Many journalists have suffered whilst reporting or working in countries with laws that gag the media. Investigative journalism has cost many journalists their lives in the pursuit of informing the public.
It is the responsibility of the media to pull focus to issues plaguing the society – issues the public should be interested in – however this does not mean the journalist is not a person, someone with friends and a family
Anton Harber, Caxton professor of Journalism at Wits University, said one should take all the necessary precautions and learn as much as possible about apotentially dangerous story before immersing themselves in it.
“The biggest danger is ignorance. Be careful and understand a situation in as much detail as possible,” Harber said.
“No story is worth a life.”
According to Harber, in cases where a journalist might be arrested there are international networks that might responde with help. However, the ultimate responsibility lies with the news organisation toprotect the journalist. A news organisation will almost always support the journalist “if a story is important enough”.
Harber was himself arrested in South Africa while the editor of the Weekly Mail, now known as the Mail & Guardian. In the course of pursuing an investigation into the apartheid government, the paper was caught bugging a hotel room. The bug was discovered before any incriminating evidence had been recorded.
“Ethically it was wrong but I[only] regret getting caught,” Harber said.
Harber said if he faced the same situation again he would be “extremely hesitant”.
Ron Nixon, an investigative journalist for the New York Times, said the best way for investigative journalists to remain safe is to always let someone know where you are and always work in teams or pairs.
“Be aware of your surroundings and always let people know where you are. Including embassies as well. In case anything goes wrong,” he said.
Many journalists prefer to work alone because they’re after scoops. Nixon advises against this the information isn’t worth the risk of working without a safety net.
“Sometimes the information you are getting is not that exclusive.”
It is then up to the journalist to make an individual decision to either report the story, and possibly be first, or to be safe.