March 17th, 2011


The Daily Risk

The death in Libya of Al Jazeera’s Ali Hassan Al Jaber was a reminder of the risks which reporters have to face when they go to cover wars.  The Committee to Protect Journalists now puts at 852 the number of journalists killed since 1992.

The count starts from a time when the end of the Cold War brought an end to many of the certainties of the 20th century – including the idea that journalists would rarely be deliberately shot at. New kinds of conflict meant new dangers for reporters.

The post-Cold War, post September 11th, world is one in which journalists are exposed to ever greater threats.

It is hard to see how that trend will now be reversed.

Politicians and academics are united in the view that winning the media war is vital in modern conflict.

At a recent conference in London, I heard a seasoned diplomat offer the view that, ‘In the information age, it is not the side with the bigger army that wins, but the side with the better story.’

That does not prevent the side with the bigger army using force to silence what they fear may be a better story. The war of weapons can cross over into the war of words.

This week, the New York Times has said that four of its journalists are missing in Libya. Last week's Economist reported on the detention of journalists in Turkey.

Those of us who deal with no more serious pressure than those of accuracy and deadlines – important though they are – should never forget our colleagues in much tougher and more hazardous conditions. I hope especially for the safe return of the team from the New York Times.