Interview: "Young Journalists More and More Often Subjected to Precarious Work"

Image © Elisabet Cantenys

This article is copyright free. Elisabet Cantenys and UNESCO authorize broadcast, print and online media, as well as the general public, to use part or all of the article for the celebration of World Radio Day 2015.

Interview with Elisabet Cantenys, Head of Programmes at the Rory Peck Trust, an organisation dedicated to the assistance, support, and welfare of freelance journalists around the world.

Are radio journalists, and in particular young radio journalists, in touch with the Rory Peck Trust for protection and assistance?

Elisabet Cantenys: Of course we provide help to many radio journalists. But more and more freelancers, especially young freelancers, are now multi-skilled journalists working across several different platforms. Before, the different sectors - radio, television or newspapers - were more clearly defined. It is not the case anymore. Young journalists are becoming more and more subjected to casual work, which forces them to diversify into different kinds of media.

The risk for radio journalists is often linked to the immediacy of the medium. We have seen many freelancers become targets because of radio interviews that they've conducted, when people they've interviewed have made divisive or contentious comments. In these cases, journalists are often suspected to be in collusion with their subject or worse, seen as a megaphone of a controversial politician or authority. We meet many journalists in this situation, for example in Latin America.

You often intervene on conflict or humanitarian crisis areas. Do you have an example of situations young radio journalists are facing in such contexts?

I remember the case of Gift Friday in South Sudan. Gift worked for Yambio FM until the end of 2012, when the radio station ran out of funds and stopped paying his staff and freelance journalists. Gift decided to pursue his dreams of studying journalism at university level. In August 2013, Gift started studying a Bachelor Degree in Journalism at Nkuma University, located in Entebbe, Uganda. He was being funded by his family who used to own a farm in Yambio, South Sudan. However on 15 December 2013 the country descended into civil war.

Gift’s family went into exile and left their home and farm, their sole source of income. This immediately cut Gift’s funding off. Since December last year, Gift has not been able to pay for his rent in Entebbe, Uganda and his tuition fees have not been paid for the second semester. Without any source of income, Gift depended on friends and some of his former colleagues to survive in Uganda. Gift says his landlord even confiscated some of his belongings until he was able to pay his rent.

What is the recommendation you and your organization offer to a young freelance radio journalist today, especially one that has to cover a conflict area?

Be prepared, do your homework: get the safety training you need, have the adequate equipment to protect yourself; complete a risk assessment, put together a comprehensive communications plan, and prepare a proof of life document (we have templates of this in our online resources); get the right insurance; and be physically and mentally prepared. If you are being commissioned, have an honest conversation about the risks and measures you are taking with your staff. In short, have a holistic approach to safety. Safety is not only about having a helmet.

We see a new generation very keen to build a career in journalism. For some of the young reporters, freelancing is a choice, a life style, but for many others is the only way to stay in journalism as there seems to be less staff positions available. ■

Former journalist Elisabet Cantenys holds an MSc in Global Politics from the University of London and studied journalism at the Ramon Llull University in Spain. She worked for four years in New York City as a freelance journalist and documentary producer before joining the London-based Rory Peck Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting freelance journalists throughout the world. The Trust provides assistance in facing the kinds of critical situations journalist can endure, such as threats, physical attacks, and also legal problems. The Rory Peck Trust assistance programme is often targeted towards individuals and assists around 100 journalists each year. Furthermore, the Trust offers online resources and supervises specific programmes such as workshops on safety training through the Hostile Environment Training Funds.

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Image: United States Army - CC-BY-2.0