By Daniel Paterson
The recent ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings have given the world many outstanding images of public action against regimes that, until recently, looked invulnerable. These images have, however, come at a cost to journalists on the ground. According to information from the Press Emblem Campaign, fifty-two journalists have died as a result of violence so far this year. The report goes on to state that "the Arab Spring and its uprising have led to the death and targeting of at least eleven of the fifty-two journalists killed worldwide". These figures follow fifty-seven journalists killed worldwide in 2010 and seventy-six killed in 2009.
As a consequence the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has launched a ‘Safety Media Network in the Middle East and the Arab World’. As a step towards training journalists in personal security techniques, two courses have been run, the first in Cairo and the second in Alexandria over the course of July. The courses focussed on assessing risk and techniques on how to address stress trauma after exposure to violent situations.
Stephanie Khalif, of the IFJ, told New Security Learning,
“The IFJ’s main priority is to ensure that all media staff working in and reporting from the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region receive skills needed to keep them safe while doing their jobs.”
The workshops in Egypt follow a similar workshop held in Morocco in early June which trained thirteen journalists to act as immediate support and assistance to their colleagues. The thirteen participants at the Morocco training course, who came from Algeria, Iraq, Morocco, Yemen, Tunis, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt, were taught how to train other journalists in their home nations.
This technique of passing on teaching skills will, it is hoped, allow for a more immediate impact on safety within the region for those who report events to the outside world. The deaths of photojournalists, such as Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hondros, who died on April 20th of this year whilst in Libya, has certainly focussed the West’s attention on the security and safety of those reporting the issues which appear in our newspapers and on our televisions.
The issue of Journalist safety is not a new one. In 2001 Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed by Islamist insurgents, while BBC reporter Frank Gardner relies on a wheelchair and cameraman Simon Cumbers died after being shot in the head after an attack in 2004. For the IFJ the issue of training journalists in safety and security has been a running battle. As a response to mounting concerns about media safety in Iraq, courses were organised in Basra and Bagdad that, according to the IFJ sought to “reduce the risks facing reporters in the world’s most deadly country for media staff”.
Stephanie Khalif again, “Our main goal this year was to do thirty safety trainings in the MENA region… The IFJ has been promoting safety courses for journalists, including local reporters and freelance journalists in many countries, especially in the Arab region. For instance, it has produced the IFJ Code of Practice for the Safe Conduct of Journalism which stresses the responsibility of media organisations to provide equipment, risk-awareness training, social protection and medical cover not only for staff members but also for freelancers”.
The information shared in these modules includes basic first aid, ballistic threat and protective measures, using new technology such as Google Earth to gain a better understanding of the landscape and assessment and urgent care of critical casualties.
Similar training has been undertaken in areas of the Middle East such as Ramallah, Hebron and Gaza City. The IFJ is determined to keep up the pressure with four more courses in the pipeline for September and October, which will take place in Lebanon, Palestine, Algeria and Tunisia. Whilst wars rage, journalists will want to cover both the fighting and its consequences, putting them in harm’s way to deliver news to the public at home. However, with emerging technologies in training and guidance becoming increasingly available on the open market, danger may be mitigated by using the available tools and education.. Technology and training cannot guarantee life but used effectively, in certain circumstances, it could mean the difference between life and death.