Syrian Conflict Taking Toll on Journalists

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The Broadcasting Board of Governors, which protects the independence of the U.S. government's international broadcasts, including Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), has called for the release of a pair of journalists working for the U.S.-backed Alhurra TV, correspondent Bashar Fahmi and cameraman Cuneyt Unal.

Both are in Syria, currently the most dangerous place for journalists on the planet, according to the committee that tries to protect them.

That BBG call came after a Syrian government TV channel broadcast a brief statement from Unal identifying himself as a militant. The Turkish foreign minister (Unal is Turkish) has said that he was simply reading a statement that had been dictated to him.

"This video is deeply disturbing and underscores the perilous situation for these journalists," said MBN chairman Michael Meehan, a member of the BBG board, in a statement. "We call for their immediate release, and we urge the Syrian government to take action to ensure their safety."

The pair has been missing since Aug. 20.

A Japanese reporter, Mika Yamamoto, was killed in the Northern Syrian city of Aleppo last week, according to various reports, including from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Fahmi and Unal were in the same city. According to ABC News, Fahmi's wife said last week they were still alive and being held by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

Elsewhere, concerns were mounting over missing freelance American journalist Austin Tice, who had filed on the Syrian conflict for a number of news outlets, including The Washington Post, CBS and Al-Jazeera English, according to the CPJ. Tice has been unaccounted for since mid-month and The Washington Post has blogged a Tice Facebook entry from last month explaining why he would risk his life to tell the story.

"We are concerned that family and editors have lost contact with Austin Tice, a journalist who has been reporting on events in Syria for some of the leading international media outlets," said CPJ executive director Joel Simon in a statement Friday.

According to CPJ, at least 19 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict since November, which CPJ says now makes it the most dangerous place in the world for journalists.