‘We Work Under Siege’’

The Psychological Impact of Violence on Journalists in Conflict Zones

The risks faced by journalists have never been greater and the number of attacks keeps on rising.

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During the Arab spring, the press encountered serious challenges that restricted its freedom across the region. 

A troublesome feature of this violence today is the escalating number of journalists who have been kidnapped for ransom or held as hostages.
Reporters confirmed that the highest mortality rate for journalists in the last decade was in the year 2012, when it reached 88 journalists and 879 were arrested. 

In addition to this in 2017, six media assistants and 47 citizen-journalists were killed, and 144 bloggers and citizens were arrested. While it has been reported thatat least 81 reporters were killed doing their jobs and more than 250 journalists were imprisoned in 2018.

Massoud Akko a Syrian journalist said, “We can see this growing global problem threatens the practice of journalism and the ability of news media to fully inform the public about events occurring in the world. Journalists and media workers are highly vulnerable to kidnapping and sexual violence because they often work in dangerous zones”.

Violence against journalists is an important issue that is rarely confronted in a constructive manner. There are at least three different ways in which violence against journalists occurs. 

One is during the course of reporting dangerous events such as wars and conflict zones where journalists usually stay around. Secondly, state-sponsored violence in the form of arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and torture of journalists, including many women, and lastly trolling and other forms of sexualized hate speeches that journalists encounter on the internet.
The Psychological Impact of Violence against journalists  

This year, Dr Miral AlAshry Associate Professor and journalist, collaborated with International Federation of African Women on a
project,  to investigate the phenomenon of sexual violence against journalists’ whilst covering conflict in war-zones. 

Furthermore, fifty journalists from Middle East said that they had experienced sexual violence. 

She discovered that “Journalists who cover conflict in the Middle East are exposed to range illnesses that include post-traumatic stress  disorder to anxiety and depression that has the potential to effect on their emotional and physical well-being. 

Intimidation, assault, mock execution and witnessing death,these genres of sufferings are just some of the occupational hazards that come with the job. 
These hazards can explain why the lifetime prevalence rate for posttraumatic stress disorder in journalists who have worked for over a decade in zones of conflict is similar to that seen in combat veterans.

As the dangers increase, so do the psychological risks as far as journalists are concerned. Recent data obtained from Middle East journalists covering the Syrian and Libyan war, an intermittent conflict in which journalists have covered indicates that those working in the field are exposed to long term mental health issues.

In addition to this, she developed the study to know the impact of Neurology on violence against journalists in an interview with Ahmed Gaber, Professor of Neurology Ain Shams University he said, “Until very recently research on the harmful effects upon journalists highlighted that they experienced high blood pressure and epilepsy because they were exposed to trauma that cause psychological disorders. So therefore, Gaber developed a new approach about the side effects of the Hippocampus functions. 

Hippocampus belongs to the limbic system and plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation. Gaber said that if journalists are attacked more than once, this will have an impact on their long memories”.
Furthermore, the brain regions posterior cingulated cortex, Hippocampus  involved in processing emotional stimuli, episodic memory retrieval, detecting threats in the environment, memory encoding, and motor programming.

This combination of activation in areas linking memory and emotion to motor activation suggests that viewing violence could integrate existing aggression-related thoughts and feelings, potentially facilitating aggressive behaviour by increasing the strength or accessibility of aggressive behaviour scripts in memory.

Recent evidence suggests that exposure to violence may be linked to a decrease in the activity of brain structures needed for regulation of aggressive behaviour and increases in the activity of structures needed to carry out aggressive plans. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), located in the medial frontal lobe, has been linked to aggressive behaviour.

New Psychological rehabilitation program
Journalists around the globe are victims of violence in many cases,the study recommends that we should develop new psychological rehabilitation program for journalists. 

Firstly, “trauma exposure,” must be made by exposing journalists viewing live footage of conflicts in closed four-dimensional rooms that will prepare journalists for the reality of the field, and avoid many risks experienced by those in the past. 

Exposure to the initial trauma gives signals to the brain of the incidents prior to it being played out in real life. When the reporters go into the field, these events will have been experienced beforehand thus reducing the effect of psychological trauma.

Secondly, through psycho-drama, before going to the field, journalists should watch a play demonstrating the various types of violence that they could be exposed to such as assault, threats and harassment and how to deal with those circumstances and face them.

Thirdly, in conflict zones, journalists should receive psychological support from trained psychiatrists that are able to deal with stress, pressure, tension and depression in a professional way. Moreover, train them to diagnose the various disorders that are common in such cases, such as anxiety, fears and depression and to avoid injury once more.

By Miral Alashry 
Assistant Professor Canadian international college ( CIC)   
Department of Journalism