Major TV networks sign onto freelancer safety compact

[caption id="attachment_376805" align="alignright" width="740"]The murders of James Foley and fellow freelancer Steven Sotloff in 2014 sparked an international conversation about freelancer safety. The murders of James Foley (above) and fellow freelancer Steven Sotloff at the hands of ISIS in 2014 sparked an international conversation about freelancer safety.[/caption]

Several of America's major television news networks have joined a coalition of news organizations that have signed their names to a set of best practices for protecting freelance journalists who work for them.

CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS are now official signatories to "Global Safety Principles and Practices," a list of safety guidelines that specify, among other things, that news organizations treat freelancers the same way they would full-time staffers in cases of kidnap or injury.

The networks signed onto the agreement during a meeting last week at the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia School of Journalism.

In joining the compact, the networks were joined by the 2Lives/Steven J. Sotloff Memorial Foundation, an organization dedicated to Steven J. Sotloff, a 31-year-old freelance journalist who was executed by ISIS in 2014.

The list of best practices, and the news organizations that have declared their intent to follow them, are designed to safeguard journalists working in hazardous areas, Frank Urrutia, a friend of the Sotloff family and a board member on The 2Lives/Steven J. Sotloff Memorial Foundation, said in a statement.

"We believe in this initiative that is being created with the purpose of protecting the lives of men and women who risk everything to bring stories out of regions that are extremely dangerous," Urrutia said.

The guidelines come during a period of unprecedented danger for freelance journalists. In April, the Committee to Protect Journalists said terrorist organizations empowered by social media posed an increasing threat to journalists with limited training and scant institutional backing. The 2014 deaths of Sotloff and fellow freelancer James Foley at the hands of ISIS provoked renewed discussion about freelancer safety among journalism advocates.

So far, more than 80 news organizations have signed onto the freelancer safety guidelines. The list now comprises every major wire agency, four U.S. TV networks, the BBC and multiple digital upstarts.

The addition of major TV networks lends cachet and reach to the effort to protect freelancers, said David Rohde, an investigative reporter at Reuters and one of the coordinators of the initiative.

"The leadership that these networks showed is a huge boost to our effort," Rohde said in an email. "The basic standards we're trying to establish for how news organizations and freelancers can work together safely is spreading."

Some holdouts remain, however. Three national newspapers — The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post — have not signed onto the agreement; Fox News has not signed on; major photo agencies including Getty and Magnum are not yet signatories.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.


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