News Outlets to Syrian Rebels: Help Us Stop Journalist Kidnappings

Media organizations warn that violence against reporters is cutting the world off from coverage of the civil war.
Ayman al-Sahili, a Reuters cameraman, reacts after being shot in the leg by a pro-Assad sniper while filming on the front line in Syria's northern city of Aleppo. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

Syria is the most dangerous place in the world to be a journalist. As former New York Times reporter David Rohde wrote last month, roughly 30 journalists, half of them foreign reporters, are now missing in the country—marking the "single largest wave of kidnappings in modern journalism." Just in the last few weeks, we've learned that two Swedish journalists were abducted near the Lebanese border, two Spanish journalists were kidnapped by al Qaeda-affiliated fighters in the northern province of Raqqa, and an Iraqi cameraman was executed by the same jihadi group in the northern province of Idlib. A total of 55 journalists have been killed covering the two and a half-year-old conflict, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Pro- and anti-Assad forces have both had a hand in the bloodshed.

Now some of the world's biggest media organizations are calling on Syrian rebel leaders to do more to protect the journalists in their midst. In a letter addressed to the "leadership of the armed opposition in Syria," the news outlets urge the heads of rebel organizations to "assist in identifying those groups currently holding journalists and take the steps necessary to bring about their release," while also working to "reduce and eliminate" the risk of kidnapping in rebel-controlled territory.

The letter, signed by leaders of 13 news organizations, including The New York Times, BBC News, and Getty Images, was released Wednesday morning. (Atlantic Media Chairman David Bradley is among the signatories.) It emphasizes that the bleak climate for foreign and Syrian journalists has had a chilling effect on reporting from the country, leaving the world dangerously uninformed about the state of the conflict. A "growing number of news organizations no longer feel that it is safe for their reporters and photographers to enter Syria, and many have decided to limit their coverage of the war, unwilling to have their staff members subjected to the increasingly common risk of abduction," the letter states.

"The international news organizations signing this letter are committed to providing the world with fair and in-depth coverage of the war, the activities 0f rebel-aligned forces, and the suffering of civilians within Syria," the message adds. "Those stories can only be told if journalists have the ability to travel within Syria without fear that they will be victims of kidnappings by criminal gangs or groups associated with the rebels."

Right now, that fear is all too real.

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Uri Friedman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Global Channel. He was previously the deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy.

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