The circumstances of each reporting assignment are different, but there are a number of general rules that can be applied:
- Be humble: over-confidence can be dangerous. Approach each assignment as if it is your first. Be modest and respectful, of other people and local customs.
- Be prepared: anticipate the risks. Find out as much as you can about the culture of the country and the region in order to blend as much as possible into the environment. Besides physical differences, differences in behaviour can easily give you away in some countries, such as smoking during Ramadan or holding out your hand to greet a woman.
- Use common sense: learn to trust your instincts. Be careful, discreet and aware of any warning signs. Don’t let adrenalin or the drive for recognition carry you away. A story or a photo is not worth your life.
1. ACCOMMODATION, TRAVEL AND COMMUNICATIONS
It is always better to be met personally on arrival, at the airport for example, by a colleague, a fixer or other trustworthy local contact. He or she can also advise you on what to do next.
Choice of accommodation
The main criterion in choosing where to stay should be whether it will allow you to work in safety. It may be a hotel or a private house, but the point is that it should provide you with sanctuary.
In some cases it is better to stay in an international hotel with a high level of security where you will be among other journalists. But there are circumstances where this type of hotel, especially if political and religious officials often stay there, could be a prime target for bomb attacks, whereas a small hotel or a room in a private house would allow you to work in peace and out of view. As part of your preparation, identify places to stay before you leave (see Chapter 2) wherever possible. Bear in mind also that, in certain countries, women may be subject to special restrictions as regards accommodation. Make sure you know the local norms in order to be able to choose an appropriate kind of accommodation for women reporters.
Some basic tips: avoid choosing a house, apartment block or hotel in a remote area, on a one-way street or in a dead end. Avoid the ground floor or a room with a balcony, which could make it easier for someone to get in. Do not put your name on the main door.
A few things to bear in mind if you have the luxury of choosing a hotel: admission to the building should be controlled both day and night, it should have outside lights and solid locks, windows and doors, the latter equipped with peepholes. A main road and an airport nearby will allow you to leave town quickly if need be. Avoid rooms at the front of the building or looking onto a car park, which could be more vulnerable to attack. Instead choose a room at the back of the building or on a courtyard and identify all possible exits.
Once you have settled in: locate all the entrances and emergency exits. Check all locks each night and close the shutters and curtains as soon as it gets dark. Check the identity of anyone who comes to the door before opening it. If there is a high risk of an attack or explosion, move the bed away from the window, out of the way of flying glass. Get a wedge to block the door from the inside, and possibly an intruder alarm. Locate a safe room to which you may be able to move to escape gunfire, bomb fragments or attackers. It should have no windows – a bathroom, for example – and should contain stockpiles of water, food and energy, and a means of communication such as a telephone.
Note: Bear in mind that you can’t be sure of your privacy and a safe is no guarantee that your documents or equipment are secure. Encrypt your data and secure your computer and telephone (see Chapter 4 on digital safety). Finally, try to keep your room perfectly tidy so that you will notice any signs of intrusion.
Getting around and choosing a driver and car
Choosing a driver: assess his experience and how tired he may be (his licence plate will tell you if he has driven far), look into his eyes. Have the upper hand, and if he drives dangerously don’t assume that this is the norm in the country. He has your life in his hands.
Choosing a car: the top-selling model in the region is often a good option for blending into the crowd. Do all the basic checks – mechanical condition, tyres, engine oil, brakes, spare wheel and jack. Once you have made your choice, France Médias Monde – the French media group that includes the international radio station RFI and TV news channel FRANCE 24 – advises taking a photo of the driver with the car, with the make and licence plate clearly visible, and send it to a contact in your home country. The photo could turn out to be useful if you disappear or are kidnapped.
Guidelines for moving around:
- Don’t follow a routine as regards times, routes and places, which could increase the likelihood of being ambushed.
- Before you set off, tell a local contact where you are going.
- Do not give your itinerary to the driver until you are inside the car, the doors are closed and he has pulled away. If possible, only let him know your plans for the day a little at a time.
- Agree on a secret signal with your dedicated driver so that he can warn you if there is a threat and you should not approach the vehicle.
- If another driver turns up unexpectedly in place of your appointed driver, do not get into the car, even if that means you have to change or give up on your reporting plans.
- Similarly, if your local fixer does not arrive for a pre-arranged meeting, this could mean there is a problem or imminent danger. Wait for him or postpone your plans for the day. Do not be tempted to go without him, or to take another fixer instead at short notice.
- In a team, one member should be responsible for regularly checking the car for the duration of the assignment and making sure it has fuel.
- Drive with the doors locked and the windows closed, keeping some distance from the vehicle ahead of you. Beware of staged accidents that are designed to force your car to stop.
- Do not park in places that are not supervised.
- Do not put yourself entirely in the hands of your driver. Make sure that you can always figure out where you are in time and space, for example by having a map and GPS with you.
Communication with your home country
Stick to the pre-arranged procedure to keep your key contacts, such as your newsdesk, colleagues and family, informed about your plans, movements and any problems that arise. Have a fallback arrangement in the event that you can’t contact them as arranged.
NB: don’t spend a long time on the telephone and make sure your communications are secure (see chapter 4) to reduce the risk of interception or digital surveillance.\
In order to ensure your family life is stable and peaceful on your return, keep in contact and remain on good terms with your family as best as you can. Try to put your assignment out of your mind when you talk to them. Keep in mind that the problems they have to deal with may seem unimportant to you but are no less valid than the story and the excitement that you are experiencing in the field. Those close to you still have to cope with day-today concerns, which may in fact be caused by your absence.
REMEMBER AS YOU SETTLE
Choose your fixer, driver and accommodation carefully Avoid routine and do not move around alone Be smart when communicating with your newsdesk and family
2. SAFETY PRECAUTIONS IN WAR ZONES
- Travelling in a combat zone is always very tricky and must be very carefully planned.
- Before setting off
- Prepare and check your vehicle (or have it checked) for its general condition and make sure it has a full tank of petrol, repair tools and common spare-parts.
- Put together a “survival kit” (warm clothes, a duvet, firstaid kit, water and food).
- Assemble official documents, such as press cards and any relevant laissez-passer.
- Study the route on a map.
- Check with colleagues, authorities and NGOs about any dangerous areas.
- Identify the location of checkpoints and who mans them. Find out what warning signals the military uses and what to do at a checkpoint.
- Check any curfew times.
- If you have to sleep rough, stay in your vehicle with the doors locked from the inside. If there are several of you, organise a rota for keeping watch.
During the journey
- Try to stick to the planned route and schedule and stay in regular touch with the newsdesk or with other journalists. Try to include contacts, other journalists or places to stay on your itinerary. Don’t drive at night.
- Don’t carry anything that could confuse people about your role as an observer, such as binoculars, signalling devices, military-style clothing or weapons.
- If you’re part of a military or humanitarian convoy, obey the convoy leader.
Walking around at night
- Doing anything at night is more risky. You may be hard to identify and may be taken for a combatant.
- Discretion is key. Wear appropriate dark clothing.
- Switch off your telephone and any cameras, radios and recorders. Watch your own sources of light or noise.
- Walk in the shadows, make detours if necessary, stop often to look around and listen. If you’re part of a team, agree on assembly points.
- If faced with searchlights, lie flat on the ground and wait for them to go off.
A checkpoint usually consists of a roadblock manned by guards, who may be regular troops or irregular forces such as bandits, rebels or militia. Regular soldiers will generally want to stop the vehicle to check on the passengers and their documents and to flush out illegal trafficking. However, irregular forces will often try to extort money or equipment, or even seize the car or capture its occupants. As you approach a checkpoint, size up those manning it – whether they are lightly or heavily armed, how they are dressed (as soldiers or militiamen), whether they look young or old (young people will generally be more nervous and unpredictable), whether they are drunk, jumpy or aggressive, and prepare yourself accordingly.
- On the road, keep an eye on the flow of traffic. If several cars unexpectedly do a U-turn ahead of you, it may be because there is a dangerous checkpoint ahead.
- When you are approaching an unidentified checkpoint, contact you newsdesk and give them your location, or activate your personal distress beacon.
- If at an early stage, when you are not yet within sight or within firing range, you feel that it is a dangerous checkpoint, turn around and leave the area.
- Be careful, however: if the guards have clearly spotted you, it’s too late, especially if the checkpoint is manned by regular (i.e. well-trained) troops. If you turn around, you will immediately become a target. Carry on slowly, one vehicle at a time.
- Keep the doors locked and lower the window on the driver’s side slightly, just enough to talk to the guards.
- Remove your sunglasses, keep your hands visible at all times and avoid sudden gestures. Guards are often highly nervous.
- Be calm and courteous. Don’t forget some guards may understand your language, so be careful what you say.
- Show the required laissez-passer, and if you have several from rival factions, make sure you don’t mix them up.
- Don’t get out of the car unless asked. Do not switch off the engine.
- If things get tense, negotiate and ask to speak to a superior.
- Be cooperative. Allow the guards to search your vehicle. If they steal your things, protest but don’t insist. Your life is worth more than your equipment.
- Depending on the circumstances and the attitude of guards, some journalists may offer cigarettes, water, sweets, magazines, small amounts of cash or other small bribes in order to ease tension and get through a troublesome checkpoint.
