BBC cash for freelance war-zone victims

The BBC has agreed to make payouts to freelance cameramen who may be injured in Afghanistan after insurance costs soared in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the US.

Amid growing concern that freelances in Afghanistan and surrounding countries are working in dangerous environments without insurance cover, news chiefs have changed the rules to ensure anyone injured while working for the BBC during the current crisis is paid from its coffers.

Usually, a trust set up by the corporation makes discretionary payments to freelances in the event of injury. But news chiefs stepped in and agreed the payments would be given to all freelances working in Afghanistan.

Freelances whose cover did not include Afghanistan prior to 11 September are currently being charged £1,000 a week for £100,000 accident and medical cover.

One cameraman who was previously charged £4,500 for £650,000 worth of cover for two weeks, was quoted £24,000 after 11 September.

BBC Newsgathering executive editor Vin Ray – also a board member of the Rory Peck Trust which promotes the protection of freelance cameramen and women – declined to disclose how much the corporation had agreed to pay.

But he told Press Gazette he thought freelances should still try to get their own insurance cover.

"It would be stupid not to," said Ray. "The signs are that the amount insurers are asking for are coming down, but this situation also highlights the need for an insurance scheme for freelances and that’s only likely to happen if we can deliver lots of people."

Brian Barnard, of West Midlands Insurance, a supporter of the Rory Peck Trust’s effort to encourage insurers to set up a scheme for freelances, said the costs are unprecedented.

"In conflict zones such as East Timor, Sierra Leone, the Gulf and the Balkans, they were at least able to find some reasonable cover," he said. "But everyone seems to have panicked."

Barnard said he hoped to persuade a corporate security company to carry out an assessment of Afghanistan to allow insurers to determine which are are genuine troublespots when deciding insurance premiums.

Speaking from CNN’s Atlanta headquarters at the Rory Peck Awards, Chris Cramer, the president of CNN International Networks, said news organisations "had come a little way" in how they treated freelances.

"With very little access to the US or British military, almost none with the Taliban, this could well be a conflict where the enterprising intrepid freelance will produce the only eyewitness view of the struggle inside Afghanistan," said Cramer.


By Julie Tomlin

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