On Monday 5 November, the World Solidarity Forum and Beyond Brussels podcast team brought together four illuminating speakers at the Press Club Brussels to mark 100 years of reporting war and conflict. After an engaging panel debate, Renate Schroeder, Director of the European Federation of Journalists, met with us to discuss her thoughts on journalism at the frontlines.
Renate, a major point this evening was underscoring the challenges journalists face while reporting conflict. As tonight’s event aims to highlight, this has evolved over the past century. What would you say the greatest challenges are for journalists reporting war and conflict today?
RS: “In general, there is a lack of financial resources – media companies do not have the aspiration nor even the possibility to invest money in conflict reporting. We see that freelance journalists are most often the ones out in the field doing strenuous work, yet these journalists lack the safety training and insurance provided by media companies. And of course, freelancers end up working even harder because they must build a name for themselves to get assignments. This creates an abundance of free labor that can kill the market. Furthermore, self-censorship is on the rise just, so journalists can stay on payroll.”
Considering the unfortunate reality of exploitation and an oversaturated market, do you think that young people will be deterred from becoming journalists – at the frontlines and elsewhere?
RS: “Journalism is still a profession that attracts people for various reasons, positive and negative. Young people have always tended to enter the field in hopes of achieving prestige and a finding a way to embrace their idealism, and I do not see this changing. In the modern era of selfies and some degree of egoism, there is an urge for slow, well-developed journalism. There will always be people who enter the field for the wrong reasons, but there is also a movement to enter the field to improve it.”
Can you give an example of a way journalism is being improved, in your opinion?
RS: “In Eastern Europe especially, media companies are coming under the dominance of oligarchs or politically inspired agents, creating a concern of influence. However, this negative trend is bringing forth a new excitement because journalists feel they no longer need to depend on the media organizations that exploit them. In Switzerland, for example, there is an online newspaper created by team of independent journalists who came together in favor of equal pay and quality journalism. Rather than being exploited by a media organization, these journalists have the freedom to ‘exploit themselves’.”
What can be done on a global and an individual level to further the evolution of quality journalism?
RS: “A major problem is the complete absence of protection for journalists at the global level. Though the Council of Europe has recommendations, full UN protection is a required first step. The next element is to consider adopting a new trend called ‘constructive journalism’ that aims to incorporate both positive and negative aspects to news stories and involve citizens in the process. We live in a time where we have all the tools and social media platforms to make the audience feel part of the story. Lastly, people should consider subscribing to quality media to alleviate the funding struggle that causes so many of the current problems.”