- A special word for women: the danger at checkpoints may be even greater for women journalists, who may be regarded as easy prey. The advice given above (on appropriate attire and so on) is even more applicable.
Coming under fire
Passing through an area that is under fire: do so only if you have no alternative.
- Beforehand: put on a helmet and bullet-proof jacket and make it clear you are a journalist, not a combatant, by writing PRESS or TV on your vehicle and your jacket. Assess the lie of the land and the position of those who are shooting. Identify and commit to memory the route you plan to take, staying under cover as much as possible.
- If you come under fire: lie flat on the ground, take shelter in a hole in the ground, behind a thick wall or behind a vehicle (remember only the engine compartment and the wheels and axles are effective protection against gunfire). Leave the area as quickly as possible running in short “spurts”, from one sheltered spot to another, covering about 10 metres (33 feet) at a time, or if crossing open ground, stay low and run in irregular zigzag fashion. If the firing is intense, stay in one place until there is a lull, which may take a while, or play dead.
A few words about snipers: Snipers use guns that allow them to hit targets at a distance of up to 600 metres and sometimes 1,000 metres (650 to 1,100 yards) in daylight and 300 metres (328 yards) at night. A sniper usually takes up a position in an apartment building that has a number of openings; never on the top floor and never at the front of the building. They are expert at hiding in roofs and attics. They sit behind sandbags and remove one or two roof tiles so they can see out. These holes look like unsuspicious shell impacts from a distance.
The echo problem: The sound of a gunshot spreads in all directions at a speed of just over 330 metres (360 yards) per second (a bullet’s speed is 1,000 metres a second). In a flat desert area, it’s easy to tell exactly where a shot came from. The targeted person always hears first the noise of the shot being fired (quick and sharp) and then afterwards the echo (longer and muffled). A good sniper will usually seek out a place from where the sound of a shot can be confused with its echo.
Brief overview of weapons and their ranges
This is taken from a hostile environment training course designed by Sovereign Global Académie and given to staff of the group France Médias Monde:
- Revolvers and automatic pistols (Colt, Glock, etc.): calibre between 6.35 mm (.25 inches) and 11.43 mm (.45 inches) and with an effective range of 50 metres (55 yards). These are dangerous for up to several hundred metres. More useful for self-defence than combat.
- Assault rifles (AK-47, M4, AK-104, etc.): calibres vary. These are the most widespread battlefield weapons. Effective range 300 metres (328 yards), dangerous up to 1,500 metres (1,640 yards).
- Long range or sniper rifles (M21, Ultima Ratio, etc.): effective range of 50 to 1,300 metres (55 to 1,422 yards) or more. It is the preferred weapon of rebel movements.
- Heavy machine-guns: calibre between 7.62 mm (.3 inches) and 14.5 mm (.57 inches), effective range of more than 600 metres (656 yards).
- Grenades: hand- or rifle-launched (anti-personnel or anti-tank). Effective radius of 30 metres (33 yards). Can be launched up to 300 metres (328 yards) depending on the model (rifle-launched type).
- Rocket-launcher: range 15 metres to 500 metres (16.4 to 547 yards) for the most powerful types.
- Mortars: range 50 metres (55 yards) to 13 kilometres (8 miles). Lethal zone: 35 metres (38 yards) from the point of impact.
- Anti-aircraft guns: calibre from 20 mm (.787 inches) to 128 mm (5.04 inches), range of more than 2 kilometres (1.24 miles).
- Artillery guns: calibre from 20 mm (.787 inches) to 800 mm (31.5 inches), range several dozen kilometres/miles.
- Missiles: range varies between 100 metres (109 yards) and several dozen kilometres/miles.
- Multiple rocket launchers: range varies, up to 90 km (56 miles). They make characteristic whistling sound.
To protect yourself against snipers:
- Prepare your itinerary beforehand.
- Indicate clearly that you are a journalist. Write PRESS or TV on everything.
- Don’t wear military-style clothing so as not to be confused with a combatant. And be careful with how you carry your equipment – cameras and zooms could look like weapons from afar.
- Rain, snow, wind and fog can be your allies against a sniper.
Heavy artillery, air raids and chemical weapons
- In the event of heavy artillery fire and aerial bombardment, you need to protect yourself from the blast and also from the resulting shrapnel and fragments:
- In towns and cities, residents may be forewarned and leave the area or remain in their homes with the blinds drawn and shutters closed. Look out for such warning signs.
- Don’t panic and instead of trying to run away, lie flat on the ground and crawl to the nearest safe place in order to protect yourself from the impact, for example in a hole in the ground or in the centre of a building, in the stairwell and away from windows (to protect yourself from shattering glass). Do not use cellars or attics, which are prone to collapse. Make sure you have several exits to the outside. Remain flat on the ground and cover your head.
