UNESCO takes World Humanitarian Summit into virtual journey with war reporters in Syria

As exhibitor at the World Humanitarian Summit Exhibition Fair, UNESCO invited visitors to follow the everyday work of journalists in Syria by bringing a 360° virtual reality film, In Their Press Vests.

The film enabled visitors to the Exhibition Fair at the Istanbul Congress Centre to stand by journalists at the moments they document stories in Syria and to follow them to different locations covering the unfolding events. The film brings insights into the dangers that put journalists’ lives at risk and the difficult decisions that they are faced with when covering the news.

In Their Press Vests engaged visitors into an immersive experience to understand the working conditions of Syrian journalists, many of who started as citizen journalists documenting the civil unrest, and who have become increasingly professional.

By presenting In Their Press Vests at the World Humanitarian Summit Expo, UNESCO makes use of virtual reality as a powerful new approach to advocate for the safety of journalists, freelancers, bloggers and social media producers as well as journalism sources. Not only do they fall casualty to conflict, but they are frequently directly targeted for doing their jobs.

“The film put myself in a situation that I would never had experienced;” “There’s nothing like looking through the eyes of a person – just seeing the world a whole different way. I feel like I understand more of what’s going on in Syria – makes me wonder what I can do,”  were some of the comments from visitors to the UNESCO booth.

UNESCO produced In Their Press Vests, in partnership with The Association for the Support of Free Media and with the support of the Government of Finland. The film was first exhibited this year during World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki and Difference Day at BOZAR Centre of Fine Arts in Brussels.

As the UN agency mandated to protect freedom of expression and with an active role in promoting journalists’ safety worldwide, UNESCO stands up every time a media worker is killed and calls for justice. The organization also spearheads the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.

Between 2006 and 2015, UNESCO condemned the killing of 825 journalists around the world. In more than nine out of ten cases, those responsible for the killing are never punished.

Attacks against journalists are also perpetrated in non-conflict situations. Threats of persecution, arrest, imprisonment, denial of journalistic access and gender-based harassment continue to be tactics to silence journalism. Threats are also linked to digital safety and online harassment, trolling and surveillance.