Journos in peril
ERNEST Sagaga, head of Human Rights and Safety at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ, of which the NUJ is an affiliate) came all the way from Brussels to tell London Freelance Branch's September meeting about the work of the IFJ's Safety Fund to support journalists in danger worldwide. We also heard from LFB's own Safiullah Tazib on the conditions faced by journalists in Afghanistan (see here).
With the recent trend towards the "kidnap of journalists in countries like Syria" motivated by desire for ransom, political leverage of just media attention, "you freelances are in particular danger", explained Ernest. Such countries are now so dangerous that media outlets "tend to send freelance journalists, or locals, especially young ones who take on huge risks without any support at all".
Since the IFJ started compiling annual reports on journalists killed in "work-related" incidents in 1990, there have been over 3000 journalists killed. Ernest noted: "apart from the army I don't know any profession where so many are killed."
The IFJ's Safety Fund was started "by journalists for journalists". It covers medicines and legal defence. In the past it was for journalists in developing countries but now requests are coming from Europe and America because of the "precarity of our members". It has disbursed over £3 million: "it's your money with your name on it." The IFJ organises safety training, which is "very expensive... we invite journalists to attend these trainings... to prevent them being killed." A lot of the IFJ's Hostile Environment Courses are "training for trainers" to create a "pool of trained people who will train people in that country: we ask unions to recommend people to come to get training... freelances have got priority, we know that no one is going to get training" otherwise.
The Safety Fund Board is made up of IFJ officials, who "decide where to spend money and how". Ernest is coordinator: his job is to "ensure the spending is admissible and make recommendations to the Board," who are "very careful on donations from external funds - they are really vetted." In 2010 Romanian media company owner Sorin Ovidiu Vintu "proposed a big sum for children of a killed journalist, €60,000". This was donated, but Ernest received an "instruction to pay it back with no discussion." (Vintu has since received prison sentences for embezzlement and money-laundering.) Money from external sources must be "to use as we see fit" with no strings.
The IFJ also tries to ensure that local journalists working for the global media companies "are trained and have social cover." The Frontline Club also has a fund for fixers.