in 2015.

Respondents said journalists were no longer seen as impartial or neutral observers of events, citing increasing numbers of media workers who have aligned themselves with business and political interests broadcasting distorted realities. The confusing role played by citizen journalists was also mentioned as contributing to the dwindling respect for the news media and increasing the prevalence of attacks on the press by ordinary citizens, bystanders and members of the security services and armed forces.

Freelancers are particularly vulnerable to violence by those seeking to silence the media. With many attracted into war reporting by the relatively easy access to modern conflict zones and increasingly affordable equipment, freelancers are getting killed in greater numbers than ever before. Though news organisations have become more aware of their duty of care to freelancers, our surveys made clear that dwindling budgets and closing foreign bureaus make those who are willing to report the news in dangerous places valuable assets to cash strapped executives.

As with 10 years ago, impunity remains the norm, and the killers of journalists are rarely even identified, let alone punished.

All this has had a chilling effect on journalism and has contributed to a serious lack of safety in our business. News outlets today are increasingly weighing up risk versus reward when deciding whether to send journalists into danger – potentially leaving the darkest corners of our world unexposed and ignored.

Many organisations have stepped up to the challenges, improving their safety efforts by providing more and better training and improved equipment, though all too often freelancers and local journalists are excluded. The number of safety training providers has mushroomed with dozens of new companies now offering their services with more specialised, and better, training on offer.

Though the picture painted by our surveys is grim, unchanged is the desire of our colleagues across all levels of the industry to continue on in the face of adversity. No one is prepared to give up just yet.

Go to the International News Safety Institute website to read the full report.