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War: Impact on journalists

- By Kemantha Govender

While attention is often paid to journalists’ physical safety while covering wars and conflicts, their emotional state often goes unnoticed, said Professor Anthony Feinstein during his talk at Wits this week.

Feinstein, a Wits Health Sciences alumnus, and a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto in Canada spoke about his research on the emotional health of journalists that cover wars.

According to Feinstein, the number of journalists that have died covering wars and invasions is alarming since World War one. He noted that in the four plus years of World War 1, two journalists were killed. The number rose to 69 in World War II, fell back to 17 in Korea, before increasing to 63 in the almost decade long American war in Vietnam. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, over 200 journalists and media support workers have been killed in that country.

Feinstein said a year before the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, he received a grant from the Washington based Freedom Forum and began researching this topic. He said before he conducted his research there was no literature to review.


He was contacted by an organisation during the 9/11 attacks who were concerned about the welfare of journalists. Feinstein saw this as a good research opportunity as well because the journalists covering the attacks in New York were domestic rather than war journalists.

Generally, his research indicated that despite war journalists’ resilient nature when confronting death and dying, they are not immune to distress.  Journalists who chose to cover war have significantly higher rates of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, when compared to colleagues who have never been to zones of conflict. Feinstein also found that war journalists are also more likely to be divorced or remain single.

The Carnegie-Wits Alumni Diaspora Programme hosted the lecture.

In 2012, Feinstein produced the documentary titled Under Fire: Journalists in Combat based on his book Journalists Under Fire: The psychological hazards of war reporting. The documentary was shortlisted for an Academy Award and also received a 2012 Peabody Award.

Feinstein has also authored six books, his most recent is Battle Scarred: Hidden Costs of the Border War. The book has been translated into Afrikaans as Kopwond. It is an account of Feinstein’s national service as a psychiatric medical officer during the Border War. He has published widely in peer-reviewed journals and has authored many book chapters.

Read Professor Feinstein's opinion piece published in the Mail and Guardian.