Twenty years ago today, freelance cameraman Rory Peck was killed while filming a vicious gun battle outside the Ostankino television station in Moscow, Russia. He was no stranger to conflict zones: his career as a cameraman had taken him to the first Gulf War, the wars in Bosnia and Afghanistan and many armed conflicts that took place after the Soviet Union fell.
Peck was one of a growing group of cameramen and women at the time who were starting to work as freelancers, providing footage to various organizations, and he was a founding partner of Frontline Television News, a London-based cooperative of freelance camera operators started in 1989. You can read about his legacy in this post.
He was posthumously awarded the Order for Personal Courage by Boris Yeltsin, then the President of the Russian Federation, for his work covering the gun battle. But his story didn't stop there. In 1995, two years after he was killed, the Rory Peck Trust was established, an organization dedicated to his memory and designed to provide for the families of freelance cameramen and women.
To this day, it's the only organization of its kind in the world according to Tina Carr, the Trust's current Director.
"We are still the only organization 100 per cent dedicated to the support, safety and welfare of freelance journalists and media workers," Carr told Strombo.com. "There are other organizations working with journalists and those that represent freelancers (many of them our partners) but we remain unique in what we do."
Peck's widow, Juliet Crawley Peck wrote a piece in 2005 about what happened to her after her husband's death. She says the couple was unable to get insurance or any other form of financial protection because of the dangerous nature of Peck's work, and that "the consequences of these decisions became startingly clear after Rory was killed." Although the BBC helped pay for the repatriation of Peck's body and helped the family move back from Moscow, their legal obligation to provide financial support ended there.
The Rory Peck Trust was set up to "provide practical assistance and support to freelance newsgatherers and their families worldwide, to raise their profile, promote their welfare and safety, and to support their right to report freely and without fear." It's an independent organization funded by contributions from corporations, trusts, foundations and individuals.
The Trust carries out its work in three ways: one, by offering financial assistance and grants to help freelancers do their work. Two, by providing information and resources for freelance newsgatherers.
And thirdly, the Trust runs the annual Rory Peck Awards, recognizing outstanding work by freelance cameramen and women in news and current affairs with individual awards for News, Features and Impact. This year's awards will be presented on Wednesday, November 20 in London, England.
Carr says nearly 20 years after it was founded, the work of the Trust continues to be important because of the threats and challenges that freelance journalists face. Sky News cameraman Mick Deane was killed in Cairo, Egypt in August of this year.
"It's certainly no easier being a freelance cameraman or journalist working today and definitely no safer," she told Strombo.com. "Journalists around the world are being targetted in a way that they weren't 20 years ago and freelancers are still the most vulnerable when something happens to them because they don't have the back up of a media organization."