Reporting in an increasingly volatile world paints a portrait of struggling freelancers.
It also highlights how news agencies must provide greater resources to freelancers risking their lives to report in areas so dangerous that no staff reporter would be sent in their place. The response from some news agencies such as The Guardian has been to avoid buying work from freelancers entirely so as not to “encourage freelancers to take exceptional risks.” Though this may prevent others from taking the risk of traveling to and reporting from war-torn countries, it does little for local journalists hoping to make a living by documenting the conflict.
Reporting from a war zone is never an easy or safe task, and the warring sides likely won’t break for a stalemate while journalists document the carnage. However, the targeting of journalists with violence prevents the rest of the world from understanding the complexities of a conflict that has so far claimed the lives of over 150,000 people, displaced more than 9 million, and produced a human rights crisis of epic proportions. In a situation like Syria and Afghanistan, where the absence of accurate information can produce dire consequences in terms of formulating a measured international response, the safety of journalists is paramount.
It is clear that the risks faced by journalists in reporting conflict, crime and corruption are growing all the time. But there are things a freelance journalist can do to stay as safe as possible.
To ensure their safety and survival, media personnel should be aware of all available safety options. There are many lightweight ballistic resistant vests that can be worn comfortable under or over their uniform for extra protection. In day-to-day reporting, ballistic resistant vests and helmets are an integral part of gear for all investigative journalists. Made from lightweight, breathable and sturdy material – they allow media personnel to carry out their daily activities while providing a high degree of protection against varied threats. War zones and high-conflict zones call for higher levels of body armour that are able to stop rifle rounds and shrapnel.
Journalists sent abroad are often times embedded with military forces. Choosing the vantage from which to observe a conflict is among the most important choices you need to make. Research the politics, history, and behaviour of all armed groups active in an area. Be aware that circumstances on the ground may change at any time without warning. In the light of recent conflicts, journalists rarely can now cover conflict from different sides. Today, both governments and insurgents are attacking journalists suspected of having relationships with their foes.
Journalists are sometimes required to wear the same uniforms as the combatants with whom they embed. You should still wear or carry press credentials that would identify your status on closer inspection. Uniformed journalists should expect to be treated as enemy combatants by opposing forces. Journalists working unilaterally should also be aware of how their appearance and demeanour may look from afar.
Journalists reporting from hostile and volatile places, where conflicts escalate or currently raging, need a high level of protection. This creates the need not only for basic vest carrier but for wearing a ballistic helmet as well. Many modular systems provide additional protection to cover exposed parts of the body like the arms, neck and groin area. This provides maximum security against high-caliber rounds and explosive shrapnel.
Some assignments in particularly volatile zones require that standard gear is supplemented with add-ons, such as ballistic helmets and plates for arms and legs. Reporting from countries where there is insurgency or wars means journalists will likely deal with the threat of snipers, so wearing a helmet is absolutely necessary. Additional plates can also increase safety for the wearer, but this happens at the cost of slowing them down, which can be dangerous if they have to quickly move between locations.
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