Freelance safety questioned after BBC deaths

The killing of two BBC journalists in Somalia and Afghanistan at the weekend highlights the need for action to confront a global crisis of violence against independent reporters, campaigners have said.

The International Federation of Journalists said the murder of Nasteh Dehir Faraah in Somalia and Abdul Samad Rohani in Afghanistan made it ‘a horrifying weekend’for journalists.

Rohani, 25, was a BBC Pashtu service reporter in Helmand province and also contributed to the Pajhwok Afghan news agency, the country’s largest independent news service.

His body was found a day after he was reported missing near the city of Lashkar Gah. A pathologist said he appeared to have been tortured before being shot dead.

A day earlier, freelance Faraah, who was just about to sign a contract with the BBC Somali Service, was gunned down in the southern Somali city of Kismayo.

‘Two dedicated and courageous colleagues have been struck down doing their duty in the world’s most troubled regions,’said Jim Boumelha, the IFJ president. ‘Their deaths must inspire us to practical action to help protect journalists.”

Dahir was reporting on a dispute over the distribution of port tax revenue in Somalia, which was named Africa’s deadliest country for journalists in 2008 by Reporters Without Borders and second only to Iraq worldwide.

As the death toll among the British military in Afghanistan reached 100 this week, the death of Rohani demonstrates the dangers of reporting from the conflict. News organisations are relying increasingly on local reporters and fixers.

The BBC head of global news, Richard Sambrook, has acknowledged the reliance of the corporation and other news organisations on local staff.

‘They are the best as they are part of the local communities, but it’s also an added risk,’he said.

He added that there were policies in place to ensure journalists, both staff and regular freelances, had the training to ensure their safety in hostile environments.

Sambrook said the murders would not necessarily mean changes to the BBC’s newsgathering operations.

‘Reviews are underway to see if any lessons can be learned,’he said. ‘But we constantly monitor the way we report from the most dangerous areas.’

Tina Carr, director of the Rory Peck Trust, said news organisations were taking their responsibilities more seriously since 2001.

‘Local freelances are willing to take the risks,’she said. ‘They have the best access and best contacts. If an organisation uses a local freelance for one day or even one hour, they are accountable for them.”

In a joint email to all BBC staff, director-general Mark Thompson and head of BBC journalism Mark Byford, wrote: ‘The killings are a stark reminder of the courage and commitment shown by those who work for the BBC around the world.”

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