- Use lulls in the firing to evacuate the wounded and leave the area as quickly as possible. An artillery round is often followed by an infantry attack.
- In woodland, shellfire can be especially destructive, causing wood splinters and flying rocks. Under heavy fire, take cover in any way you can, using the shape of the land to find a sheltered spot such as a hole in the ground. If the bombing is more widespread, run away as fast as possible, listening for the whistling sound of a shell. If you hear it, fall to the ground and lie flat. After the blast, get up and carry on running, then fall to the ground when you hear the next shell coming, and so on.
Chemical and biological weapons
Chemical or biological substances are usually dispersed by aerial bombardment or shellfire. The warning signs that should alert you are blurred vision, a sudden headache, excessive salivation and a running nose. The basic instructions are the same as for other bombardments: lie on the ground, find shelter and leave the area. The main difference is that you should put on a protective breathing mask and shout “Gas! Gas!” to warn those around you to leave the area as quickly as they can. If you are heading towards an area that has just been hit by a chemical attack, stop immediately and leave after verifying the direction of the wind in case the gas cloud spreads.
REMEMBER IN A COMBAT ZONE
Wear your bullet-proof jacket and helmet and be clearly identified as a journalist Prepare your itinerary carefully before you travel At checkpoints, stay calm and co-operate with the guards If you come under fire, lie on the ground and take cover
3. MINES AND CLUSTER MUNITIONS
In many combat zones, journalists may encounter landmines. Some are on the ground, buried close to the surface or covered up with stones. Others are fixed to trees, placed at the roadside attached to a tripwire or immersed in water. They can be triggered by a tripwire (which tightens and slackens), by pressure (or release of pressure), or a meter (“intelligent” mines are set to explode after a certain number of people or vehicles have passed). Others may be laid in unpredictable ways by untrained fighters. Places likely to be mined include former combat zones, border areas, occupied or abandoned military sites, ruins and abandoned houses, bridges, forests, abandoned fields, potholes and roadside verges.
Basic precautions for minefields:
- Never stray from well-used roads or paths, even to go to the toilet.
- Do not move around at night. You should be able to see where you are walking.
- Pay attention to how well-used the road may be. If it peters out, you should take heed.
- There may be tell-tale signs of a mine: tree branches set in a cross, a stick pushed into the ground, a circle of pebbles or a knot in the vegetation. Keep your eyes peeled.
- Bear in mind that isolated mines are rare. Usually half a dozen mark out an area, or they’re laid in groups of about 30, or in rows (often indicated by stakes in the ground).
- If you find a booby trap or mine, you must leave the area at once, exactly retracing your footsteps or vehicle tracks.
- Never handle a mine or an explosive device that has not gone off. Never encourage anyone to deactivate a mine to take as a souvenir.
- If you spot a previously unknown minefield, mark it clearly, locate it on the map or on GPS and report it to the local authorities.
Tips on how to survive in a minefield
On foot: Walk in single file with plenty of space between each person. Keep calm, don’t move and alert the others who are with you. Carefully inspect the area around you and try to locate the danger. Then leave the mined area exactly retracing your steps, or tell the person in it to do so. When a casualty is in the middle of a minefield, they must try not to move and other people must not rush to help. A safe pathway must be found to get first aid to them and then bring them out. Adopt a crouching position and use a pointed implement to probe into the ground at an angle of 30degrees. If you encounter any resistance, do not use force but mark the obstacle and go around it. Don’t step over a tripwire – mark it and go around it. Meanwhile, try to keep the casualty calm by talking to them, and don’t forget to probe the ground near and underneath them. Then administer first aid (N.B.: if you use a tourniquet, note the time you put it on) and if possible carry them to a safe area for evacuation (see Chapter 6 on life-saving techniques).
In a vehicle: do not drive over roadside verges, potholes, sections that have recently been covered with sand, earth or rubble. If a mine explodes: • Uninjured passengers must not get out hastily as they would risk stepping on a mine themselves. They should leave by the rear and walk in the tyre tracks to reach a safe area. The same route should be used to evacuate casualties. • Don’t try to reverse the vehicle into its tracks. Leave the area on foot and wait for the mine clearance service.
Cluster munitions are parent munitions (air-launched bombs and shells or rockets) that are fired from planes, helicopters, ships or the ground and contain explosive projectiles that scatter over an area the size of several football fields.
Although designed to detonate on impact, many fail to do so and stay on the ground as an unexploded danger. Cluster munitions are very diverse (from grenades to small-calibre bomblets) and come in all shapes and sizes. They should be regarded as an unstable, unpredictable and dangerous type of mine. Unlike mines laid by a machine or by people, their location cannot be recorded because they are scattered randomly
REMEMBER TO AVOID MINES Stick to well-used roads and pathways If you spot a mine, there are bound to be others nearby Walk in existing footprints or tyre tracks
4. BOOBY TRAPS, BOMB ATTACKS AND AMBUSHES
In recent years, journalists have become preferred targets for kidnapping, bomb attacks and murder. Reporters and photographers should take the greatest care when travelling to dangerous areas where abduction is commonplace.
