BBC Global News director chair international committee on journalists' safety

MUMBAI: An international committee is being established to investigate the dangers facing journalists around the world. The committee chaired by the BBC's Global News division's director will also recommend ways to protect them at work.

BBC's overall international news strategy, radio, TV and online head, Richard Sambrook announced details of the committee during the annual Poliak Lecture, hosted by the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York.

Media organisations, government representatives, non-government organisations and human rights campaigners will be involved in the committee of inquiry, which is being led by the International News Safety Institute, the organisation that is dedicated to the safety of journalists and media staff, says a company release.

"Journalists are now at risk to a greater extent than they have ever been before," said Sambrook in his address.

"Where once their neutrality was widely recognised and respected, today they are targeted and sought out [by aggressors], seen as high-profile representatives of their countries or cultures. Increased partisanship in our media may have played a part in that; there may be other factors too. But with 85 journalists or support staff killed in the last year, we, as an industry, cannot carry on and do nothing. It is now one of the biggest inhibitions on freedom of reporting," he added.

In his wide-ranging speech, Sambrook, who is responsible for the BBC World news television channel, BBC World Service radio and the BBC's international-facing websites, also focused on the issue of objectivity in journalism.

He called on broadcasters and publications to avoid patriotic reporting and reminded them of their "responsibility" to "ask the difficult questions".

"Before Iraq, it seemed to me that some US news broadcasters wrapped themselves in the flag and, as a consequence, did not perform the role the public expects of them.

"I understand the problem. The mindset of the country was that it was at war. Our natural instinct is to support our country. But the responsibility of the news media is to ask the difficult questions, to press, to verify. And we now know that all of us failed to ask the right questions about WMD in advance of the war. That isn't to say the war was wrong: each can make their own mind up about that," he added.

"But to do so they need accurate information, evidence that has been tested. And if a news organisation imbues itself with patriotism, it inhibits itself from asking some of those questions," Sambrook concluded, as reported in the release.

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