Four Journalists In Hot Spots Get Safety Lifeline


LONDON, ON, Sept. 17, 2012 /CNW/ - Four talented young journalists working in dangerous situations around the world will get financial help with safety training after winning bursaries from the Forum Freelance Fund.

The Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma today named bursary winners based in Afghanistan, Beijing, Bogotá and Tunis. Three are Canadians.  All work freelance for Canadian and other media organizations.  Bursaries of up to $2,500 will help each of them undergo hazardous environment training over the coming months in the UK or USA.

One of the winners, Miguel Toran, recently spent three weeks filming inside Syria. Another, Matthieu Aikins, hitchhiked into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan four years ago and has been working out of Kabul ever since, mostly without being embedded.

Lindsay Mackenzie reported from Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia on the Arab Spring, while Jean-Pierre Bastien is based in Colombia, and covers stories in territory that's being fought over by soldiers, guerrillas, and armed gangs.

"These are all fine and dedicated young people, taking very significant personal risks to bring us the news from some of the most dangerous places on earth," said Forum president Cliff Lonsdale.  "Because they are freelance, they don't get the same level of training and protection that most staff correspondents and photographers now do."

This is the second year the Forum Freelance Fund has run a bursary competition to help change that, with the number of awards doubled from last year.

This year's winners have worked for many major Canadian news organizations, including The Globe and Mail, The National Post, La Presse, CBC and Radio-Canada. Their work has also appeared internationally in an impressive array of foreign print, broadcast and online outlets.

"It's still a small beginning to deal with a major problem," Lonsdale said. "We need more media companies and others to get behind the Forum Freelance Fund as sponsors or supporters. In an ideal world, every freelancer going into danger would be able to get this kind of training. But we know the industry climate is far from ideal right now. That's why collective action like this is needed. We need to share the load, just not let it fall on those least able to carry it."

The Forum Freelance Fund is currently sponsored by CBC News, and supported by Radio-Canada, CNW, Macintosh Media and a number of individuals.  Sponsors agree to contribute at least $2,500 a year for three years, while supporters give what they can year-to-year.

This year the bursary competition was held in co-operation with the UK-based Rory Peck Trust.  Some of the winners will receive additional funds from that source.

More about the 2012 Forum Freelance Fund bursary winners:

Matthieu Aikins, from Halifax, kick-started his freelance career by hitchhiking into Afghanistan from Uzbekistan in 2008, and working there unembedded. He is currently based in Kabul.

Matthieu has worked for The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Walrus, The Guardian, Harper's, Atlantic, Newsweek, GQ, Foreign Policy and others in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya. He has won two national awards from the Canadian Association of Journalists.

In his bursary application, Matthieu wrote: "I've managed to keep myself, and the locals who've worked with me, safe… but with all the journalists who've been killed or injured in 2011, I've decided that it's time that I get some formal training."

Jean-Pierre Bastien, from Montreal, freelances from Bogotá, Colombia, where he is also studying for a Master's degree in Latin American Studies.

Covering stories about displaced Colombians requires visiting areas of conflict between government and guerilla forces. Writing stories about Canadian mining interests requires him to travel in areas that are disputed between the Colombian government, guerillas and armed gangs. 

Jean-Pierre has also worked in Brazil and Bolivia. Among his clients are Radio-Canada and La Presse.

Lindsay Mackenzie is based in Tunisia, but she works as a freelance photographer, print and multi-media journalist across North Africa and the Middle East. Much of her work concerns the Arab Spring and its consequences. She has made radio documentaries for CBC from Yemen, and worked in Tunisia and Egypt for The Globe and Mail, Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times and the BBC, among others.

She writes: "Covering the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen has been an extraordinary experience, but there have been times when I've felt that I've been pushing my luck… in crowds of protestors in Cairo, running from riot police in Tunisia, and working in Yemen while two sides of the army were in conflict with each other and the kidnapping risk is real."

Originally from Whistler, BC, Lindsay says she's driven to cover crisis situations. She wants to expand her work to regions and issues that she thinks are underrepresented in the media, particularly in West Africa. She plans a working visit to Mali later this year - after first attending the Columbia Journalism School's course "Reporting Safely in Crisis Zones" with help from her Forum Freelance Fund bursary.

Miguel Toran is a Spanish freelance news cameraman who has been living in Asia for seven years and is currently based in Beijing. He has done extensive work for CBC and Al Jazeera English, as well as CNN International, Associated Press Television News, TVE and Britain's ITN.

Recently he spent three weeks inside Syria with Al Jazeera, covering the fighting around Aleppo. He found he remembered very little about the hostile environment training he had taken in Europe 8 years earlier.

"We freelancers are more at risk in dangerous areas, and Syria is an example. Most of the journalists being killed, injured or kidnapped there are freelancers," he says.

After updating his safety skills with the help of his Forum Freelance Fund bursary, Miguel intends to go back to Syria in the next few months. He adds: "I would like to return there better prepared."

Image with caption: "Matthieu Akins (CNW Group/Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)". Image available at:

Image with caption: "Jean-Pierre Bastien (CNW Group/Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)". Image available at:

Image with caption: "Lindsay Mackenzie (CNW Group/Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)". Image available at:

Image with caption: "Miguel Toran (CNW Group/Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)". Image available at:

SOURCE: Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma

For further information:

For further details on the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma or the Forum Freelance Fund, please see our website at or contact Jane Hawkes, Executive Producer:  519-473-6434 /


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