No one probably knew where Somalia sits on the world map, until its fearsome pirates propelled it into notoriety earlier this year.
It was there, while reporting on the piracy problem, that Telegraph foreign correspondent Colin Freeman got kidnapped, by the very same people he had paid to protect him.
Less than a month after he was released from 40 days of captivity, Freeman spoke to Press Gazette about one of the occupational hazards of the trade — finding a reliable, trustworthy and available fixer when reporting in a dangerous area.
“You have to go on other people’s recommendations and every reporter who’s ever been to any dodgy part of the world will tell you they’ve met fixers who’ve been absolutely bloody useless.”
It brought to light an aspect of foreign reporting that has often been buried underneath the more public faces of foreign correspondents. Fixers have long been assisting them, helping with translation and providing contacts and expertise. Very often, they are local journalists in their own countries.
While Freeman has highlighted the risks posed to journalists by fixers, the danger faced by the latter has been growing, according to nonprofit press freedom organisation Committee to Protect Journalists. Local fixers go where it is hard for foreign journalists to penetrate unaided, and effectively act as the eyes and the ears for foreign news networks in these areas.
Consequently, fixers sometimes get into trouble with governments which seek to curb negative news. As the Miami Herald chief of correspondents Juan Tomayo says,
“We do our story; we leave. They stay.”
As their work becomes more dangerous, it is therefore unsurprising that more and more journalists are recognising fixers’ work in their articles. However, that sometimes invite direct retaliation from insurgents who trawl the web looking for names. Therefore, for their own protection, the best fixers often go unnamed — as they always have been.