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When a Fixer is Arrested

Many of the international journalists who come in and out of a country like Bahrain rely on fixers—locals who are willing to help them set up meetings, serve as translators, and generally get the lay of the land. Particularly for correspondents tasked with a broad geographical area to cover, fixers are a vital part of being a journalist. In fact, it would be no overstatement to say that they are the unspoken heroes of almost all modern war reporting.

Unfortunately, fixers are also—almost always—at greater risk than international correspondents themselves. They lack international passports and foreign embassy protection. They are also essentially invisible in the news production process. They don't have bylines; they don't show up on camera.

Last night, Mohammed Hassan—who has helped several reporters and was featured prominently in Dan Rather's recent special on Bahrain—was caught up in a clash with police, hit with a stun grenade, and beaten by security forces according to activists on the ground. He is currently missing, likely arrested.

What is our moral obligation as journalists in a situation like this? Using fixers always carries the risk that you will endanger your colleague's safety. And while most locals take this risk upon themselves, I would argue it's also a big part of our job as international press to make sure we do no harm.

Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to tell where the line is, particularly in a place such as Bahrain where helping some report on issues such as human rights violations and clashes with security forces—vital parts of the story—has a history of being considered criminal behavior. It's the media's job to get in there and get the information. It's also, however, a huge burden to ask anyone to help do that.

All this is simply to say, in Mohammed Hassan's case, it's our duty to respond as colleagues. I hope the crew that Hassan was working with when he was taken will advocate on his behalf. We should too—not because this is political, or because we are choosing a "side" in Bahrain's conflict, but because Hassan was, as much or more than as any of us, a journalist.

Update: Separately, prominent activist Ala'a Shehabi, who has also helped several journalists and is an active member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, was detained this afternoon.

Update 2: Both Hassan and Shehabi have been released from police custody. They may still face charges for their work.

 

Photo Credit: Al Jazeera English

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