General safety rules:
- Keep yourself in good physical and mental condition, with adequate exercise and rest.
- Dress according to local customs and behave modestly. In Islamic countries, women should avoid casual clothes so as not to shock (no low necklines, figure-hugging clothes or short skirts; cover your shoulders and head if necessary).
- Try to move around only in groups and only in wellfrequented public places. Do not go alone to isolated places and avoid badly-lit streets.
- Avoid predictable behaviour. Never go to the same place at the same hours. If possible, regularly change the place where you live as well as your vehicle.
- Always be discreet about how and when you move around – times, routes, where you are stopping, how you are travelling, who is accompanying you. Be careful in your communications and be careful what you publish on social media (see Chapter 4).
- Agree on a harmless signal among your team or with your family to warn them or be warned in case of danger.
- Pay attention to how much alcohol you drink and generally watch what you drink.
- Avoid conducting interviews inside houses and don’t get into a vehicle with someone you have just met. Also, avoid spending too long in the street carrying out your work as a journalist, using a microphone or video camera, for example.
- Avoid taking buses, which can be the target of suicide attacks.
- Beware of suspicious-looking vehicles.
- If you think you are being followed, alert your contact or your newsdesk using whatever communication device you have in your possession, such as a tracker or phone and make your way to a safe place, such as a police station or military barracks, or at least to a crowded area. Try to make a note of the identification details of the vehicle, such as model, colour, number of people inside and licence number).
- Try to look as if you know where you are and where you are going, especially if this is not so.
If you are threatened: Always take death threats seriously. If you are in a place where the rule of law is respected, tell officials you think can protect you. Change your habits immediately. Find out where the threat came from and find the person who made it and either consider organising a confrontation in a place where you have an advantage (such as a police station) or avoid any meeting at all. If there is no rule of law, and the threats are repeated and occur over a considerable period, inform press freedom groups such as Reporters Without Borders and build a network of international support. If the danger is too serious, consider getting away from the subjects you were covering or from the people threatening you until the danger diminishes and you have mustered some support.
Bomb attacks and booby traps
When a journalist or media outlet receives repeated death threats, special safety measures should be taken to reduce the danger of sabotage or a bomb attack. Security precautions must be worked out and strictly observed by all staff, and must include monitoring of possible sources of explosions, such as radio waves or electric current, switches and wiring, alarm-clocks, watches, doorbells, timers, chemicals and sources of heat or vibration.
The most common booby traps are:
In houses (doors, windows, floors, furniture, phones, TVs, household appliances, books, alarm-clocks, beds, armchairs, suitcases). When you enter a room, avoid standing on the doorstep. Do not touch anything in a house that you don’t know. In kitchens (kettles, canned food, bottles). On the road (food depots, bridges, roadsides, natural shelters, vehicles, abandoned weapons, grenades and munitions, corpses).
If you find a suspicious device:
- Do not touch it in any circumstance, even if it has already gone off or seems not to have worked properly.
- If it makes a noise (a timer) or changes appearance (begins to smoke), leave immediately.
- Set up a safety perimeter around the site, at least 100 metres (110 yards) away from the device.
- Do not use a mobile phone or any electrical or electromagnetic device to raise the alarm.
How to spot a parcel bomb:
- Unusually stiff envelope or packaging
- Excess packaging or large number of postage stamps
- A drawing or decoration
- Special wording (“very urgent” … “very personal” … “to be personally delivered”)
How to spot a car bomb:
Check the immediate vicinity of the vehicle and look for any package or suspicious object near the wheels. Note the general appearance of the vehicle (without touching it). Look for any wiring or suspicious or unusual object. Inspect key parts of the vehicle such as the wheels, the underneath, exhaust pipe, driving seat, front passenger seat, windscreen wipers, headlights, the catch to open the hood, engine compartment, dashboard and under the seats. After dark, keep a flashlight with you so you can make these checks.
How to spot someone about to carry out a suicide bombing:
- They appear to be wandering about without a clear direction
- They are perspiring and appear tense
- They look bundled up or dressed in a way that could conceal explosives
- If they think they have been spotted, they try to take cover in a group of people or stationary vehicles
If you receive a telephone bomb threat:
Record the time and length of the call, note any details that might help identify the caller or establish where they are calling from (cadence of voice, pitch, accent, diction, background noise) and ask the following questions:
- When is the bomb set to explode?
- Where is it?
