More safety guidelines for Pakistan’s field reporters

Pakistan’s journalists, watching the domestic stories they are covering become increasingly more dangerous, have started taking safety matters into their own hands. Zaffar Abbas, editor at the English-language daily Dawn, just forwarded to me a safety guide for journalists he has been circulating around his paper. His explanation:

The recent Karachi situation had made it important to remind reporters and camera crews of the significance of taking precautionary steps while covering violence.

It has been drawn from the detailed guides that CPJ, IFJ [International Federation of Journalists], and other international journalist organizations have prepared. The idea is to have something handy, which may also be kept in the vehicles that are used by journalists and television crews for coverage in conflict zones.

Zaffar says that at a later stage, he and other news directors can sit down to work out detailed guidelines for Karachi coverage (where Dawn and most other Pakistani media are headquartered, and a city almost in danger of being overrun with violence from many different groups) and discuss means of dealing with the pressure from “state and non-state actors,” as he puts it.

On July 6, IFJ and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists released a group of posters and brochures in Urdu and English for newsrooms. And on July 11, I had posted a list of guidelines, “For safety’s sake: New journalist safety rules in Pakistan,” saying that Pakistani journalists have to work together to assure their own protection. There is no other institution in the country that will do that for them.

These sorts of guidelines are good, but what Pakistani media still need is an all-out effort to give their field reporters, photographers, and TV news crews full protective equipment and the field training for hostile environments that their colleagues receive in other parts of the world. Geo TV has done some of that training for their crews, and some of the other wealthier broadcasters have begun to as well, but as the security situation in Pakistan deteriorates and the media industry matures, a more consistent effort has to be made. And there must be some sort of method for training freelancers and stringers who are operating on their own. 

Here are the guidelines that Zaffar sent:

Twelve Points to ensure Personal Safety while working in high-risk environments

  1. The fundamental principle that governs news coverage in a conflict zone is: “NO STORY IS WORTH YOUR LIFE.” So pull out before it’s too late.                                                            
  2. Staying in touch means staying alive. Your city editor/shift-in-charge should always be aware of your movements in a conflict zone.
  3. The city editor/chief reporter is also expected to carry out the risk assessment before deploying the crew in a hostile zone.
  4. In case of trouble, city editor/shift-in-charge is expected to coordinate with the emergency services/hospitals.
  5. Make sure the team of reporters/photographers/cameramen being deployed has the basic know-how/training in reporting from a conflict zone.
  6. The vehicle/DSNG [Digital Satellite News Gathering] they are traveling in should have the necessary safety gear (bulletproof jackets, etc.) and a proper first aid/trauma kit.
  7. At least one member of the crew should have the basic knowledge of life-saving techniques.  
  8. The color of the bulletproof jacket/helmet should be different from that of the security forces operating in the area.
  9. During civil disturbance/riots, the journalists should be dressed up in such a manner that they are not confused for members of one of the conflicting parties.
  10. As tempers often run high during civil disturbance, the reporter/photographer should never hesitate to identify themselves by shouting “PRESS” or “JOURNALIST” and should try and avoid arguing with either of the parties (rioters/police). 
  11. The field reporters/TV crew’s vehicle/DSNG should have a directory of all nearby hospitals/police stations.
  12. At least one member of the team should be trained and senior enough to DECIDE on the spot the RIGHT TIME TO ABANDON THE COVERAGE and move to a safer place.