CPJ Journalist Security Blog

Middle East & North Africa


Journalists ride in an army soldiers' carrier to the front line during clashes between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition fighters on August 24, 2013. (Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri)

In recent years, Arab journalists have been taking great risks to report important stories in a region where war and civil unrest remain an ever-present threat. Many are operating without proper equipment or safety training in how to recognize and mitigate the various risks they face.

It is an extraordinarily difficult time to be a journalist. Nearly every month, the digital security landscape shifts--new surveillance concerns are unearthed and freshly drafted laws are introduced that seek to curb freedom of expression under the guise of national security.

Two murdered journalists for the Africa service of Radio France Internationale, Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58, might have had a chance. They were abducted on November 2 in Kidal in northern Mali, but the vehicle their captors were driving suddenly broke down, according to news reports.

The home page of SKeyes' interactive 'Journalist Survival Guide.'

A new English/Arabic online tool is available for citizen journalists who have no previous journalism experience or training but are reporting dangerous frontline stories. It uses animation--a novelty for such guides--and its arrival is timely.

NBC's Richard Engel and AP's Kathleen Carroll at the U.N. Security Council. (AP/Mary Altaffer)

Speaking at a U.N. Security Council discussion about the protection of journalists, Associated Press Executive Editor and CPJ Vice Chair Kathleen Carroll remembered the 31 AP journalists who have died reporting the news and whose names grace the Wall of Honor that visitors pass as they enter the agency's New York headquarters. Most were killed covering war, from the Battle of the Little Big Horn to Vietnam to Iraq. But around the world, Carroll noted, "most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire, they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved; the killers rarely ever punished."

Outside the Moscow apartment building of Anna Politkovskaya on the night of her murder in 2006. A ex-police officer pleaded guilty to orchestrating extensive surveillance leading to her slaying. (AP/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Much has been made recently about the digital surveillance of journalists--and rightly so--but physical surveillance remains a key tactic of security forces, law enforcement, and private entities. These operatives are monitoring journalists, gathering intelligence on them, and potentially obstructing journalists' work or putting them at risk.

Tahrir Square erupts after the army ousts Morsi. (AP/Amr Nabil)

From São Paulo to Istanbul to Cairo, coverage of street demonstrations has re-emerged as an exceptionally dangerous assignment for journalists. Since June 1, CPJ has documented more than 120 attacks on the press amid the civil unrest in Brazil, Turkey, and Egypt--the biggest surge of attacks in such circumstances since the uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011. My colleague Özgür Öğret described the danger in Turkish streets last week, and CPJ issued several alerts on assaults on the press in Brazil. The massive protests in Egypt have already resulted in more than three dozen anti-press attacks, including one fatality, and bring to mind the record-setting violence of two years ago.

Finally, there is an organization for freelancers run by freelancers, and it could not come at a more opportune time. As anyone who has been one knows, being a freelance conflict reporter, in particular, can be tricky business.

As the pace of technological innovation increases, several groups try to ensure journalists are offered tips on digital security. (AFP/Jonathan Nackstrand)

One day, every journalism school in the United States and beyond will offer a full three-credit, 15-week course in digital safety, along with more advanced classes. But that day has not yet come. Only a year ago, Alysia Santo reported in the Columbia Journalism Review that no American journalism school offered formal digital safety training. A number of groups, including CPJ, have tried to fill the void with digital security guides. This week, the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University added to the resource stockpile with the publication of a guide that I've written, Digital Security Basics for Journalists.

Two major security efforts coincide with World Press Freedom Day.

In the past, donors and groups providing security to journalists in less-developed nations tended to export a Western, military-style of training designed for a war-time environment. But the danger of covering combat is one thing. Being fired upon by a motorcycle-riding assassin is another--as is being sexually molested in a crowd, discovering a video camera in one's bedroom, or having one's phone calls intercepted. And then there is emotional toll of losing dear colleagues, and wondering whether you or your family will be next.