CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the US presidential inauguration and protests

The inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on January 20, 2017, is expected to draw thousands of protesters to Washington, D.C. Journalists from across the United States and the world will cover the ceremony and the protests planned around it. The Emergencies Response Team (ERT) at the Committee to Protect Journalists has issued the following safety advisory for journalists covering or planning to cover these events.

Some journalists reporting on the presidential campaign were attacked and intimidated. Threats against those journalists deemed critical of Donald Trump have continued since the November 7, 2016, election.

More than a dozen groups have applied for permits to protest in Washington D.C on Inauguration Day. The following day a protest called the “Women’s March in Washington” is planned. According to a Facebook post by protest organizers, over 250,000 people are expected to attend.

Some journalists and editors are concerned that the media will be targeted or get caught up in violence during the events surrounding the inauguration. Here are some tips to help journalists stay safe. They are intended as guidance, and may not fit all situations.

General advice:

  • Plan the assignment and ensure that you have a full battery on your mobile phone. Know the area you are going to. Work out in advance what you would do in an emergency.
  • Always try to work with a colleague and have a regular check-in procedure with your base. Particularly if covering rallies or crowd events.
  • Filming/recording equipment will obviously identify you as a journalist. There are times when looking like a journalist is important to signal to others, including police, that you are there to observe. However, in some instances, it is a good idea not to wear identifying logos, clothing or badges related to a media organization, or to be able to conceal them when necessary. Keep press credentials out of sight unless it is necessary to show them.
  • If going to rallies or crowd events, wear clothing and footwear that allows you to move swiftly. Consider your position–if you can, find an elevated position which would offer greater safety.
  • At any location, always plan an evacuation route as well an emergency rendezvous point if you are working with others.

Dealing with aggression:

  • Read body language to identify an aggressor and use your own body language to pacify a situation.
  • Keep eye contact with an aggressor, use open hand gestures and keep talking with a calming manner.
  • Keep an extended arm’s length from the threat. Back away, breakaway firmly without aggression if held. If cornered and in danger, shout.
  • If working in a crowd, keep to the outside of the crowd and don’t get sucked into the middle where it is hard to escape. Identify an escape route, and have a team emergency meeting point if working with others. If aggression increases, keep a hand free to protect your head and move with short, deliberate steps to avoid falling. If in a team, stick together and link arms.
  • While there are times when documenting aggression is crucial journalistic work, be aware of the situation and your own safety. Taking pictures of aggressive individuals can escalate a situation.
  • Report any aggression to the authorities.

If you are attacked, threatened or otherwise intimidated while covering these events, you can contact CPJ by emailing [email protected].

For more information on basic preparedness, assessing and responding to risk, or covering safety measures when covering civil conflict and disturbances, we encourage journalists to review CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide.