Journalism in Crisis
by Dr. Nadia Al-Sakkaf
OCTOBER 28, 2020
The Yemen Times office - August 2020
The new troubles of a war correspondent.
As violence is spreading around the world, you don’t have to be a war correspondent to be in physical danger. We are seeing firsthand how tens of journalists have been attacked by security forces in Southeast Asia, Venezuela Egypt, Yemen and most recently Belarus while they are covering the protests against the regime. Since the beginning of this year 20 journalists and media assistants were killed and 357 were arrested including 118 citizen journalists in their line of duty.
Even worse, it doesn’t have to be in oppressive countries where journalists are in danger. We have seen how journalists covering Black Live Matter protests in the United States of America, where more than 400 journalists were attacked or arrested in the month of May alone as they covered the protests against the killing of George Floyd.
Although the struggle of all journalists in today’s world is heightened as they find themselves in danger, war correspondents bear the lion’s share as they risk their lives to present the truth to others. I still remember how from my training on reporting in conflict I was told to “always look up, and scan rooftops for snipers,” and “never enter an area without identifying more than one exit.” These instructions came in handy during my time in the 2011 uprisings in Yemen especially on March 18, 2011 when at least 45 protesters were killed and more than 200 wounded.
Yet today, war journalists are subject to more than one type of danger. There is the obvious physical harm but there is also a psychological impact and trauma. There is the financial constraint as we know media institutions are suffering huge loses with the changing dynamics in readership, and this directly impacts journalists, especially journalists on missions in dangerous situations. Additionally, with the rapid shift into the digital sphere, journalists are facing new risks as their digital activities could be used to track them, or have their character assassinated in the digital spheres. Many regimes use bots and armies of people to constantly attack the credibility of journalists who expose them.
As a journalist who reported on protesters being attacked by live bullets and interviewed men and women who were subjected to torture and abduction because of their beliefs, I am more scared of this new era and how it is redefining my profession. We used to be trained on how to report in conflict zones, now in addition to this kind of training, war journalists are taught how to send encrypted emails and how to ensure they are being safe online.
There is yet another problem we are facing in the media world of today, which is lack of trust. The spread of misinformation and fake news has made the public distrust the media. Some politicians use this against journalists to the extent that calls for violence against the press are being instigated by some members of the public, accusing them of spreading fake news.
The challenges are many and diverse. They keep changing with the times and the job of a journalist, especially a war correspondent is more complicated today than ever. But independent free press is the watch dog protecting the citizen’s best interest. It is the live memory of the people, documenting what was and what is, for the generations to come, and for this reason it must and will survive.
Dr. Nadia Al-Sakkaf is the former Information Minister of Yemen and former editor in chief of the Yemen Times, which she ran for nearly ten years. She is recipient of many international awards in recognition of her role in media and politics. She is currently a politics and gender researcher based in the UK.