African and Indian freelancers dominated the 2022 Rory Peck Awards, with all 12 finalists highlighting the bravery, technical skill, canny use of regional fixers, and the crucial sixth sense when it comes to facing down danger. Established 1995, the Awards highlight the significant contribution of freelance journalists to the international media industry and celebrates the most outstanding work produced each year.
The core fact is that the news industry is happier commissioning freelancers to do the difficult jobs in the darkest corners of the world, than sending its own staff teams. The direct result is that freelancers expose important stories, and help broadcast audiences to better comprehend particular causes and issues. At the same time, too, many of these individuals often take extraordinary risks to ensure that the public is properly informed, particularly in an age where mis/disinformation combined with deliberate cyber abuse and propaganda run rampant in social media.
In a passionate opening speech, Rory Peck Trust (RPT) Director Clothilde Redfern said: “Our driving purpose is to protect the important pool of independent journalists who, in turn, protect our democratic values in a world of increasing authoritarianism.”
News gathering, Redfern stressed, cannot happen “without a whole army of local journalists, local field producers, and freelance journalists on the ground: they are all contributing to the huge and complicated process of news gathering, and keeping journalists safe.” She added. “Ninety percent of journalists want more guidance and support on safety issues, and the risks are becoming more complex.”
The RPT has been running safety clinics for five years, but funding from the Google News Initiative has created a new frontline. “We will be launching a risk and security help desk in the new year,” said Redfern. “Our crisis fund, which normally lasts all year was spent by the end of August, but we reached out to our regular fund raisers and 80 journalists raised £20,000 by running in the Royal Parks half marathon.”
The awards consisted of the usual four categories: News, News Features, The Sony Impact Award, and the Martin Adler Award for regional journalists. The first category went to Bhat Burhan from Kashmir, with How Remote Areas in India are Getting Vaccines. This was commissioned by the international news organization, Insider.
The judges praised Burhan for the humanity of his film and said it was a technically beautiful piece of journalism.
“My film shows health care workers going door to door. I started shooting at 9am and packed up at 4pm, and we were quite lucky that snow fell at that time because it enabled me to show the hardships the vaccine team faced,” he said. “You have to see what colour you can add to your filming, and I had an all-white background.”
All the journalists nominated wanted to discuss the big issues, and Burhan said: “We are facing intimidation and censorship more than ever before. Almost every media house has taken a back foot and has altered its editorial policies. During such a crisis a lot of stories disappear in front of our eyes. I don’t have enough words to commend and thank the editors at Insider.”
Trust your judgement
This issue of support, the threat by Donald Trump to arrest journalists if he re-takes The White House, and location safety were the discussion issues of the night. The News Feature prize was collected by the brilliant Jamal Osman for Britain’s Channel 4 news story Inside Al-Shabaab.
“In doing stories like this, and besides the access, you need editors who trust your judgement,” said Osman. “And that you can go and hang out with Al-Shabaab, and come back to London. You have to trust yourself too, because people like Al-Shabaab won’t trust anyone. They thought secret services could use me to get them.
“They suspect your equipment may be bugged, so I hired from Somalia, at the last minute. But I planned everything else beforehand because I have good contacts and I am Somali,” he added. “After long discussions it remained 14 minutes, but the material we had was so good, the editors were asking to add more.”
One incredible sequence features an Al-Shabaab girls’ school.
“I said I wanted to film one of the schools, and they said fine. They have created their own curriculum and education system, a tax system and strong military, and they are determined to take over Somalia,” said Osman. “As a journalist that is what I am interested in. Yes, they are seen as terrorists, and they kill all of the time. We know that side of the story, but I was interested in getting deeper into the group, and the ambition of what they are trying to achieve.”
Asked what the biggest threat is to freelancers, Osman said: “Not having the support. My editors trust my judgement. “The RPT shows that we have to appreciate free journalism. We take risks, and it is dangerous, but if you get the backing you need, you can deliver great material, and know with confidence that if something goes wrong there is a support mechanism,” he added.
Abductions and Killings
The Sony prize went to Yusuf Anka for the incredible BBC World Service production The Bandit Warlords of Zamfara. The Sony Impact Award for Current Affairs honours the work of freelance journalists in long-form current affairs that examines a single issue, story or situation and has an impact on the viewer, policy or public awareness.
Anka said: “I heard about these atrocities when I was a child. Fear became a part of us which we could not shake away, yet the criminality of armed groups increased year on year. Many schools and roads in Zamfara remain closed. Abductions and killings became the order of the day.”
Anka was a law student when he met two guys from the BBC. He said: “We scratched around for answers to Nigeria’s most pressing questions – who are these bandits, and what do they want. They got me some training on shooting pictures and recording voices. With this training, an iPhone and a tripod, plus the assistance of two fixers, I embarked on a journey through Zamfara to scratch for the answers.”
He discovered something quite astonishing: “It was the story of true pain inflicted by climate change, dire poverty, and injustice,” said Anka.
The Martin Adler Prize, which honours local freelance journalists or field producers, was won by the Sudan-based Mohammed Alamin, proposed by Middle East Eye, an independently funded digital news organization covering the Middle East and North Africa in English and French.
One of the other two finalists, Parth Nikhil who was nominated by The People’s Archive of Rural India, added to the debate about issues hitting freelancers. “Freelancers do not have the institutional backing that most journalists get, so when they are working on a sensitive story they can be on their own. If your story doesn’t go down well with the authorities, somebody slaps you with a defamation case,” he said.
“This has happened to a lot of India’s independent media outlets. Knowing that they do not have big resources, the authorities are basically bleeding them out,” he added.
The third Martin Adler finalist was Alithea Stephanie Mounika, proposed by Unbias The News, a feminist crossborder newsroom working towards a more equitable and inclusive world of journalism. It further describes itself as offering a space for journalists who experience “structural barriers in the field.”
The two other finalists in the News category were Ukraine Various (for Reuters) from Sasha Ermochenko and Pavel Klimov, and Raul Gallego Abellan’s Edge of the Artic, made for Al Jazeera. Both could easily have won.
In News Features, another incredibly strong section, Lebanon on Life Support came from George Henton, for BBC Our World. Surabhi Tandon created the incredible story Life at 50C: Using Ice to Battle India’s Heat for BBC World Service.
The Sony Impact category threw up another two wonderful finalists in Afghanistan: No Country for Women, from Ramita Navai and Karim Shah, and Conversations about Climate Change with (Australian) Coalminers, from Kim Paul Nguyen and Chris Phillips. The first was for ITV Exposure and PBS Frontline, and the second for Vice.
George Jarrett is a media journalist – writing about both technical and creative subjects – since 1969. He has been freelance since 1986, and now writes mainly for IBC365. He first attended IBC in 1970, and was editorial founder of the IBC Daily, and the Soho Runner. He has produced and chaired over 100 industry conference sessions.
For more information on the Rory Peck Trust and what it does to support journalists, such as assistance grants, trauma & resilience workshops, online resources and safety training, please see: https://rorypecktrust.org/
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