James W. Foley Legacy Foundation President Addresses Excellence in Journalism Conference

BALTIMORE, Md. – Days before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and is now feared to be the victim of a Saudi-sponsored murder, press freedom and journalists’ safety advocates said assessing risks in an increasingly dangerous environment for journalists is crucial to their safety.

“We want you to be safe, we want you to be intentional. We want you to know how to assess risk while reporting abroad and in this country,” said James W. Foley Legacy Foundation President Diane Foley at the Excellence In Journalism Conference in Baltimore in late September. The panel addressed rising threats to press freedom around the world.

“One of the last times he was home, [Jim] said it in a talk at Marquette University- ‘if we don’t have moral courage, we don’t have journalism,’” said Foley.

Foley’s son,James, a freelance journalist, was beheaded by ISIS in 2014 after nearly two years in captivity in northern Syria. The foundation was created the same year by his family to improve the safety and treatment of independent freelance conflict journalists, to advocate for the safe return of Americans kidnapped abroad and to improve U.S. hostage policy.

A key focus for the foundation is promoting journalist safety through the James W. Foley Journalist Safety Guide, a free online resource for students, professors, freelancers and others working in the field.

Al Jazeera Regional Director Abderrahim Foukara, whose work encompasses over 25 years of reporting for BBC, PRI and Al Jazeera, noted the increasingly dangerous reporting environment, specifically over the last two years.

“I personally have not seen anything resembling the atmosphere that came with the advent of the Trump administration. Something has changed,” said Foukara.

Press freedom restrictions are not relegated to traditional conflict zones, Foukara said. He and the other panelists discussed unsafe conditions for reporting across Syria, Egypt and in Mexican journalist J. Jesús Esquivel’s home country. According to Esquivel, the Washington correspondent for Mexico’s Proceso Magazine, curbing high-quality journalism through intimidation and violence can have lasting effects on the entire country.

Dangerous circumstances involving sensitive politics within the drug world result in a culture of self-censoring for journalists, said Esquivel.

“When honest journalists don’t follow the rules of the NARCOs traffickers, you suffer assault on the streets,” said Esquivel. “The self-censorship is doing a lot of damage to the Mexican society and to the world.”

Society for Professional Journalists President J. Alex Tarquinio said it is important to advance a culture of safety for future journalism practitioners.

In partnership with organizations like Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists and other press freedom advocates, the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation is working to increase opportunities for journalists to report safely as they revamp their journalist safety curriculum to be more accessible to students and reporters. Eventually, the material will be formatted into self-guided modules.

“I think it’s vital that as a journalist you know how to protect yourself,” said Foley. “That is an equal responsibility to reporting the truth.”

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