- When was it put there?
- What does it look like?
- What kind of bomb is it?
- What will set it off?
- Did you personally place the bomb?
- Who are you?
- Where can you be contacted?
If you are in vehicles in a military or humanitarian convoy:
- In open country: keep 50 metres (55 yards) between vehicles and more if possible. Drive fast and be ready to speed up to escape any attack.
- In towns and cities, stay at brake distance between vehicles. Drive no faster than 50 km/hour (30 mph) to avoid accidents. See that no unknown vehicle inserts itself into the convoy and beware of motorcycles. Pay attention to traffic lights and stop signs. If you’re approached, speed up.
If you are ambushed:
- Speed up to get out of the dangerous area, or reverse or turn around if the road is blocked ahead of you but not behind.
- If the road is blocked by gunfire, get out of the car on the side away from the shooting and take cover behind the engine compartment and the wheels. Beware of the risk of mines at the roadside. Beware of a pause in the shooting, as an attacker may appear on the road to search or loot vehicles or even kill the wounded.
REMEMBER TO AVOID BOOBY TRAPS AND ATTACKS Be careful and discreet when you move around Take any threats seriously and follow safety procedures Remain on alert throughout your daily routine
5. NATURAL DISASTERS AND EPIDEMICS
Here are some tips from the International News Safety Institute for journalists covering natural disasters:
- Learn as much as you can about the type of disaster (hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, chemical spill, etc.) you are going to cover. Ensure you have appropriate insurance.
- Ensure you have conducted an in-depth risk assessment and are prepared to ‘survive’ in this challenging hostile environment.
- Wear appropriate protective clothing and gear and ensure that you and your crew are adequately trained to live and work in these conditions.
- Do not get in the way of rescue and relief workers. Be selfsufficient and do not be a burden to an already strained system. Check the weather.
- Make sure the newsdesk knows where you are and what you intend to do. If you move locations then let them know. Ensure they have other local contacts in case you go missing.
- Make sure you take something to wash yourself if there is no water, such as wet wipes or baby wipes. Ensure you maintain your personal hygiene so you don’t get sick and ensure you know the location of the nearest hospital or medical facility.
Clothing and equipment:
- Ensure you have luggage that you can carry (rucksack) with a waterproof cover
- Wear suitable protective clothing and ensure it is appropriate for the heat and humidity. When reporting on hurricanes or floods, ensure you have good quality rain gear that fits you and is lightweight. Wear sturdy boots or wellington boots/waders. Also ensure all of your team has reflective gear.
- Mobile/cell phones may not work or networks may be disrupted. Take several SIM cards from different providers and make sure you have a satellite phone, that it is charged and that you have a charger that can be used in the car.
- A 4×4 vehicle is preferable if there is a danger of flooding. Make sure it is fitted with an up-to-date GPS, a spare wheel and a jack, and has a first aid kit.
- Make sure you have a grab bag at all times containing a flashlight and spare batteries, or wind-up torch, warm clothing, water, water purification tablets, compass, Swiss knife and food (energy bars, dried food and freeze-dried food).
- A generator is often vital in situations where there is no power or electricity. Make sure you know how to use it and you have sufficient fuel stored in safe containers.
- Be aware of dangers such as flying debris, torrential rain or high winds.
- Do not take up positions under or near trees. This is because of the risk of being struck by lightning, or being hit by falling trees and branches.
- Do not approach or work in any area where power cables have come down.
- Refrain from smoking, as there may be fractured gas lines.
- If you smell gas, natural gas or sewer odours, do not switch on engines and refrain from using mobile/cell phones. Leave the area on foot as quickly and safely as possible.
Precautions during epidemics
During the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, AFP journalists reporting from the affected areas were instructed to remain at least six metres (20 feet) away from anyone suffering from the disease and at least four metres (13 feet) from a dead body, provided it was contained in a sterile body bag. They were advised to observe instructions given by NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders through which they made contact with nurses, patients or convalescents.
More generally, when faced with any epidemic, AFP recommends following some basic rules:
- Drink bottled water, only eat food when you know where it comes from and how it was cooked, wash your hands frequently with soap or an alcohol-based solution and avoid contact with other people’s body fluids, for example on a borrowed phone or dirty dishes.
- Wear long-sleeved clothes, as a protection against mosquito bites as well as to prevent direct contact with a sick person.
- During the rainy seasons, keep a pair of plastic boots that are easy to clean and disinfect.
- Don’t shake hands, even with colleagues. Don’t let anyone else into your car. Give them some money to help them out if necessary. Don’t touch animals, not even pets. Don’t borrow anything such as a pen or mobile phone and keep you own equipment clean.
- Avoid overcrowded places and don’t go out at night (a curfew may be in effect in some places) and use the hotel restaurant in preference to somewhere more crowded.
