THE BLOG

Journalists: 'No Longer on the Frontline, We Are the Frontline'

12/11/2014 17:50 GMT | Updated 12/01/2015 10:59 GMT

I was chatting with my friend at the BBC's New Broadcasting House when both of our phones suddenly beeped with Twitter alerts. She checked her phone, looked up and said, "I can't believe they've killed Steven Sotloff. They've beheaded him." She said a lot more than that about the murder of the American journalist at the hands of ISIS in Iraq in September which I can't repeat here, but suffice to say it wasn't PG-rated.

Just moments before this horrendous news reached us, we were discussing her imminent trip to Gaza. She had just got approval to go and had a few great story ideas in mind. After that, the focus of our conversation changed.

That's the thing: news of abductions, killings and unfair detention of journalists just doing their job really causes other reporters who were planning to expose abuses, corruption and injustice to think twice.

In nearly every continent, Amnesty has seen how reporters who rattle the cages of authorities and corporations with their stories are often taking huge risks. Journalists like Dina Meza in Honduras, for whom intimidation and threats of violence are a near daily occurrence. Or like Ukrainian editor Sergei Dolgov, missing since he was abducted by armed men in June. Then there's the Sierra Leonean journalist David Tam Baryoh, who has been arrested and faces indefinite detention after interviewing an opposition party spokesman who criticised the government's handling of the Ebola outbreak.

And sometimes - like Sotloff, American James Foley and many, many other cases around the world that go unreported in the international media - they are killed, simply for doing their job.

The easier option for any journalist or editor is to run the predictable, safe, less offensive story. It's then, though, that the dictators, tyrants, war criminals and dodgy business people get their way. If it were not for journalists investigating and exposing what these toerags are up to, how would the public know what's going on? And arguably more importantly, media coverage can contribute massively to public pressure on authorities to change their ways.

That's why Amnesty's Media Awards celebrate human rights journalism and applaud the courage and determination of journalists and editors who put their lives on the line to tell these important stories.

The Media Awards are now in their 23rd year and last night's ceremony saw some journalists take home prizes for some truly impressive reporting.

Guardian journalist Pete Pattisson's investigation into abuses of migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup won in the newspaper category. A new Amnesty report also features in the Guardian follows up last year's investigations

Photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale's compelling images of the bloodshed and horrors in Central African Republic led to his win for the photojournalism category, while Channel 4 News' Paraic O'Brien picked up the TV news award for his great piece on the life in the sewers of Bucharest. While BBC Radio 4's Mike Thomson won his fourth Amnesty Award - a record for any journalist in the same category. A full list of winners can be found here.

Last night's ceremony concluded with the 400 strong audience standing in solidarity with the Al Jazeera Three - journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed - jailed in Egypt in June after an unfair trial for broadcasting false news and aiding the Muslim brotherhood - charges they strenuously deny. Amnesty considers them prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate release.

Peter Greste's brother Andrew flew in for the ceremony from Cairo where he'd just visited Peter in prison. Andrew spoke of his brother's condition and said that it was important that international pressure is maintained on the situation for his brother, Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy.

Also speaking at the ceremony, Al Jazeera journalist Sue Turton - who was sentenced to ten years in absentia in the same trial - quoted Peter Greste on the current climate for journalists exposing abuses. He wrote from his prison cell: "We no longer report from the frontline, nowadays we are the frontline."

She added: "Driving around Northern Iraq covering ISIL's advance this year we decided not to put 'Press' or 'TV' on our vehicles. It used to give us some sort of protection. Now it could make us a target."

All these women and men who put their own lives at risk or who seek to pursue the unpopular story know just as well as Amnesty that they must keep investigating, writing, speaking and filming. They know that in shining a spotlight on the horrors, they are holding up a mirror to the perpetrators of abuse and that in turn can help to end it.

This is why, as tough as it is, Amnesty encourages journalists to keep up their great work. In spite of it all.