Teru Kuwayama is one of a declining number of photographers and reporters working in war zones. He has covered conflicts in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, to name a few. Here is an example of his work from the front lines.Photo courtesy of Teru Kuwayama
SAN FRANCISCO -- Photojournalist Teru Kuwayama spent a week being shuttled from one Tajik military base to another after he was apprehended and detained by Tajikistan soldiers on the border with Afghanistan. Eventually, the U.S. journalist was freed with the arrival of U.S. Army and State Department officers.
Kuwayama was fortunate, however. He had the might of the United States backing his standing as a freelance photographer in war zones from Pakistan and Iraq to Afghanistan. He knows many others, especially those in-country contacts (e.g. drivers, translators and other foreign journalists) who died pursuing stories, photos and the free flow of information in their homelands.
During a discussion Sunday titled "International News in the 21st Century" at the University of San Francisco, Kuwayama and other panelists lamented the decline not only in the number of foreign correspondents and photographers working for mainstream U.S. media organizations, but also the escalating violence against overseas journalists and those who help them report what is going on.
The talk was part of the "Journalism Innovations III" conference co-hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists and Independent Arts & Media. Joining Kuwayama on the panel were Ricardo Sandoval Palos of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., along with SPJ National President Kevin Smith and Ronnie Lovler, international news editor for Newswire21, based in the Bay Area.
The panelists agreed that the alarming decline of foreign journalists employed by U.S. media has been part of a precipitous decline in foreign news-gathering. At the same time, the absence of U.S. journalists has emboldened foreign governments and warring factions to step up killings, kidnappings and threats against those who report the news and others who assist in news-gathering, also known as "fixers." Fixers are critical in providing logistical support, including travel, food and shelter, to foreign journalists.
They are the "undocumented labor force of international journalism," the people who do the heavy lifting, Kuwayama noted.
Sandoval Palos alluded to the growing violence in Mexico and Latin America, which has claimed the lives of several journalists and numerous threats based on stories they either have published or are reporting.
Smith, president of the largest organization of journalists in the United States, said SPJ is stepping up lobbying efforts, urging the State Department and other agencies to defend the work of foreign journalists. SPJ also is partnering with overseas journalism organizations such as the International Federation of Journalists.
Overseas, Smith added, the United States remains the "guiding light" for a free press and democracy. However, violence against journalists is on the rise, threatening the free flow of information and the pursuit of democracy around the globe.
Asked about the shrinking pool of foreign correspondents, Kuwayama described himself as a "hybrid, freelance war tourist." He has worked for a variety of news organizations, including Time magazine.
Unfortunately, Sandoval Palos said, fewer people such as Kuwayama are doing the important work of reporting news in foreign lands, particularly war zones. And those who are, need all the support they can get.
"If we don't do it," he said, "we have fewer voices that will be heard."