War reporting is always traumatic. And more and more often, it is fatal. Often perceived as enemy targets, war reporters cover the front lines without military protection. And in addition to the physical threats comes an emotional toll from repeatedly witnessing death and destruction.
“Most people would be surprised to learn the real story behind the war journalists bringing them the news of television. They often look so together and reasonably serene and don’t appear to be in any emotional stress,” documentary filmmaker and international battlefields veteran Martyn Burke told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column while promoting his new documentary “Under Fire: Journalists in Combat.” “But behind the scenes, many of them ... suffer a lot of the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms. The stress just gets to them.”
“Under Fire” brings together combat footage with interviews and first-hand accounts from an array of war journalists. According to the Burke, only two journalists were killed in WWI, while 63 journalists lost their lives in the WWII. Compare that to the last two decades, where almost a journalist a week has been slain, and the increasing threat of kidnapping, torture and even beheadings, is contributing to serious stress-related problems.
“Nowadays the pace of news has picked up to the point of being 24/7. The journalists don’t have the down time, they have to always be on and ready to go to the battle,” Burke continued. “For instance, in Vietnam the reporters would go out into combat but then come back to places like Saigon and stay for a week or so. It is no longer like that. Now the journalists are out in combat every bit as much as the troops and for often longer durations than some of the troops. That is creating the problems. The circle of danger gets closer and closer with each war.”
Burke and his team looked at the personal sacrifices a war reporter makes to deliver the news. In particular, the director was intrigued by the very different way these experiences are processed by female reporters as opposed to men, as more and more women cover the front lines.
“The old glass ceiling in war reporting has been shattered. We’ve got two women in the film, and each has a different perspective on it than the men. Women off doing war coverage often have more family responsibilities and carry much more guilt than the men. Women are constantly wondering about their children back home or their husbands, it seems family life follows the women around a lot more than the males,” Burke said. “But what was most fascinating was the addiction these journalists develop to covering wars… the adrenalin highs, the combat highs, it becomes a form of a rush and people need it more and more. For some people, it gave them a purpose in life, merely surviving for one more day was actually a strange high. Some people get so caught up in this, and they are the ones that often hit the wall psychologically.”
And even though the last decade has brought about increased understanding about such things as PTSD, with news organizations becoming more proactive in recognizing and treating these issues, Burke said there is still a long way to go in providing support for journalists who bring us critical information.
“The human mind can only be pushed so far in terms of constant stress and fear of death and seeing horrors, and there are different levels of resilience in different people. There just needs to be a level of understanding that these people can find themselves in serious emotional trouble from time to time,” Burke added. “We get all of the news, which leads to foreign policy and decisions being made, from these people. On a global scale, we need to understand that this is where our news comes from, and if these people are under stress, it needs to be monitored.”
“Under Fire: Journalists in Combat” opens in Los Angeles on November 11, and New York on December 2.
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay