The bitter civil war between the Syrian rebels and President Bashar al-Assad’s loyalists, which started in 2011, is fast becoming one of the deadliest and tragic wars in modern history. Already, it has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 and chased millions of people away from their homes and their country.
Due to this ongoing conflict, Syria has also become one of the deadliest places for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 52 journalists have been killed since the Syrian war started.
On December 20th, tragedy struck again – Reuters freelance photojournalist Molhem Barakat was killed while photographing a clash over Kindi hospital in the city of Aleppo. Doubly tragic was the fact that he was only 18 years old at the time of his death, a teenager with his entire life ahead of him.
Barakat’s senseless death didn’t go unnoticed. While the rest of the world mourned his death and commended his bravery, it sparked an intense scrutiny of Reuters’ ethics and business practices from the media. BBC journalist Stuart Hughes questioned the news agency about his training and pay, which was supposedly only $100 for every 10 images he uploaded daily. Writer Corey Pein also raised a number of important questions concerning Barakat’s death and his degree of affiliation with Reuters, including:
- Why did Reuters not mention Molhem’s age in its report on his death? If the agency did not know his true age, why not?
- What were the nature of injuries that led to Molhem’s death? How did Reuters learn about what had happened to him?
- Was he provided with any equipment from Reuters? What type? Did Reuters offer him a bulletproof vest, helmet or eye protection? A satellite phone?
- Was he provided with safety training? Was he provided with any training whatsoever?
- Was he insured? Did Reuters offer any subsidy for this?
- If he might have been deemed too inexperienced or unqualified to gain a staff job, why was he deemed fit to submit work from an immensely challenging, complex and dangerous environment?
Even former Reuters bureau chief Andrew MacGregor Marshall called the agency’s initial response (or lack thereof) to Hughes’ question “an extraordinary, cynically dishonest statement” in his Facebook account.
This is an extraordinary, cynically dishonest statement. As a veteran former Reuters journalist with extensive experience of working in dangerous and volatile war zones, I can say categorically that providing an explanation of why they deemed it appropriate to hire a teenager as a freelance photographer would not put any other journalists at risk.
Photographer Mathieu Asselin has since started a Change.org petition to demand that the news agency take accountability for what happened to Barakat.
Reuters has yet to make a proper and official statement in response.
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