The number of requests for help from freelance journalists and their families to the Rory Peck Trust has increased so sharply in recent years that the charity fears its future could be in the balance without support from broadcasters and newspapers.
The Rory Peck Trust was set up in 1995 by Juliet Peck, wife of the freelance cameraman who was killed in crossfire while filming the storming by opposition supporters of the Ostankino TV Centre in Moscow.
The trust, which was initially set up to help camera operators, now provides assistance to all freelances to reflect the increase in multimedia working.
It relies on grants, donations and sponsorship and offers assistance to journalists who have been injured, persecuted or forced into exile. The trust also helps the families of those who are injured or killed as a result of their work. Since the war in Iraq, an increasing number of journalists approaching the trust have been from the Middle East region.
Increasingly, because of the nature of the help needed, one-off grants are not adequate, and more sustained help has been needed.
The director of the Rory Peck Trust, Tina Carr, said that while in earlier years the trust would seek out people to support, it increasingly has to reject requests for assistance. ‘We spent years researching and looking for people, now they’re looking for us,’Carr says. ‘In the past 18 months, we have reached the stage when we simply do not have the funds to take on these cases, research them and distribute grants to them.”
After attending the Sony-sponsored Rory Peck awards in November, Channel 4 chief correspondent and presenter Alex Thomson wrote in Press Gazette that the ‘big five’broadcasters should commit to giving a regular amount to the charity.
Carr says the support of the media industry is vital to secure the future of the trust. ‘We are looking to our own community, and that means not only the broadcasters and print media but also the equipment manufacturers, the service providers, the communications people. Those are all the people who benefit,’she says.
‘As the only organisation that uniquely focuses on freelances, we have a very big job to do. We have to not only raise enough money – because more and more need help – but continue to work with and influence media employers, which is what we have been doing every since the trust began.’
Carr says that since the war in Iraq, there has been growing awareness of the vital role that freelances play in newsgathering and the industry’s reliance on them.
‘We’ve had dialogue with the UK broadcasters, the US broadcasters and some of the Europeans,’she says. ‘We need to translate that into both a reality in terms of their policy-making, but we also need to be able to extend that influence so that we can have this dialogue with print media and with employers in other parts of the world.”
While provision of safety training has improved, Carr says insurance remains a problem for many freelances. ‘The dark area is still insurance, and it’s the one that is at the bottom of all the problems and issues that freelances face,’she says. ‘Getting it and affording it is a problem, and still there are freelances going into hostile environments without it.
‘What I want is that the key decision-makers in the media recognise the role that freelances play and are prepared to demonstrate that recognition in a tangible way,’she concludes. ‘We want those key decision-makers to say: ‘Yes, freelances are important, we need them and we couldn’t get our stories without them.'”
How the Trust has made a difference
Likaa Abdel Razaq al Ameri
Freelance TV reporter and
Likaa Abdel Razaq al Ameri was a well-known reporter and TV presenter, who had worked as a freelance for many years. On 27 October 2004 she set off for a US military base in the south of Baghdad, where her husband, who had been killed two months earlier, had worked as an interpreter. On the road, her taxi was ambushed by gunmen and she was killed instantly.At 32, Likaa was already a widow with a small son, and had recently given birth to a daughter. Nada, aged two, and six-year-old Mohammed were taken to Tunisia, where they have been given a home by their aunt. The trust has helped to settle the children in their new life by covering the costs of Nada’s nursery school and Mohammed’s school fees for a year.
Osama Sa’eed Silwadi
Occupied Palestinian Territories
Osama Sa’eed Silwadi was taking cover in his Ramallah office last October when he was shot in the back by unidentified gunmen firing into the air. At 35 years old, Osama was paralysed and is unlikely to walk again. Confined to a wheelchair and unable to work, he tried to earn some money by selling pictures from his photo archive on the internet. This small amount of money wasn’t enough for Osama to support his wife and four children and his medical needs are great. When the Rory Peck Trust offered him a grant to help with his medical costs, he accepted gratefully – and asked if the money could instead be used to feed and clothe his children and send them to school.
JosÃ© Francisco Rivero
Freelance TV and radio
JosÃ© Francisco Rivero investigated cases of corruption and injustice in his village. In June 2004, during a visit by Colombia’s president, he exposed corruption by the local mayor and some civil servants. As a direct result, they stood trial and were imprisoned, but were released shortly afterwards. Rivero’s life was now in danger. After fleeing to Chile for a while, he returned to Colombia and, with a grant from the Rory Peck Trust, was able to move his family to a safe place and start a chicken farm, which provided them with an alternative source of income.