Frontline Club launches freelance register

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Freelance workers often say that the variety of projects on which they work is one of the major rewards of their way of working. But for many freelance journalists and photographers it can bring a number of risks, especially if they choose to work in some of the world’s most dangerous environments. Recognising this fact, the Frontline Club Charitable Trust has set up a new representative body to act as a voice for freelance journalists working in high-risk locations.

The Frontline Freelance Register (FFR) is run by and for freelancers - it has been managed on a voluntary basis by an interim board since it was launched earlier this month, but after six months the those who are on the register will be able to vote for the new board. Working as an independent, ring-fenced body with the Freelance Club Charitable Trust, its primary aim is to protect the physical and mental health of freelance journalists.

Journalism is an industry dominated by freelancers because a shortage of staff positions and fully paid foreign assignments, FFR says. But it adds that many do not have the right support, either financially or from institutions, to manage the risks and challenges that comes from operating in high-risk environments for long periods. Because they also lack representation, FFR says that many freelancers find themselves “at the mercy of powerful media groups” - which is why the organisation is seeking to provide them with a forum and representation to develop some collective bargaining power.

It is also expected that journalists will follow a prescribed code of conduct once they join FFR, including industry-accepted safety standards as well as responsible, news-gathering standards. As part of the membership application process, freelancers are expected to give details of any safety training they have undertaken, as well as whether or not they own a flak jacket and would be happy to loan it to a fellow journalist.

To achieve these aims, over the first six months of FFR’s life it plans to work closely with journalism support organisations, safety and security experts and other key figures within the industry to ensure that it “champions safety and professional practice”.

FFR was founded by Vaughan Smith, a video journalist who was also behind the foundation of the Frontline Club itself, alongside members of the interim board and a number of consultants within the industry. The new body will be officially launched in New York tonight (June 26th) at a Q&A event including Louise Roug, Newsweek foreign editor, FFR founding board member Anna Therese Day, Wall Street Journal freelancer Danny Gold and a representative from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Writing in FFR’s recently published white paper on freelance welfare, Richard Sanbrook, honorary president of the International News Safety Institute, said that it was crucial for freelancers to take care of their safety in order to do their jobs.

“We share a common belief that telling the world about what is happening justifies the risks that have to be run,” wrote Mr Sanbrook. “Mitigating those risks, and professionalising our approach to managing them, can only strengthen that mission.”

By Victoria McDonnell

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