Skip to main content

James Foley is a reminder why freelance reporting is so dangerous

By Tina Carr, Special to CNN
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
  • The Rory Peck Trust works with freelance journalists on a daily basis, including James Foley
  • Tina Carr: Foleys' death is yet another tragic reminder of the dangers facing journalists today
  • Freelancers often work alone without the support of large news organizations, she writes
  • Carr: Majority of newsgatherers killed each year are journalists working in their own countries

Editor's note: Tina Carr is the Director of the Rory Peck Trust, a London-based NGO dedicated to the support, safety and welfare of freelance newsgatherers around the world. The trust is named after freelance war cameraman Rory Peck who was killed while on assignment in Moscow in 1993. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Freelance journalist James Foley was brutally killed yesterday after being held for 21 months by Islamic militants in Syria. Despite the increasing dangers of working in the region, despite the many journalists who have been kidnapped or are still missing, and despite dreading this news, it has taken us all by surprise and we are deeply, deeply shocked.

Freelance journalists, photographers and video journalists have always played a vital role in newsgathering, and their contribution today is more important than ever. They make a crucial contribution to the free flow of information that is an essential part of a democratic society and fully deserve our support and protection.

Tina Carr
Tina Carr

Our Trust works with freelancers on a daily basis -- helping them, helping their families, and sometimes working with them to help other freelancers. And James was one of these. We worked with him, helping him financially as he and his colleagues searched for missing colleagues in Syria. We stayed in touch.

READ: Why murder was message to Britain

James' kidnap and death is yet another tragic reminder of the very real dangers facing journalists today. Over the past two years, around 70 journalists have been killed covering the conflict in Syria, and a further 20 journalists currently remain missing, including freelancer Austin Tice.

The Committee to Protect Journalists say that the last two years have been the most dangerous for journalists on record, with 174 confirmed deaths since 2012. Not only this, but threats, intimidation, assaults and kidnappings are becoming every day challenges for journalists working around the world. Reuters columnist David Rohde writes: "Syria today is the scene of the single largest wave of kidnappings in modern journalism, more than in Iraq during the 2000s or Lebanon during the 1980s."

James Foley: In his words
Fmr. hostage: US, Europe failed Foley
The lure of jihadism

These are terrible facts.

So, what of the freelancers? Who negotiates for them? Who sends in security consultants to try and get them out? Who helps their families?

Freelance journalists like James often work alone without the resources and support of large news organizations behind them -- they are always the most vulnerable to these dangers. The Rory Peck Trust has been supporting and assisting freelancers for almost two decades, and we've never seen a demand for our assistance like this before.

It's not just freelancers travelling to conflict zones who are at risk. The majority of newsgatherers killed each year are journalists working in their own countries.

Freelance photographers, fixers and camera operators covering and reporting on conflicts that are affecting their own communities are often the most vulnerable. They're unable to leave areas when it becomes too dangerous, or when their reporting is exposed, and are frequently threatened, attacked and accused of being traitors for working with international news organizations.

Beheading of American journalist James Foley recalls past horrors

So, how to protect freelancers? How to help them work securely? Our organization gives financial and other practical support to freelancers in trouble. We offer online resources on safety & security for those reporting from dangerous environments, and run a Training Fund that provides bursaries for freelancers to enable them to undergo hostile environments training before travelling to a conflict zone. This training can teach freelancers how to assess risk and spot danger, handle a crisis, support others and give vital first aid. The right training can save lives.

James Foley's work as a war correspondent
Friend: Foley was more than a journalist

Although our focus is specifically on freelancers, we are only one of the many organizations that exist to support journalists worldwide. Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and IFJ all have security guides that can help freelancers be more prepared in situations of crisis. The International News Safety Institute offers up-to-date information about the security situation on the ground for journalists, and RISC offers vital first-aid training.

There's no question that conflict journalism has always been a dangerous occupation -- and how very wrong that is! So when we talk about protection, when we talk about security, we are talking about every sector of the news industry, whether news employers, staff or freelancers. In this brutal new world, everyone must be prepared to take responsibility -- for themselves and for others.

James Foley was a freelancer in the truest and most honorable sense -- a talented journalist and an exceptional human being. Our thoughts are with his family at this tragic time, and with the families of all other journalists currently being held in Syria.

READ: Beheading of American journalist James Foley recalls past horrors

READ: U.S. 'tried to rescue Foley' in Syria

READ: James Foley remembered as 'brave and tireless' journalist

The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tina Carr.

Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news and updates on Iraq in Arabic by visiting CNN Arabic.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 0350 GMT (1150 HKT)
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by ISIS militants brings into focus once again the risks faced by reporters in modern conflicts.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
When war reporter James Foley wasn't writing for GlobalPost or recording video for AFP, he occasionally shared stories on his own blog, aptly titled "A World of Troubles."
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1517 GMT (2317 HKT)
A video released by ISIS shows the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley and threatens the life of another American if President Obama doesn't end military operations in Iraq.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
"May God help you," the speaker of Iraq's parliament told Haider al-Abadi the day he was nominated prime minister.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 0219 GMT (1019 HKT)
The answers to this question lie in some clear differences in the two conflicts.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2227 GMT (0627 HKT)
Framing the intervention in religious terms bolsters theories of U.S. bias, says Fahad Nazer.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
They are the faces of an entire community on the run.
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 0854 GMT (1654 HKT)
In an exodus of almost biblical proportions, thousands trudge across a river to escape killers belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Theirs were the faces that stood out in the chaotic helicopter evacuation off the Sinjar Mountains.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 0013 GMT (0813 HKT)
Browse through photos of thousands of refugees trudging across a river to escape ISIS.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1541 GMT (2341 HKT)
The face of 15-year-old Aziza -- rescued from Mount Sinjar in Iraq -- says it all.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
CNN's Ivan Watson flies along with the Iraqi military as they drop emergency supplies.
Why do the militant Islamists have the Yazidis in their cross hairs?
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 2317 GMT (0717 HKT)
Images illustrate the ongoing violence in Iraq.
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1608 GMT (0008 HKT)
The message from a growing number of actors inside and outside Iraq is the same: Maliki must go if the country is to be saved.
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
ISIS gives young men "cars to drive, guns, cell phones and cash money."
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1015 GMT (1815 HKT)
Which is worse: Running desperately for your life, or seeing others' lives end without enough to eat or drink?
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1701 GMT (0101 HKT)
The Sinjar Mountains have always been a special place of refuge for the Yazidis.
August 9, 2014 -- Updated 1910 GMT (0310 HKT)
Will the U.S. air strikes increase the terrorist threat in the U.S. and Europe?
August 9, 2014 -- Updated 0251 GMT (1051 HKT)
Which religious and ethnic groups are under threat from ISIS militants?
ISIS has spread from Syria into Iraq. Learn where the militant strongholds are.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0156 GMT (0956 HKT)
'Why do these people kill other people?" For Iraq's youngest residents, the tragedy is almost incomprehensible.
Even those who aren't in the line of fire feel the effects of the chaos that has engulfed Iraq since extremists attacked.