At least 22 journalists have been killed and 165 have been imprisoned in connection with their work since January 2016, according to figures from the Reporters Without Borders (RWB) press freedom barometer.
The organisation also published a round-up of abuses against journalists in 2014, when 119 journalists were kidnapped, compared to 87 in the previous year.
These numbers highlight that journalists and media workers continue to be a target for kidnapping and imprisonment, particularly in high-risk conflict zones, and news organisations should have contingency plans and processes in place to prevent such events from happening, as well as to minimise the risks if and when these acts occur.
"For news organisations, kidnapping has to be one of the hardest things they have to deal with, because they hold so few of the cards," said Hannah Storm, director of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and co-author of the book 'The kidnapping of journalists: Reporting from high-risk conflict zones', speaking at the Frontline Club in London yesterday (29 June).
As Storm and her co-author, Robert G. Picard, highlight in the book, journalists can become a target for a variety of reasons, such as being mistaken for spies or allies of opponents, or to silence the media and halt coverage of a certain situation or location.
But when journalists are kidnapped or held hostage for ransom, this differs from the other motives mentioned.
"The growing use of journalists as hostages to pressure their governments and to obtain ransoms is creating significant safety challenges and leading to a reduction of insightful coverage of developments in regions in which they occur," the authors wrote in the book.
Attacks on journalists wouldn't continue if the perpetrators didn't believe our jobs were meaningful and importantHannah Storm, INSI
Many news organisations are not well equipped to deal with kidnapping, Storm added, and publishers sending journalists to conflict zones should ensure their staff has received relevant safety and first aid training, and have access to the right equipment and knowledge of how to use it.
"Most news organisations put contingency plans in place after a kidnapping has happened, while others approach INSI beforehand because they have seen what other companies have had to deal with.
"The organisation should have a plan in place for how to respond to a kidnapping and also a plan to ensure business continues if crisis hits."
For freelance journalists, it is even harder to access safety training as part of the news organisation they are working with, and some publishers have even stopped taking material from freelancers altogether, Storm pointed out.
It is often up to the individual to ensure they have taken the appropriate measures before accepting an assignment in a conflict zone or offering to cover it.
In 2015, A Culture of Safety Alliance (ACOS), a coalition of major news companies and journalism organisations, collaborated to devise a set of global freelance protection standards in different languages, which include guidelines for secure information sharing, training, insurance and communication.
"Employers are responsible, but journalists themselves should also ensure they are aptly prepared and minimise the risk of being kidnapped through the decisions they make about going somewhere.
"Attacks on journalists wouldn't continue if the perpetrators didn't believe our jobs were meaningful and important."
Colin Pereira, director of HP Risk Management and head of high risk security for ITN, said when journalists take these risks, they must ensure they are "calculated risks".
For example, using trustworthy fixers when reporting from foreign countries can be a major factor in the outcome, even though journalists may be tempted to work with the same person they have previously collaborated with, or even take a travel route they have safely explored before.
"Good journalism is about good access, it's about getting in there and asking tough questions. That access is your safety blanket," Pereira said.
Once a news organisation has decided which of its staff are to be deployed to a conflict zone, a decision taken based on the person's experience and previously demonstrated good judgement, journalists will undertake hostile environment training, he explained, and they will be exposed to risk on a gradual basis, rather than being sent straight to an extreme risk location.
Good journalism is about good access, it's about getting in there and asking tough questions. That access is your safety blanketColin Pereira, HP Risk Management
Journalists are also usually sent on assignment in pairs or groups, alongside more experienced colleagues.
"Before going on a trip, you should do a cost benefit analysis on what the risks and the rewards are, and how you can mitigate the risk," Pereira told Journalism.co.uk.
"Part of that is selecting a fixer who has shown evidence that he is able to work with foreign journalists and have good access to the stories you want to get to.
"But in some countries, the fixer might be part of the problem, not part of the solution, so finding someone who is trustworthy is crucial, although this is a very difficult process as you can never be 100 per cent sure of someone."
The good judgement and experience assets also apply to freelancers, he added, and these can be obtained in less dangerous places to begin with, rather than journalists attempting to travel to a conflict zone on their first assignment.
Pereira said freelancers should also take advantage of other colleagues and news networks operating in the location they are travelling to, and they should independently seek subsidised training opportunities beforehand.
"I think all freelancers should try and get a commissioning organisation before they head off to a conflict zone and if they are producing a lot of work for that commissioning body, they should be asking them to subsidise their training.
"They also need to have a network of people on the ground who are able to inform them about risks, the reliability of fixers and vehicles, general logistics and invest more time in preparing and thinking through the consequences before jumping feet-first into a situation," Pereira said.
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