A number of stories have been scrolling through my Feedreader this evening regarding the inquest into the death of Kate Peyton, a former reporter who was tragically shot while on assignment for the BBC in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
This Guardian article caught my particular attention.
With the clarity of hindsight, it is understandable that the mother of Kate Peyton regrets not talking her daughter out of the trip. However, what concerned me as a journalist is her mothers admissions of what Kate herself said about the trip before leaving: ‘This will prove to them that I am committed’.
Her mother goes further, saying Kate saw a direct link between the trip and ‘her contract’ with the BBC. In addition, the risk assessment form was described as ‘basic’ by a freelance journalist who worked in South Africa with Peyton. I find this shocking considering how dangerous an area she was visiting.
There are always going to be calculated risks when working on projects such as this (not forgetting the thrill of being of the ‘frontline’ itself) but how much responsibility should a paper, or in this case, the BBC, take to ensure the safety of their reporters? It is a practical issue which I currently don’t know a great deal about. Personally, I draw the line at risking my own life for my career, and personal limitations have to be set.
If her mother’s understanding of Peyton’s sentiments is to be believed then I am left with a rather sour taste in my mouth regarding this case. Of course we all want to go that extra mile to be successful, but it is the rationale behind this which concerns me. It is the direct link of the pressure to go on such a dangerous trip with employment contracts, rather than for reporting quality news and journalistic praise that makes me feel uncomfortable.
Am I being naive, do such decisions come down to contracts and paychecks, regardless of consequences?
The Guardian reports here developments in the inquest. The coroner has stated that Peyton only took the assignment in Somalia because she felt her “job was on the line”.
The BBC say that no career ‘should suffer’ as a result of not taking on assignments, however I can’t see how this can be the case. Technically there should be no negative consequences of turning down a job in terms of contract renewal, to take this specific case, but as a journalist your job is made up from the stories you write. It may often be that by putting yourself in a sticky situation, you are the journalist that gets the scoop, but when do you draw the line between your job, and your life? It is a difficult thing to ask a journalist to do; give up a story, and this is where the pressure lies, as well as from editors and contract writers.
Updated 27 Nov 2008