- Never eat – or even touch – bush meat.
REMEMBER IN THE EVENT OF NATURAL DISASTERS OR EPIDEMICS Wear suitable clothing and protective gear Avoid direct physical contact and swapping items with others Keep some wipes that you can use to disinfect your hands
6. CROWDS, DEMONSTRATIONS AND RIOTS
Covering a demonstration
Try to work in a group or at least in a pair, so that you can warn each other if things get out of hand. Look for escape routes and plan how to get away in case of necessity. In towns and cities, it may be a good idea to get to know a few shopkeepers and residents beforehand. If the demonstration turns violent, you may be able to take refuge with them.
Where applicable, identify yourself as a journalist to the police at the start of the demonstration so that they won’t take you for a protester later on. Find out what weapons or other means may be used so you can work out the risks and prepare yourself. Also, depending on the size of the crowd or the type of demonstration, try to determine if it would be better to be clearly identified as a journalist or if that might arouse hostility on the part of the demonstrators.
Reduce the risk of being robbed or attacked by not parking or preparing your equipment within sight of a potentially hostile crowd. Don’t put on your protective gear at the start of the demonstration. This might anger the protesters, who often consider themselves to be peaceful and accuse journalists of anticipating trouble.
While the atmosphere is still calm, introduce yourselves to the demonstrators and their leaders and ask them about their demands. Not only is this part of your job, but they will also generally be less hostile if you have spoken to them in advance.
- Wear discreet protective clothing appropriate for the season, for instance a motorcycle jacket and a baseball cap with a protective liner.
- Wear strong and comfortable lace-up shoes, such as hiking boots. In the countryside, make sure they are waterproof and consider wearing gaiters if it’s muddy.
- In the cold season, wear an anorak with a waterproof hood and warm underwear, socks, gloves and a ski hat in case you have to spend a long time outdoors.
- To prevent sexual harassment, women should carry a whistle. Some recommend wearing a one-piece bathing suit under several layers of loose clothes that cover up their figure (see also the following section on sexual violence and advice for women).
- Consider wearing an anti-riot jacket, which protects against handguns and other weapons and absorbs blows from batons. However, first assess the risks – you could be taken for a plain-clothes police officer if you try to cover it up, and if you wear a PRESS sign you may expose yourself to anti-journalist violence by the demonstrators.
- Make sure you have a small unobtrusive backpack to carry the following items, which you can take out quickly if things start to deteriorate:
- A light helmet, such as those used for climbing or skiing, which is easy to put on and take off, preferably without ventilation holes in case of rain.
- A gas mask, or swimming goggles, a ski mask or even a painting mask with filters that covers the nose and mouth.
- A scarf or kerchief is also useful for low concentrations of tear gas, or to dry your face after water cannon have been used.
- Since you don’t know how long a demonstration may last if it gets out of hand, think of taking:
- Energy bars or dried fruit (for quick-release sugar)
- Back-up batteries
- First aid kit
- Saline solution or eye drops (in case of tear gas)
- A press armband that is easy to access, which you should wear only when the risk of being taken for a demonstrator during a police charge is greater than that of being attacked because you are a journalist.
- A head lantern, vital for demonstrations in open countryside that continue after dark.
Dealing with violent crowds and riots
- Never stand between police/troops and demonstrators or in their line of fire. Beware of grenades, Molotov cocktails, FlashBalls and moving vehicles.
- Look out for the people most likely to present a danger (those who are armed or wearing masks or hoods) and try to anticipate the movements of the crowd by watching the eyes and gestures of the demonstrators.
- In towns and cities, be aware of high buildings from which rocks may be thrown.
- If you encounter harassment, negotiate to calm things down. Avoid physical contact. If you are physically attacked or rocks are thrown at you, run away, take shelter and leave the area. If you are beaten up, try to protect your face and head.
- Keep an eye on photographers and police. If they put on their helmets, it’s time to put on your own protective gear, such as helmets and masks.
- Don’t underestimate the debilitating effects of tear gas and bear in mind it is difficult to run wearing a gas mask – you quickly get out of breath.
REMEMBER DURING A VIOLENT DEMONSTRATION Take protective gear: helmet, mask, security jacket Check out the location and identify allies, escape routes and shelters Never stand between security forces and demonstrators
7. ADVICE FOR WOMEN
Male and female journalists cover the same areas and there should be no restrictions on reporting based on gender. However, in some cases women are recommended to take particular precautions in order to ensure their safety in dangerous areas.
The sexual abuse suffered by several female journalists in Egypt during the anti-government demonstrations in Tahrir Square, including a violent attack on Lara Logan, war reporter for the CBS network, highlighted the sexual violence to which journalists, particularly women, are exposed in the field.
