Reporting from the frontline: what does the attack on Lara Logan tell us?

Channel 4 News‘ international editor Lindsey Hilsum, who took part in last week’s First Wednesday special on Egypt wrote a piece at the weekend about the dangers journalists face following the sexual assault of Lara Logan in Cairo on the night President Hosni Mubarak stepped down.

Lindsey Hilsum, who herself came under attack while reporting in Egypt points out that journalists in general are in more danger now than when she began her reporting career.

This is primarily because, as every government and guerrilla group tries to control the message, journalists have become targets. The rise of satellite television and the internet means that everyone sees how the story is told, and wants to recast it in their own image.

The journalists most at risk are local not international correspondents – men and women, in countries like Mexico and the Philippines – many of whom have endured persecution, imprisonment or death threats.

The attack on Lara Logan has sparked debate about the particular dangers to women in volatile environments.

BBC world news editor Jon Williams is quoted saying that it’s naive to assume that gender is irrelevant when making hostile environment deployments. But that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be sent to cover conflicts, just that the threats need to be appropriately assessed.

Changing the gender of the person doesn’t eliminate risk, it just makes it different,

Lindsey Hilsum says it should be "taken for granted" that men and women will be reporting stories like the revolution in Egypt, the war in Afghanistan and "other major international events".

She also argues that being a woman can be a distinct advantage:

Since female journalists are able to report all aspects of the story, not just what the men say or do, it is clearly an advantage to be a woman. Nonetheless, I believe men should still be allowed to report the Middle East. I understand their limitations, but I think they have a contribution to make and it would be wrong to discriminate against them.

But Judith Matloff, wrote in an article titled Unspoken:Foreign correspondents and sexual abuse in the Columbia Journalism Review that concern that they may not be sent to report frontline stories means that women have been reluctant to discuss sexual assaults that take place in the course of their work:

Even when the abuse is rape, few correspondents tell anyone, even friends. The shame runs so deep – and the fear of being pulled off an assignment, especially in a time of shrinking budgets, is so strong – that no one wants intimate violations to resound in a newsroom.