Stage 2 - Visits Graves
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Journalists' Safety


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:

Freedom Forum

Rory Peck Trust

ICRC and journalists in conflict zones