August 20, 2014 7:17 pm

James Foley: Risking life to make sure conflicts don’t go unreported


U.S. President Barack Obama is vowing a relentless response following the murder of American journalist James Foley. Mike Armstrong reports.

James Foley took great personal risks to tell stories from war-torn places, risks that would be extraordinary for most people but all too ordinary for many journalists.

Foley was murdered in Syria by the extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), after being kidnapped and held captive for nearly two years.

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The 40-year-old put his life at risk to cover stories in conflict zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya —where he was also kidnapped in 2011 and held by Libyan government forces for 44 days while he was reporting for the website GlobalPost.

READ MORE: Remembering James Foley

“It’s important in this kind of war, to see if what rebels are saying they’re doing is actually true,” Foley told CBS on the importance of conflict journalism, following his release. That ordeal did not dissuade him.

He continued to cover stories from the frontlines until ISIS captured him in Nov. 2012.

WATCH: James Foley’s parents say they want their son to be remembered as a dedicated and passionate American

In Syria, Foley’s capture and murder is not a unique story.

There have been at least 80 journalists kidnapped since the start of the conflict and there are about 20 local and foreign journalists that are still missing and possibly being held captive by ISIS, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated.

CPJ said at least 69 other journalists have been killed covering the civil war in Syria —at least six this year alone. Freelancers accounted for about 45 per cent of those deaths.

Why go if your life could be put at risk?

“I think this situation highlights the incredible situation for journalists in Syria, which is the most dangerous country for journalists at the moment,” CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch explained.

Radsch said the situation is so volatile that many larger news organizations have deemed it too risky to send reporters into Syria, leaving much of the coverage to freelancers — many without the security, training or the support journalists employed by news organizations have.

“All journalists, and freelancers especially, need to understand the situation into which they are going. They need to understand that it is an incredibly and dangerous conflict,” she said.

While CPJ doesn’t provide hostile environment training for journalists, it does offer online resources and guidance for journalists who plan to work in hazardous conditions.

READ MORE: A second American hostage at risk by Islamic State; no good option for US

Even with training and knowledge of all the militant organizations and government forces involved in the Syrian civil war, the risk is still exceptional — especially when a group as brutal as ISIS has declared journalists to be enemies, Radsch said.

“I don’t know that any amount of training will necessarily be able to keep somebody safe in that sort of environment.”

Despite the dangers journalists face, she said we shouldn’t “get in the habit of saying [journalists] should or shouldn’t cover something.”

“I think that journalists are driven by a passionate quest for adventure and truth, and making sure that the major conflicts of our time don’t go unnoticed and don’t go unreported,” she said. “They are putting their life on the line, but I fear what would happen if journalists decided it was too dangerous.”

Reminiscent of Daniel Pearl murder

The way in which Foley died — being beheaded by an extremist militant on video —is disturbingly familiar.

In early 2002, terrorists in Pakistan kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, held him captive, and eventually murdered him in a gruesome decapitation.

Pearl’s parents, Ruth and Judea Pearl, issued a statement on Foley’s death saying: “Our hearts go out to the family of journalist James Foley. We know the horror they are going through.”

Pearl’s murder in Pakistan, just months after the September 11 attacks, was shocking. But it eventually led to U.S. legislation to protect press freedom.

U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act in May 2010, which requires the State Department to review cases of censorship, intimidation, and attacks on media and to investigate whether or not governments are violating press freedom, the New York Times reported.

Pearl’s family and friends also formed the non-profit Daniel Pearl Foundation, offering opportunities for “mid-career foreign journalists” from predominantly Muslim countries to work in U.S. newsrooms and experience working in a free press environment.

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