News24

Journalists' risks increase in Syria

2012-02-24 15:03

Berlin - The deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday was a brutal reminder of the dangers facing journalists who cover conflicts.

Colvin, a veteran US war correspondent who worked for the Sunday Times, and Ochlik, a French freelance photojournalist, were killed as they tried to escape a barrage of shells by Syrian government forces in Baba Amr, a Sunni Muslim district in Homs.

Journalists have been struggling to report from flashpoint cities such as Homs, Hama, Idlib and Daraa, where there is often no electricity and internet connections are severely limited.

The regime of President Bashar Assad has prevented foreign journalists from reporting freely and only a few have managed to reach cities under assault, such as Homs.

A dpa reporter in rebel-held areas in Homs said locals and fighters were growing increasingly hostile towards foreign journalists, especially women.

Opposition activists on Thursday posted a video on YouTube in which two French journalists, who were wounded in shelling in Homs, make an appeal for a ceasefire so that they could be evacuated from the Baba Amr neighbourhood to receive urgently needed treatment.

Ceasefire

The journalists were identified as Edith Bouvier, a freelance reporter for French daily Le Figaro, and Paris-based William Daniels. Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy was also wounded in the attack on Baba Amr on Wednesday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been trying to broker a ceasefire to provide medical supplies to the worst-hit areas of Homs and evacuate the wounded.

Most Western media have already left Homs. Colvin told CNN the night before she died that the shelling of Homs was the worst she had seen in 30 years of reporting from war zones.

The pan-Arab Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) held the Syrian government responsible for the deaths of Colvin and Ochlik.

Hostility towards journalists in Syria has increased after news spread that a Western photojournalist had taken pictures of four handcuffed alleged supporters of Assad, whose bodies were thrown into a mass grave after what appeared to have been executions.

The pictures angered a local commander with the Free Syrian Army, whose men allegedly forced the photographer to erase the images from his camera. Reporters in the area are reluctant to publish the commander's name.

46 journalists killed worldwide

But reporters say it is still possible to move around with fighters from the Free Syrian Army and to witness the difficult conditions in which its volunteers operate.

However, most of the fighters are poor men from rural areas who have little understanding of the role of the media, and some perceive Western journalists as opportunists seeking to make money from the Syrian crisis.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in an annual report released this week that 46 journalists were killed in 2011, either in targeted murders or while on assignment in danger zones. It said it was investigating another 35 deaths.

Many Western journalists who have been covering the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria are freelancers who earn little and can't even afford protective gear.

"Many [of them] do not even have a bullet-proof vest, which would cost them a month's income," said Elsa Gonzalez, president of the Spanish Federation of Press Associations, praising as "heroic" journalists who risk their lives for their profession.

Spanish journalist Alberto Arce covered the conflict in Libya, including the siege of the city of Misurata, where government forces and rebels fought pitched battles.

Living like an animal

Arce said he wanted to be in Libya to see "history being made, instead of accepting that others tell it to you".

It doesn't come easy, says Arce, who has written a book about his experiences in Libya, called Misrata Calling.

Arce recalls "living 45 days like an animal, trying to dodge bullets and mines which could blow your leg off, quarrelling with people who don't understand what you want, trying to obtain information without anyone cheating you, to be the first to arrive".