Foreign affairs reporting is expensive — equipment, training, insurance, travel, fixers, drivers and accommodation can run into the thousands for a single job. All of it needs to be paid in advance by the freelancer. When you’re not paid on time, you might be forced to cut corners on safety because you don’t have the cash reserves to hire the best driver, or to stay in the most secure hotel, or even to pay for war zone insurance.
FFR has always equated fair and timely pay with safety. For our members, payment terms aren’t merely an employment issue — when you’re working in dangerous places, delays in payment can be a matter of life and death.
A new New York state law, adopted in October last year, protects the rights of contractors seeking payment for their work and legislates that they must be paid within 30 days or an otherwise agreed-upon period. This is a very positive development. But like any law, it’s only as good as the paper it’s written on if you can’t afford to pursue legal channels to remedy a media outlet’s failure of compliance. Freelancers don’t have the money to take on big media companies for payment within the band of a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars.
In the last few years, there has been positive progress towards safer working practices when engaging freelancers in dangerous places. Though, in practice, this has mostly equated to organisations funding training for those they hire, without addressing the business practices in their organisations that endanger those they work with.
Maintaining a free press is something that means more to people than it has in decades. In the current climate, one of fake news and unabashed attempts to deceive the public, journalism is more important than ever. On-the-ground reporting, the kind that’s overwhelmingly done by freelance journalists, even more so. In the fight to protect it, let’s fight for a fair press too. One that pays its most important and most vulnerable workers fairly and on time.