This article was written as part of the Balkan Hot Spot Journalism and New Media Seminar organised by the NGO United Societies of Balkans, based in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was published in Athens Views on Friday 6 February 2015.
In the wake of yet another murder of a journalist by the self-described Islamic State, the dangers that journalists face in conflict zones come to the forefront once again. The ‘Islamic State’ has published a video which shows the beheading of Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist who was working in Syria when captured by the Islamist militant group in October. Goto, an experienced journalist working in various conflict zones, went to Syria to negotiate Haruna Yukawa’s release, who was also captured and killed by the Islamic State.
The Islamic State’s relentless and public killings against journalists highlight, more than anything else, that journalists working in conflict zones put themselves in grave danger for the sake of reporting. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 journalists with confirmed motive, 19 with unconfirmed motive, and 11 media workers were killed in 2014. The Middle East was the deadliest region for a journalist to work. Syria is the deadliest country for the third year in a row as 17 journalists were killed. Syria, currently on its fourth year of conflict, is related to some of the most gruesome journalist deaths due to the Islamic State’s presence.
Apart from Kenji Goto, James Foley and Steven Sotloff were also beheaded in 2014. The 2014 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters without Borders highlights media repression as well as the dangers journalists face by both state and non-state actors. More specifically, the Index states that “non-state groups are the main source of danger for everyone in several countries in the region [Middle East].” The reasons why journalists and the media more generally, are being targeted by non-state actors such as the Islamic State are not that unusual even on a first reading. Non-state actors seek the best possible way in order to convey their message more effectively. The Islamic State has used new media exceptionally well although in the most gruesome way possible.
However, a terrorist group using the media, is not a new phenomenon. According to Paul Rogers (2008), TV coverage of terrorist actions has been present since the 60s and 70s; the use of new media by extremist movements, nonetheless, makes the promotion of their messages more effective. Even though hostage abduction is a way of financing extremist groups, captive journalists offer more publicity towards this cause due to the nature of their work. In effect, increased publicity brings added pressure to governments which are against paying ransom to terrorist organisations.
Kenji Goto was a journalist who had reported from several conflict regions around the world. He was known for the human element in his. He was captured in an attempt to save his friend from the Islamic State. But Kenji Goto, as well as all the other journalists that have died while on duty, will always be acknowledged for their commitment into bringing unreported stories from the world’s most dangerous regions to the forefront.
Paul Rogers, “Terrorism”, in Security Studies. An Introduction edited by Paul D. Williams, Routledge (London and New York: 2008).