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Why News as You Know It Wouldn't Exist Without 'Fixers'

Journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool remains in prison in Turkey just for doing his job. And without local freelancers like him we wouldn't get any real news, just spin, rumors, and state-controlled media.

by Jason Mojica
Sep 10 2015, 3:00pm

Photo de Mohammed Ismael Rasool (à gauche) via VICE News

Here's a dirty little secret about journalists: We don't know everything. Drop us into the middle of a war zone, natural disaster, or totalitarian state and we'll get the story — but it won't be because we're cleverer or braver than anyone else.

It will probably be because we found a great fixer.

If you don't work in journalism, you might not be familiar with the term "fixer" or the vital role these local freelance journalists play in the reporting of international news.

They serve not only as translators of the local language, but of local customs, conflicts, and complexities. They are equally comfortable securing access to an important government official or setting up a rendezvous with a rebel group the government hates. Foreign journalists are especially dependent on local fixers when it comes to safety — in a hairy situation, they know when it's okay to keep the camera rolling and when it's time to move.

In short, fixers and other freelance journalists are the lifeblood of independent journalism. Unfortunately, they are also the most at risk of imprisonment, abduction, and murder. In 2014, some 68 freelance journalists were jailed worldwide, and 13 were killed, according the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Related: Leaving My Friend Rasool Behind and Why He Must Be Freed from Turkish Prison

Istanbul-based Mohammed Ismael Rasool — Rasool to you and me — is a textbook example of the crucial role that local freelance journalists play in newsgathering. Rasool was translating for a VICE News team sent to cover ongoing clashes in southeastern Turkey when he and his VICE colleagues, Philip Pendlebury and Jake Hanrahan, were arrested and imprisoned by Turkish police on farcical charges of assisting a terrorist organization.

Jake and Philip were released by Turkish authorities after 11 days behind bars, but Rasool is still being detained. This is deeply, deeply unjust. Rasool is an accomplished and principled journalist. He's a masters student studying International Relations at Istanbul's Fatih University. Unlike so many people, Rasool has dedicated himself to others — to telling the stories of people whose voices are so rarely heard.

'Without journalists like Rasool, we're left with political spin, rumors, and carefully-crafted state-controlled media, rather than professionally reported, verifiable facts'

At VICE News, we are committed to treating the freelance journalists we work with in the field as we do our own staff. We underscored that commitment earlier this year when we joined a coalition of major news organizations including the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse in endorsing a set of worldwide freelance protection standards. These standards stress both the recognition of the vital work that fixers do, and our responsibility to them in times of crisis.

This is a crisis.

Right now, Rasool is sitting in a Turkish prison for doing nothing more than his job as a journalist — trying to help us better understand the world in which we live. And while we continue to work to secure his release, we also know that his imprisonment affects a far broader group of people than his colleagues and his family. Everyone who cares about news — everyone who feels that this world is safer and more just when information can flow freely — is impacted by this.

Related: Two VICE News Journalists Safely Back in UK, but One Remains Detained in Turkey

Without journalists like Rasool, we're all left blind to the events that impact our lives and our livelihoods. Without journalists like Rasool, we're left with political spin, rumors, and carefully-crafted state-controlled media, rather than professionally reported, verifiable facts.

This crisis can be averted.

For Rasool, for the scores of journalists in similar situations around the world, and for the news you rely on, I urge you to take this situation very personally. Contact your local government officials and let them know where you stand on Turkey's detention of Rasool. Use social media to raise awareness about his case and about threats to press freedom everywhere. For now, Rasool can't speak out against this unfair treatment. So we're going to have to do it for him.

Jason Mojica is the editor-in-chief of VICE News. Follow him on Twitter: @elmodernisto

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