Female journos 'more at risk'
This week the sexual assault of a South African journalist in Cairo sent shock waves through the media world. But it also raised the issue of the risks that journalists, especially women, face in the field.
On February 17 CBS reporter Lara Logan, who hails from Durban, was assaulted by a group of men while she was covering a protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Although the details of the assault are unclear, it has been confirmed that she had to spend a few days in hospital upon returning to her family, who are based in the United States.
Although journalists have always been in a dangerous profession - with 44 recorded deaths among journalists in the field in 2010—Logan’s attack has brought to light the issue of attacks on female journalists, something that is rarely given much attention.
“Lara’s been around for a long time and she’s pretty savvy, but one good thing that’s come out of this is that it’s blowing the silence on this happening to women in the field,” said Judith Matloff, a board member of the International News Safety Institute, based in New York City. “This happens a lot, but doesn’t go public as much as it should.”
Matloff said that she is bothered that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has a lengthy manual on precautions that journalists should take, but makes no mention of precautions women should take against sexual violence.
“There are certain precautions that women should know,” she said. “For example, wear a belt, wear boots that are laced and jeans that are buttoned. It may not stop your attackers but it will slow them down.”
She said wearing a ponytail or necklace, or anything that can be pulled, should be avoided. “Don’t go drinking with sources, especially in the evenings. Most cases of sexual assault have happened when the journalist is tipsy. Also, in Muslim cultures, it’s probably best to dress on the conservative side and to try to blend in.”
She said that a woman journalist should always take a male colleague along to dinners with sources. “If someone tries to assault you, tell them you have Aids, or that you have your period.”
She said that very few women journalists know these points and in most hostile-environment training programmes these pointers are not discussed. Magnus Ag, spokesperson for the CPJ, said that though its journalist security handbook, last updated in 2003, does not include a section on sexual violence and harassment, it is currently updating it to include this information.
Clothilde le Coz, spokesperson for Reporters without Borders, said that though women journalists are more at risk of sexual violence than men, it is a risk they face as a woman, and not as a journalist. “It is not linked to the job, but to the gender,” she said. “The most important thing is to be aware that it can happen. It happens a lot and is rarely brought into the public eye.”
South African freelancer Nechama Brodie, who knows Logan personally, said: “All journalists are vulnerable out there. You need to have 360-degree vision. You need to get the story but you don’t want to get in the way and at the same time you’re trying not to get your camera stolen.”
Brodie is angered by comments on news websites about Logan’s looks provoking her attackers. She said that Logan is disliked by some of her colleagues, who have accused her of taking advantage of her appearance in her work. “Journos do whatever they can to get stories,” said Brodie. “Has it helped that Lara is attractive? Yes. But it also helps that she’s smart. The woman paid her dues before she got to the front line.”
Forty-year-old Logan studied at what was then the University of Natal before working at the Daily News in Durban. She later became a correspondent for 60 Minutes and is now CBS News’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. She has been working on the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq for the past few years.
Logan also caused ripples in the industry when she criticised Michael Hastings’ article on the American military official, General Stanley McChrystal, in Rolling Stone magazine last year. She was widely quoted as saying, “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has,” and she has been slated for a form of embedded journalism that is biased towards the army.