AFP Changes Policy in Wake of Foley Death

In the wake of beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, difficult questions have arisen about the impact and ability of journalists to cover events that are changing the world. In September, AFP, one of the world’s largest news agencies and the only international agency with a bureau in Damascus, publicly announced a change in its policies for coverage of Syria, where some of the most consequential events are taking place. The agency has not only ceased sending any of its staff into rebel-held parts of the country but it also will no longer accept any freelance work from the area.

“Journalists are no longer welcome in rebel-held Syria, as independent witnesses to the suffering of local populations. They have become targets, or commodities to be traded for ransom,” wrote Michele Leridon, AFP’s global news director, in a letter published on the agency’s website.

AFP continues to vigorously report from other conflict areas in the region, according to the statement: “We still regularly send reporters from Beirut into areas controlled by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. We also continue to cover the rebel side of the conflict thanks to local stringers, who live in the area and who supply us with accounts, photos and videos of what is happening there.”

The loss of AFP as a conduit for news from the most dangerous parts of Syria illustrates the challenges facing the industry, and the public, at a time when complicated events require increasingly risky missions.

Much of the news and information that comes out of conflict zones today is produced by freelancers. Foley and Sotloff were both freelancers, and Foley had been a regular contributor to AFP.

The AFP decision was significant for an industry that traditionally has made informing the public its highest obligation. It also seems to have been taken with considerable consideration for the safety of freelancers, who have carried out the task of reporting the most dangerous stories, often without insurance or guaranteed compensation.

AFP frankly addressed freelancers, writing that “If someone travels to Syria and offers us images or information when they return, we will not use it. Freelancers have paid a high price in the Syrian conflict. High enough. We will not encourage people to take that kind of risk.”

Click here for full event video from last month's panel "After Foley: Covering Conflict When Journalists Are Targets."