CPJ Journalist Security Guide

Introduction: A New World of News

A Dangerous Job: Fatalities, 1992-2018

2018

1992


The world is an increasingly dangerous place for journalists. On average, more than 30 journalists are murdered every year, and the murderers go unpunished in nearly nine of 10 cases. Hundreds of journalists each year are attacked, threatened, or harassed. Many are followed or have their phone calls and Internet communications intercepted. More than 150 are behind bars at any given time. In its annual prison census, CPJ found 262 journalists behind bars around the world as of December 1, 2017, a historical high. Some of those imprisoned are held without being charged with a crime. The locations of at least 58 journalists are unknown.

Throughout the profession, journalists face emotional stress whenever they cover stories involving pain or loss of life, from the sexual abuse of children to terrorist attacks against civilians.

The collapse of old political structures, an increase in the number of failed states, and the rise of militia-rule in countries around the world has made many news theaters increasingly dangerous.

The Islamic State rewrote the rule book on dangerous assignments when its members beheaded journalists who were kidnapped in Iraq and Syria. Through their systematic use of kidnapping, prolonged detention, torture and execution, the Islamic State has effectively silenced the media in areas they control. Similarly in Mexico, cartels have deliberately targeted journalists in large numbers to silence criticism, or simply in a show of force. Authoritarian regimes have sought to limit freedom of speech by introducing repressive media laws, shutting down telecommunications at crucial moments, and through intimidation and imprisonment of journalists.

The world is a smaller place for journalists, too. Digital technology enables nearly everyone to follow not only events in real time, but also reporting by specific journalists and media outlets. Violent and corrupt actors worldwide understand not only how information shapes perceptions, but how the work of individual journalists can threaten their activities. In some countries, an unprecedented level of partisanship on cable, broadcast, and internet news outlets has blurred the lines between reporters and advocates, putting even more stress on the notion that journalists are neutral or professional observers. The result is a more hostile environment for the press in places from sleepy small towns to international war zones. Journalists everywhere need to watch their own and each other’s backs now more than ever before.

The business of news is also different. Newsroom cutbacks have resulted in more freelancers reporting on the frontlines of stories, from overseas tsunamis to local highway accidents, ocean oil spills to political demonstrations, armed conflicts to organized crime. Although many of these stringers carry press credentials from major media organizations, they are still contract employees who may be responsible for their own preparation, equipment, insurance, and care. Citizen journalists of all kinds are likely to face the same challenges. Unpaid contributors are reporting stories for evolving new-media networks with little or no support or training. Today, more journalists than ever are deciding what stories to cover and how to approach them. In other words, they are working largely on their own.

This guide details what journalists need to know in a new and changing world. It is aimed at local and international journalists of varied levels of experience. The guide outlines basic preparedness for new journalists taking on their first assignments around the world, offers refresher information for mid-career journalists returning to the field, and provides advice on complex issues such as digital security and threat assessment for journalists of all experience levels.

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