Launch of Frontline Club journalism safety initiative

Such a meeting is timely and widely asked for, says Smith.

“An increasingly large number of news safety decision makers have never been in danger in the field before, and it’s important that practitioners in this industry speak to the decision makers and help with a difficult job.”

Aware of the possible tension between safety and good journalism in the field, Smith argues that safety policy should be seen as supporting journalism rather than obstructing it. Dead correspondents don’t report.

“During the 15 years that the Frontline TV agency operated half of us were killed during the course of our work. So news safety is very important to me but I still believe that it is worth taking risks for my journalism."

The system of ‘embedding’ journalists with army units has, in Libya and Syria, given way again to a riskier journalism that less often benefits from the protection of an army – and its medical services.

But there are opportunities Smith insists. Refining our understanding of what level of duty of care exercised by news organisations is best for journalism would improve morale and efficiency, helping news budgets.

“Why for example, do we not have an industry common set of safety standards for training? Could we consider a freelance Kitemark? The industry says it worries about freelance safety but it could show leadership and example at almost no cost."

Freelancers are an increasingly important part of newsgathering. The Frontline Club asked freelance practitioners to fill out a survey to better understand what they think about the risks they take.

They received a strong response, with 70 per cent saying they would be pro-active in obtaining industry-recognised qualifications ‘if reasonably priced’. For Smith, taking a close look at what can be done to make journalism safer is crucial, but it must not overshadow the work itself.

“What I’m really seeking is a further development of a sensible safety culture, but not one that castrates journalism… the end goal is to preserve news budgets, improve journalism and save lives. But news safety initiatives today should no longer be bogged down by blame and denial but must develop our capacity to do difficult stories more safely."

By Thomas Lowe

Spaces for the day are very limited but if you would like to attend or contribute to the initiative please contact Millicent Teasdale on [email protected].

Picture credit: Danfung Dennis