War journalists aren’t supposed to be in the picture. They film, report and put their lives in danger, for altruistic reasons only: showing the world the ways of war.
But when war journalists lose their life during the job, they become the media story. That’s what the world experienced on 22 February, with the death of The Times‘ Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik. Earlier, on 11 January, France24 journalist Gilles Jacquier lost his life in Homs as well.
Sending out correspondents to war zones counts as one of the most essential international journalism practices. But it comes with a heavy responsibility: offering all what’s necessary to protect their lives. And that includes emotional and psychological support afterwards, as well.
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Dr. Anthony Feinstein is a neuropsychiatrist, based at the University of Toronto. He has been studying the psychological hazards threatening war journalists: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
When he started his first research in 2000, he stood alone. “There was no publication on this topic at all”, he says.
“In comparison: there’s a huge literature on shellshocking, or the consequences of war for soldiers. But regarding journalists, nobody knew how they reacted to the same exposure of war.”
Feinstein’s studies show quite an astonishing picture: war journalists suffer three to five times more often from PTSD and depression than the general population. The figures resemble those of veteran soldiers.
“You have to see in perspective, though”, the doctor expresses his caution. “The majority of war journalists is fine. It’s a minority of 28,6 per cent that faces PTSD symptoms, or 21,4 that suffers from depression at a certain moment.”
Feinstein has been pushing this issue on the agenda of news organisations. He started the website conflict-study.com – funded by CNN. Journalists at the frontline can check up on their emotional health by completing a simple test.
Feinstein went door to door at news organisations as well, to point out the importance of this issue.
In 2011, Feinstein produced the documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat. It is directed by film maker Martyn Burke, and it made the shortlist for the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary.
Under Fire shows testimonies of experienced war journalists such as Paul Watson (1994 Pulitzer Price-winning photographer), Jon Steele (American cameraman and author of the book War Junkie) or Ian Steward (ex-AP).
The journalists pictured have significant problems of dealing with their experiences. “I’m not saying you have to prevent journalists from doing this work”, Feinstein adds. “Their work is essential.”
“But organisations and journalists need to be aware of the dangers, and offer the support to prevent serious harm.”
He cites the biography of Martha Gellhorn by Carl Rollyson: Nothing ever happens to the brave (2000). “Unfortunately, courage doesn’t make people immune for the hazards I’m researching.”
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This is a short summary of a full two-page spread that was published in the Belgian quality daily De Morgen, on 13 April 2012.
If you want to read the full article as published in the paper, check it out in issuu right HERE! (Dutch)