Here are some recommendations for female journalists working in dangerous areas. Most of them come from experienced colleagues. One, Judith Matloff, who is a security expert working for a number of journalists’ protection organisations, published an article on the subject in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2011.
Dress and attitude
- Wear a wedding ring, or a band that looks like one.
- Respect the local dress code and err on the conservative side. Wear loose, even shapeless, clothes. Wear a long tunic, loose pants with a pullover shirt and a thick belt. These layers will slow down an attacker.
- Avoid low-cut and figure-hugging clothes and wear a headscarf if necessary.
- Wear comfortable shoes that will allow you to run easily.
- Avoid necklaces, which an attacker could grab hold of.
- Take care how you behave. Be aware of the local culture and customs. For example, smoking, shaking the hand of a man, drinking alcohol or laughing loudly may in some places be seen as signs of frivolity and promiscuity.
- Have your own vehicle and/or driver, so you can return home under your own steam and in safety.
In a hotel
- Take a room near your colleagues unless they have been harassing you or, because of other behaviour or known prejudices, you think there is a danger they could harass you, in which case, stay on another floor after making it clear to them that you will tolerate no harassment.
- Keep a wedge to push under the door on the inside, an alarm, or a chair that will fall over if the door is opened.
- Don’t use the lift if you believe you are being followed.
In a crowd or a dangerous demonstration
- Take even more care than usual to ensure that you are soberly and discreetly dressed. Plan to wear a one-piece bathing suit under several layers of clothing and a strong belt.
- Take a trusted male companion to watch your back. Ideally this will be your local fixer or your driver, someone you can trust who will not be worrying about his own story and will be able to warn you and protect you if things get dangerous.
- Stay at the edge of a crowd and always have an escape route in case things turn ugly.
- Carry a whistle or a small aerosol spray, for example deodorant, which you can squirt into the eyes of an attacker.
- Don’t let yourself be carried away by a group, put up a struggle.
If you are sexually attacked or raped
- Struggle, shout, call for help from those around you. If you spot a group of women, call out to them to ask them for help or to sound the alarm.
- Tell the attacker that you have children, that you are pregnant, that you could be his mother or his sister, or try to distract his attention to something nearby.
- Say you are menstruating (you can use a capsule of fake blood and a sanitary pad to add credibility), that you are impure, sick, HIV-positive etc.
- If nothing works, force yourself to vomit or defecate to put off the attacker.
- If you are faced with a group of attackers, try to identify the least determined among them and try to persuade him to protect you from the others.
- After an attack, seek medical and psychological help and do not feel guilty. Go to the nearest hospital and ask for a postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) kit of antiretroviral medication that you can take right away to reduce the chances of becoming HIV positive.
NB: The risk of sexual attack is not confined to women and some of these tips may also apply to men.
REMEMBER TO AVOID SEXUAL VIOLENCE Cover up with several layers of loose-fitting clothes Be aware of local practices regarding relations between the sexes Try to put off your attacker, or appeal to his humanity
8. IF YOU ARE HELD CAPTIVE OR KIDNAPPED
The attitude of a hostage depends on the behaviour of the kidnappers and local conditions, but in most cases, the following advice should help:
- Don’t panic and try to appear calm. The kidnappers are likely nervous enough themselves.
- Don’t resist or try to escape unless you’re sure you can.
- Be patient. Do not provoke your captors and don’t be servile or beg for things.
- Try to remember as many useful details as possible: voices, smells, noises, language spoken, routes taken…
- Do all you can to stay healthy, using sport, exercise and mental activities.
- Accept reasonable orders and requests by the kidnappers.
- Accept food, water and anything that can improve your health.
- Get the kidnappers to call you by your name. This will get them to see you as a person. Try to establish a dialogue and a relationship with them to create a more relaxed atmosphere.
- If you are kidnapped at the same time as one or more of your colleagues, try to persuade your captors to keep you together. This will be less work for them and you will be able to offer each other mutual support.
- Try not to believe threats and promises made by your captors.
- Don’t lose hope and don’t be discouraged if negotiations drag out – that means your chances of release are greater
- Retain your instincts as a journalist and observer to try to take a step back from what you are undergoing and imagine how you will tell this story later.
- If the kidnappers ask, agree to make a voice recording or write a neutral note. This can help show you’re alive and lead to your release.
- As your release nears, don’t be impatient and obey the kidnappers right up to the last moment.
- After you’ve been freed, you’ll be medically examined and “interrogated.” This is vital. Also try to find someone to confide in about what happened. Don’t keep the experience to yourself (see Chapter 6 on psychological trauma).
- Follow the advice you’ll get before making any statement to the media.
- When you resume your normal life, take safety precautions against possible reactions by angry kidnappers.