Kate Peyton Inquest: How far is too far?

Kate Peyton

Kate Peyton

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

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One response to “Kate Peyton Inquest: How far is too far?

  1. Not your correspondant in South Africa

    There is more to this story than what is said here. The truth is that Kate was asked at short notice to produce the programme. The freelance journalist from London (Peter Greste) had sold the story to the BBC and was hungry to get it covered (he himself wanted to prove his committment – which ultimately he did -I prized contract with BBC in Johannesburg was his reward shortly after Kates death).I am not sure what drives journalists (you are a rare breed), but I know that freelancing comes with a lot of insecurity.Kate was at the time starting to foster a child . The timing was terrible and despite teh story not being a “breaking news” story , the preparation was rushed . Kate’s boss in Johannesburg allegedly had already received Kate’s new BBC contract from London “in his top draw “, but was testing Kate’s committtment/abusing his power to manipulate Kate into feeling insecure.Whilst this was common knowedge at the office , the BBC have managed to prevent collegues giving evidence to the inquest by the same methods that made duped Kate into flying to Mogadishu, fear that they might fall out of favour with the powers that be.
    It is more the latter that gives me a sour taste . Everyone makes mistakes . But it appears that BBC wants to hide behind a veil of arrogance and perpetuate the same methods to corrupt decision making in their organisation.

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