Recent events have highlighted the extent to which people behind professional and amateur cameras are increasingly at risk. This was compounded by the brutal murder of video journalist James Foley by Islamic State (ISIS).
His work as a filmmaker shows a committed journalist who cared for people and wanted to inform the world of the suffering caused by war, especially the innocent civilians trapped in the midst of conflict. I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist (PHNAT) wishes to send deepest condolences to the family and friends of James Foley.
In the same week the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) posted an article stating journalists were increasingly being targeted in conflict zones. This came just days after The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) released a statement saying that July was the bloodiest month in the history of Palestinian media, where nine journalists were killed and eight media outlets were shelled during the Israeli military offensive on Gaza. A further six journalists were killed since the release of the statement.
Across the other side of the world in Ferguson, Missouri, journalists covering the Michael Brown protest were arrested, other journalists faced removal from the area and a militarised police force pointed assault rifles at amateur documenters.
Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) has reported on a massive increase in police misconduct across the States this year, often ending in assault or arrest of members of the public whose only crime was to film the police and hold them to account.
The concerning development surrounding the Foley murder was the call for #ISISmediablackout on Twitter, initially going viral to halt the dissemination of the ISIS execution propaganda video. Over the week this has quickly spread to condemnation of reporting the murder and more generally anything to do with ISIS. PHNAT too has faced criticism for posting an article reporting Foley’s murder on our Facebook page, some arguing any reporting of ISIS and their atrocities fuels the group’s propaganda.
The call for people not disseminate the video on the Internet was completely understandable. In the UK the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command took it a stage further and warned that viewing, downloading or reposting the video risks prosecution for a terrorist offence.
Whether it is a state enforced blackout or a well-meaning social media campaign, as we have seen this week, censorship hinders our ability to report the facts in order for the public to remain informed.
Media censorship is not a new issue. This was illustrated graphically by American photographer Ken Jarecke’s 1991 Basra Road image of an Iraqi burned to death at the wheel of his vehicle. This photograph was censored by the American media until long after the Gulf War.
Jareke said: “No one would touch my photograph. The excuse was that it was too upsetting, that people don’t want to look at that type of thing anymore. The truth was that the whole US press collaborated in keeping silent about the consequences of the Gulf War and who was responsible.” – Reporting The World by John Pilger