The refusal by Syria’s authorities to allow the media to cover the deadly uprising freely in the country has cast a spotlight on the work of freelancers braving deadly danger to do their job.
“We are doing a job that is in danger of becoming extinct — war reporting,” according to Spanish freelancer Mayte Carrasco.
He is one of dozens of professional photographers and text and video reporters who have chosen to enter the country secretly to bring to the world the voice of a rebellion the Syrian regime has been trying to silence for nearly 17 months.
These journalists are forced to enter illegally through the largely rebel-held north as reporters officially granted visas by authorities must be accompanied by a ministry information “guide” at all times, limiting their ability to work freely.
Most of these go-it-alone reporters believe passionately in what they are doing, but their job is often accompanied by frustration and often fear as they find themselves in precarious situations in which luck alone is likely to protect them.
“The freelancer must keep in mind that he pays his own costs. He has no medical insurance and has not been accredited by any major media” corporation, says Karen Maron, an Argentinian who has covered conflict in the Middle East for years.
“The freelancer is alone, all alone. But it is his choice,” she says.
Freelancers such as Italian photojournalist Giulio Piscitelli find in conflicts such as the one currently raging in Syria an opportunity to boost their careers.
“Last year I couldn’t go to Libya,” he says regretfully of the North African country where Western military intervention after a 2011 uprising eventually led to the downfall and death of veteran dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi.
“In here, I hope it [Syria] will be a springboard for my career,” says Piscitelli who is covering a war for the first time. “As big agencies can’t deploy as many teams as they would like, this allows me to sell my production.”
But “you still feel exploited,” says Spanish videographer Roberto Fraile.
Carrasco agrees that “we are totally vulnerable. Many journalists do not even have body armor or a helmet while very few are equipped with satellite phones… we also generally lack cash.”
Spanish photographer Alberto Prieto echoes the frustration of his fellow freelancers.
“I don’t feel valued by the media I work for. Sometimes they do not even reply to my emails or they refuse to publish my photos. And when they do take them they buy them for a cheap price.”
The many difficulties of the assignment do not deter Piscitelli, however. “I love this job and I think what we do is very important.”
David Mesenguer seems reasonably satisfied with his lot. “Given the situation, the media are making an effort financially by paying me much more than they usually offer on every piece,” he says.
For Maron, being a freelancer has its ups and downs.
“From a human perspective, it is sometimes difficult to live. A freelancer does a great job and gets recognition for the quality of work. But then it is all thrown away without any explanation or consideration,” she says.
“There is no written agreement stipulating that after successful coverage you should have the right to work based on a proper contract.”
British videographer John Roberts says he has deliberately opted for the life of a freelancer.
“Of course I need to make a living and as with anybody else, I appreciate the recognition of peers and colleagues, but beyond this, it’s simply the job and lifestyle that I’ve chosen,” he says.
All of the freelancers risking their lives to cover the Syria conflict, whether veteran or emerging, know that ultimately they will make neither money nor glory.
“I don’t think my work will make me rich and famous. I just want to make a living and do good journalism,” Piscitelli believes.
Spanish veteran video journalist Ricardo Garcia Vilanova agrees: “Nobody makes money, fame or recognition from this kind of job. But it is our passion, even if it may end badly.”