Journalists are facing increasing risks to their safety when covering public disturbance stories – it is a sad sign of the times that violence is now a fact of life in many towns and ‘sink’ estates.
The Chartered Institute of Journalists, the world’s oldest association for our profession, is concerned by this situation and has produced this brochure as a timely reminder to all print and broadcast reporters, photographers and their various assistants of these dangers to life and limb and the precautions they should take.
Journalists covering wars abroad for the major media groups generally receive suitable training and protection but little has been done ‘on the home front’.
Most of this advice is common sense but when a ‘hot story’ is running, the pressure to meet deadlines is greatest and the adrenaline is flowing, precautions can be overlooked – and a journalist becomes a victim. The simple measures outlined in this brochure, taken on the way to cover stories of violence or to areas of potential violence, will minimise the risks.
Safety clothing – stab-proof vests and hardened baseball-style hats – are recommended, and employers are urged to make them available. There are too many people only too prepared to use a knife or a broken bottle in violent confrontations and a recent Association of Chief Police Officers’ report highlighted the growing use of these weapons in both town and country areas. ‘It CAN happen here’ is now only too true.
This brochure has been compiled by ‘battle-hardened’ journalists who have had first hand experience of such violence – be it at demonstrations that turn nasty or on seemingly innocuous stories in ‘sink’ estates where a journalist can be seen as fair game for an aggravated mugging.
The law is with us in terms of legal protection. A European Union Council of Ministers Protocol, of May 3, 1996, clearly lays down government and police responsibilities for protecting journalists and their ability to work in situations of conflict and tension, but it also underlines the need for journalists to have training in looking after themselves as physical protection cannot always be guaranteed. The protocol also emphasises the need for employers to provide adequate safety clothing and insurance but freelances have to make their own arrangements – and should have adequate insurance cover for both injury and their equipment.
When out on such a story a journalist is usually on his or her own and personal safety should be the prime consideration. It is no disgrace to ‘beat a retreat’. Editors, too, should remember their staff are facing potential death situations and should not pressurise them to take undue risks nor penalise them for applying caution.
Remember, too, that in the case of terror attacks involving bombs, secondary devices can be planted within the general area! Fools rush in…as the saying goes.
Covering violent events even-handedly is part of the journalist’s vital role in a healthy democracy but at all times…YOUR SAFETY COMES FIRST!