Fourth of July Celebrations

This morning I woke up to the news that Alan Johnston had been released in Gaza, and thought it was great that I had something to celebrate on the 4th of July. Other than getting shot of those troublesome colonials in America of course. Having spent 8 years writing for an American-owned web site (in recent years has been a part of the New York Times) it was a relief to think I could write without having to keep American festivals and feast days in mind.

Although the site had many thousands of visitors from around the world, those from the USA were in a majority, and my non-American sensibilities were a problem so far as the management were concerned, though probably less of a problem than my interest in photography.

Our pleasure at the release of one brave journalist should not make us forget the others who are still in captivity – including Bilal Hussein, an AP photographer who now been held by the US military in Iraq for 448 days without being charged. You can sign a petition for his release at the ‘Free Bilal’ web site4:

According to an IFJ press release, at least 82 journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq. Of those, 28 have been killed and six are still being held, though I don’t think there statistics include people held by the US and other occupying forces
Of course many have been killed. This year so far, up to 4 July, at least 87 journalists have been killed, many of them photographers. Most – appropaching half – have died in Iraq. You can read the details, and the figures for earlier years at the News Safety Institute.
Photographers (still or video) are very much exposed and at risk, becuase they can’t work without putting their heads up above the parapet and actually confronting the motif. There are plenty of stories of people who’ve made their start in photography by picking up a camera and rushing out to cover a war, but we seldom tell of those who went out and met an early death without becoming famous. Of course many of those who did get started like this in the old days had some military training or experience, if only through national service.

Wars and many other situations are now more dangerous. Old ideas about respecting the freedom of the press and the right to report often no longer apply in modern conflicts; you are thought to be on one side or another, often because of your nationality rather than your views. With the Internet (and for photographs, the ubiquity of digital cameras) groups no longer need the press to get their views across in the old way.

If anyone is thinking of working in any hostile situations, it is vital to take advice and to get proper training. You might start by reading the book ‘A survival guide for journalists’, published in 2003 by the International Federation of Journalists, available as a PDF file.

Peter Marshall

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.