Why BBC journalists risked visits to Homs
BBC correspondent Paul Wood and cameraman Fred Scott have been reporting on the situation in the Syrian city of Homs. There they have found harrowing accounts of people fleeing the fighting with accusations of atrocities by the Syrian security forces. (You can read Paul's latest report here.)
It's the second trip Paul and Fred have made to the Homs area within a matter of weeks. They were there in early February reporting from the city under siege. Since then, the Syrian security forces have launched an all-out onslaught to take control. It was this fighting that claimed the lives of Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik and injured others who had become trapped in the besieged city.
It has been suggested that such deployments are not worth making, and we should not put the lives of journalists at risk when there is so much material provided by local Syrians. Some say such deployments are driven by the spirit of competition in the news business, and that there is too much focus on the bravery of the journalists rather than the plight of the Syrian people, who cannot get across the border to a comfortable hotel in Beirut.
These are all good arguments which should be considered when planning such a trip as the one Paul and Fred have undertaken. As far as the risk to the team is concerned, it comes down to the question: "What is the editorial value in such a risky venture, and is it worth the potential loss of life or injury that may result?"
Obviously we do as much as we can to ensure they will not get hurt. We look at what the risks might be:
• getting injured or killed in fighting
• being specifically targeted because they are journalists
• being arrested by the Syrian forces.
We try to minimise as many of these risks as we can. But of course it is not possible to eliminate every risk, as the team themselves know only too well.
So why do individual journalists do it, and why are these ventures supported by their editors?
This weekend, the Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, injured in the attack which killed Marie Colvin, paid tribute to her by describing her as one of the "greatest observers" of her time.
This seems to me to sum up why it is important that news organisations that are trusted by the public and do not have a political agenda should continue to try to put their reporters on the ground.
The purpose of reporting is to provide evidence and to interpret on behalf of viewers, listeners and readers.
Paul and Fred have filed horrendous reports of people fleeing from terrible atrocities. They do need to be verified, but if true, journalists are playing a vital role in ensuring we know what is going on there.
Fran Unsworth is head of Newsgathering at BBC News.