In Syria, AFP takes a stance against freelance journalism

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(Photo: AFP handout)

(Photo: AFP handout)

Agence France-Presse (AFP) announced this week it will stop accepting work from freelance journalists reporting from rebel-held territories in Syria.

The news agency also announced it will no longer dispatch its own reporters to rebel-held territories because of safety concerns.

“Journalists are no longer welcome in rebel-held Syria as independent witnesses to the suffering of local populations,” AFP global news director Michèle Léridon wrote in a statement. “They have become targets, or commodities to be traded for ransom.”

Several foreign journalists have fallen into the hands of a group calling itself the Islamic State (IS). Over the past six weeks, at least three videos have been distributed online showing the execution of three hostages — including a freelance journalist who filed stories for AFP — by IS forces.

“Working in IS-controlled areas is virtually impossible for journalists and independent observers,” Léridon wrote. “Propaganda photos and videos released by IS are often our only sources of information about what is happening inside the self-declared ‘caliphate.'”

Léridon says AFP will continue to send journalists into other conflict zones, including Iraq, Ukraine and Gaza.

AFP says it is the only international news agency with a bureau in Syria’s capital Damascus. Those journalists will continue to be dispatched throughout Syria, but only to areas controlled by the Syrian government under president Bashar al-Assad.

“Our challenge is to strike a balance between our duty to inform the public, the need to keep our reporters safe, our concern for the dignity of victims being paraded by extremists, and the need to avoid being used as a vehicle for hateful, ultra-violent propaganda,” Léridon said.

But that duty to inform the public does not trump reporter safety, Léridon says, and the news agency does not want to encourage freelance journalists to travel to what it considers to be dangerous areas of the country.

“If someone travels to Syria and offers us images or information when they return, we will not use it,”Léridon wrote. “Freelancers have paid a high price in the Syrian conflict. High enough. We will not encourage people to take that kind of risk.”

Agence France-Presse: Covering war and the “Islamic State”