In many cases, media outlets encounter numerous difficulties in accessing the conflict region and the battlefield. These obstacles arise for various reasons.
- Worsening of the working conditions of war correspondents and their increasing exposure to violence has recently raised the question of the necessity of their presence on the battlefield. Nowadays, war correspondents are operating in an environment where they are regularly the target of violent and strategic attacks. Unfortunately, editors and media outlets lack the ability and the financial resources to guarantee the complete protection of their employees. Consequently, the number of media correspondents willing and authorised to cover a conflict has drastically reduced over time(1).
- The political authorities deliberately ban the access of the conflict zones to monopolise the information, silence human rights abuses, and control public opinions. Many war correspondents saw their accreditation and visa to enter a country refused by the local authorities(2). For instance, during the recent resumption of clashes between Israel and Palestine, foreign media saw their request for entering Gaza Strip denied by Israeli authorities. Accordingly, it imposed tremendous pressure on local Palestinian reporters, thus increasing their vulnerability. A great disinformation campaign has marked the media coverage of the conflict.
However, the ban can also manifest itself more ambiguously and implicitly. For instance, in Yemen, the price requested by authorities and fixers for their services has become increasingly expensive to such an extent that independent journalists can no longer afford the coverage of the war anymore. This factor, among many others, contributed to the under-reporting of what is considered by the UN today to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
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- It is worth noting that the conditions of conflict, namely the insecurity and violent environment in which media operate, naturally influences the ability of a journalist to move freely without constraints.
What is the impact?
The absence of independent journalists on the ground provokes an information void impacting the nature of the profession and the peace resolution. The inability to access the conflict zones erodes the quality of reports by diminishing the ability of journalists to adduce in-depth and well-sourced information. Arguably, the expertise of journalists on the ground is the only way to ensure the authenticity and reliability of the data(3).
When investigating how the decline of war correspondent affected the Syrian war’s coverage, Janine di Giovanni argues that “the result has been a war about which the public debate has been shaped almost entirely by second-and third-hand information, opinionated pundits, and social media” (4).
Simultaneously, the information void has tremendous implications for the whole international humanitarian community. Indeed, it becomes increasingly challenging to grasp the most affected individuals or groups in the armed conflict and their actual needs(5). Moreover, the exclusive reliance on third-hand information sources raises some important ethical issues. As reporters frequently struggle to access and gather opinions from the most impacted areas, their work might unconsciously fail to give visibility to the population suffering the most collateral damage. Indirectly, the media can place itself as the representative of the majority opinion, while disregarding the stories of the marginalised(6).
Tools and resources
Social media and communication with civils
The recent sophistication of information technology permits connecting individuals from all around the world and acquiring reliable information. For instance, in the Arab Springs, online social networking appeared as a crucial catalyst and facilitator to compensate for the absence of journalists at the protest locations. All over the Arab world, the government denied access to most media outlets in order to corrupt people with government-sponsored sources. However, very rapidly, millions of ordinary citizens started to upload images on the internet and share them with media channels to testify the reality of the ground and the scale of the movement. Hence, this platform considerably facilitated the flow of information, while supporting citizens freedom of expression. Moreover, exiled media workers play an essential role as a mediator between citizens and international media. Their work and expertise are precious resources that give visibility and raise awareness on issues often disregarded by traditional media(7).
The worldwide collaboration between independent journalists on the internet is a wonderful initiative to overcome the absence of information and journalists’ incapacity to join the battlefield. Nowadays, many websites and databases allow sharing their recommendation and respective knowledge and information on specific tools.
- Journalism under pressure in conflict zones A study of journalist and editors in seven countries
- Reporting in Conflict Zones in Pakistan: Risks and Challenges for Fixers
- Conflict Reporting in the Smartphone Era
- Why the decline of foreign reporting makes for worse foreign policy.
- Conflict sensitive journalism: best practices and recommendations
- How close should we get?
- Media censorship: Freedom versus responsibility