The war in the former
Yugoslavia was one of the most dangerous conflicts for journalists in history.
From 1992 to 1996, at least 45 journalists were killed and many more were
injured. Usually, most journalists killed in wartime are victims of impersonal
attacks, such as crossfire and land mines. But in the former Yugoslavia, a
number of journalists were targeted, some of them killed pointblank.
David Rohde was captured
by Bosnian Serb police in October 1995. Some journalists had been kidnapped
earlier to be used as bargaining chips in exchange for prisoners of war, but
Rohde appeared to have been arrested for his reporting activities. There were
at least 15 attacks on journalists in Bosnia in 1995. According to the Committee
to Protect Journalists, two journalists were killed, four imprisoned,
and 10 attacked either by bombs or gunfire. Two television stations were bombed.
Both local and foreign
journalists covered the war, but they were treated differently by authorities.
The United Nations Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) issued two different types
of press cards in the former Yugoslav republics - yellow for locals, blue
for foreign correspondents-- thus hindering the work of local journalists.
UNPROFOR and other UN agencies in the region claimed that they treated the
two groups the same, but local authorities blatantly discriminated against
reporters who carried the yellow cards. Moreover, Bosnian Serb forces harassed
local journalists with citizenship in former Yugoslav republics.
On April 13, 1995, the
Committee to Protect Journalists appealed to the United Nations to end the
double standard. UN representatives agreed with CPJ's stance and arranged
for a uniform card. A week later, UNPROFOR said that starting May 1, it would
issue one card to all journalists, local and foreign. Even with this concession,
journalists in Sarajevo faced difficult times. The Bosnian authorities, despondent
and upset by the lack of Western intervention on their behalf, turned on foreign
journalists, confiscating television footage and restricting their movements.
The problems generated by government restrictions were compounded by a populace
that had grown increasingly resentful of the foreign press. Journalists were
seen as superfluous to Bosnia's war needs, and were subjected to increasing
harassment and threats. The local population became reluctant to help journalists.
This forced the media to rely either on official information channels, which
tended to deny even the most trivial detail, or alternatively, to go it alone
and risk abuse and arrest at any number of roadway checkpoints. It was this
latter path that Rohde chose to take.
How to Prepare for
a War Zone
Journalists setting out
for dangerous assignments are advised to prepare carefully. While staff reporters
are usually covered by their news organizations, stringers and freelancers
should take special care to review their insurance coverage and make sure
it extends to war zones. All journalists should contact people who have worked
in the region recently, and bring in necessary equipment, provisions, and
personal medical supplies that may be unavailable in the conflict area. They
should make sure that the supplies they take are fresh and functional - everything
from body armor to batteries can have an expiration date. They are also advised
to check the problems journalists have encountered in the zone.
The first step should
be to check listings on the Web site for the International
Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). It is also worthwhile contacting
the Committee to Protect Journalists
for up-to-date information. The IFEX Web site also provides references for
new safety guides published by international journalism organizations. For
many years the BBC has been in the vanguard of news organizations providing
training for crews going into areas of conflict, much of it based on exercises
developed by the British Army. The training includes emergency first aid,
identification of military hardware and ordnance, and techniques for dealing
with hostage-takers and other extreme situations. In 2000, the Freedom Forum's
London office announced that it was developing a related war reporters' training
course in partnership with the Rory Peck Trust, to be available in both Europe
and the U.S. The courses are highly recommended for anyone going into combat
situations. Journalists should also remind their families and editors that
the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC; Red Crescent in Muslim
countries) is one of the first places to contact if they should drop out of
sight. As an independent humanitarian organization, ICRC can locate people
who have been arrested or detained and verify their condition. It has a special
emergency phone line for journalists in Geneva: 41-22-734-6001.
For more information:
Rory Peck Trust
ICRC and journalists in conflict zones