The reports of violence against journalists assigned to cover the demonstrations in Egypt and across the Middle East were both predictable and preventable. It is your Commander’s opinion that greedy executives of several news organizations placed their anchors, reporters, and producers in harms way in their frantic efforts to garner “exclusive” coverage of the demonstrations.
It is a fact that over a period of time in an effort to increase profitability, the major news organizations have closed news bureaus across the world and now usually rely on stringers and foreign news organizations at lesser expense. Without local news bureaus, the dangers present in various news hot-beds are not known or recognized by the decision-makers thousands of miles away.
It is reported by the Arab website Bikya Masr that street violence against women is common in Cairo. Fulbright Scholar Beenish Ahmed wrote that “street and sexual harassment has been endemic. Egyptian women have become rightfully wary of any sort of public demonstrations where they might become targets of abuse.” The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights describes the problem as a “social cancer.”
What happened to CBS News correspondent Lara Logan is inexcusable, but should have been both avoidable and foreseeable. However, without local, knowledgeable, and experienced representatives on the scene, decisions were made from afar without consideration to employee safety. Similar incidents happened to several other well known journalists, but they were extremely fortunate to not experience the consequences that befell Logan. Some individual journalists and their crews made poor decisions and placed themselves in jeopardy. They paid a very high price.
Recently I wrote about “big-time network anchors” that flew into Cairo and when confronted by the demonstrators quickly jumped on their private jets and got the hell out of a very dangerous situation. Several reporters fled to the safety of their hotels and reported from protected sites on the rooftops of the buildings. Wiser heads prevailed, but one must wonder just what price a journalist should pay to get the story.
A saner example of coverage exists where NBC News has a reporter on the scene in Tehran, Iran. He is a native and knows how to cover the story and to date remains free to report. Another is NBC’s Richard Engel who speaks Arabic and has lived across the Middle East for many years. He knows what and what not to do, and still reports accurately. Even CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who has lived and operated in the Middle East for some time, placed herself in danger defying local customs toward women and paid the price of getting roughed up.
Women are treated poorly in the Middle East and that must be taken into consideration when operating under a different set of rules and customs in a foreign country. Local bureaus know local situations better than fly-in transplants that push local customs to get the story and place themselves in serious danger.
Management on another continent should have the right safety information when making decisions to cover contentious events worldwide and who to send. One wonders just what price news organizations are willing to pay just to “get” the story. Are physical violence, sexual assault and possible death of reporters worth the price of a good story? News executives should know better and protect their minions – otherwise valuable employees are potential cannon fodder for zealots.