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Panelists discuss safety in journalism

| Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Journalist Itai Anghel said he cannot talk to his mom for longer than one minute without fearing death.

“It’s not that I don’t want to talk to [her], but, you know, it becomes dangerous because people try to figure out where I am,” Anghel said.

Upon hanging up with her, he said he promptly removes the battery from his phone and immediately moves 100 meters from his previous location.

Monday’s panel discussion titled “An Evening Remembering James Foley” focused on safety in journalism, specifically the conflicting interests of journalists needing to be at the front lines of conflict while maintaining a strong sense of self-protection. The event — hosted by Notre Dame’s Journalism, Ethics and Democracy program — centered around the life of James Foley, an American freelance war correspondent who was captured while covering the Syrian Civil War in late 2012 and was murdered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) almost two years later. Foley was the first American citizen to be killed by the group. 

Avery Wythe | The Observer

Journalist Itai Anghel, left, and mother of deceased journalist James Foley, Diane Foley, center, speak on journalism safety in a panel hosted Monday evening by Notre Dame’s Journalism, Ethics and Democracy program.

Featured on the panel were Diane Foley — mother of James Foley and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation — and Anghel, Israeli conflict journalist and documentary maker.

Foley said her son’s interest in journalism evolved naturally from a growing desire to tell the stories of those less fortunate than himself.

“I think the more he worked in parts of the US and later in the world where people were suffering, either because of war or poverty, the more passionate he became about the need to tell people in the world what people are going through,” she said.

However, having lived through the pain of her son’s death, Foley is urging journalists, new and old, to treat the profession with an added sense of caution, even on the domestic front. She cited a 2018 incident where four journalists in Annapolis, Maryland, were murdered in their office.

“I think whenever you’re pursuing a story, you often don’t know your subjects,” Foley said. “A lot of times you don’t know the neighborhood you’re entering into or the person you might be interviewing, so I think it’s very important to have a mindset of risk assessment.”

To aid in this mission, Foley said she founded the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to fighting for the safe return of Americans held captive around the world.

“I didn’t want other families to go through what we did alone like we did, you know?” Foley said. “I wanted to be able to give hope to other families and also to be able to empower other journalists to continue this legacy that gives voice to people around the world and in our own country.”

Despite these dangers, Anghel said true journalism needs to take place in the heat of the action.

“You need to be there,” he said. “In order to tell the story of some place, you need to be there. Not just going there, saying, ‘Hey, bullets are, you know, flying around my head,’ and run away. You need to be there. For weeks. For a month. Then you get it.”

In keeping with this mission, Anghel said he committed himself to covering the Kurdish forces’ continued fight against ISIS in the Middle East, saying he is continually inspired by James Foley’s legacy to keep telling these stories.

Now, having had almost five years to reflect on her son’s death, Foley said she wishes her son’s legacy can continue to be used as a force for good in the world.

“I just hope that Jim inspires you, each of you, to be people of moral courage,” she said. “Hatred and fear are terrorizing our world in many ways, and they want to silence the voice of good. Don’t allow yourselves to be silenced.”

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