In the line of fire

The
brutal murder of Daniel Pearl and the deaths of 37 other reporters in 2001
highlight how dangerous journalism can be, and draws attention to the need for
proper training in surviving wars, kidnaps and terrorist attacks. Cindy Elmore
investigates

They
deliberately journey into hostile areas that others may be fleeing. They
convene with suspicious people in tents and ramshackle buildings. They often
scorn bulletproof vests, helmets and other protective gear that could save
their lives.

Police?
Government spies? Military commandos?

No.
They are often corporate employees. They are journalists.

The
war on terrorism and other global conflicts have hit closer to home for HR
executives at media companies, than to many other businesses. More and more,
media company executives must figure out what they need to do for employees
whose jobs seem to be becoming increasingly dangerous.

Thirty-seven
journalists were killed last year – eight in Afghanistan alone, according to
the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. However, most of those
killed did not die covering wars or hostilities. Most were killed to prevent,
or in reprisal for, their reporting on sensitive topics such as corruption and
human rights violations.

"There
is a much more heightened awareness within the media – not just of the role the
reporter plays, but just the fact that this isn’t like any other job,"
says Madelyn Jennings, former senior vice-president for personnel at Gannett,
the US’s largest newspaper group, and now a consultant.

"When
they go out the door in the morning – some of those journalists in Dubrovnic
and wherever – not only are they at such risk, but so are their families,"
Jennings says. "It takes a certain type of person to take those risks."

A
number of media companies are taking steps to reduce those perils, sending
increasing numbers of their reporters and photographers for training in
hostility awareness and risk assessment. The biggest training provider,
Centurion Risk Assessment Services in Hampshire, England, has provided training
to hundreds of journalists from dozens of media organisations worldwide.

The
kidnapping and brutal murder of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl
early this year "brought home the point that no-one is bulletproof",
says Paul Rees, a former British Royal Marine Commando who founded Centurion.
"No-one is safe."

Centurion
offers training in everything from hostage abduction awareness and mine and
booby trap recognition, to emergency first aid and evasive driving techniques,
during five-day long residential courses for journalists, businesspeople and
international aid workers. Much of the training takes place outdoors under
conditions that simulate war zones, ambushes, vehicle checkpoints or other
hostile settings.

Rees
started the company at the urging of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
which wanted security training for its journalists, who are posted worldwide.
Business has grown so much that courses are now offered once a month in the US,
in addition to those regularly held in the UK. Similar training is offered by
at least two other British companies, AKE and Pilgrims Security Services.

In
many cases, insurance companies will not insure a journalist going into a
hostile area until they have completed security training. Journalist
organisations such as the European Press Centre, International Federation of
Journalists and the US Newspaper Guild are also increasingly insisting on
training.

"Essentially,
we’re looking for experienced people being properly assigned with mandatory
training," says the guild’s Larkie Gildersleeve. The guild also wants to
see stress counselling for journalists who have covered wars, hostilities or
other horrors such as the World Trade Center attacks in New York.

The
guild’s union contract with a number of US newspapers also calls for increased
hazardous duty pay and increased health coverage and life insurance benefits
for journalists in hostile areas, since many standard insurance policies will
not cover journalists reporting from war zones.

The
New York Times, which has long had foreign bureaux, does even more, sometimes
providing security for the homes of journalists’ families in some foreign
posts. It recently bought a new armoured vehicle for its journalists working in
Israel, says Jennifer Preston, The New York Times deputy to the associate
managing editor.

Training
and insurance

In
addition to supplying anti-terrorism training, The New York Times has always
provided extra training for journalists going into war-torn, conflict-driven
areas, says Preston.

Civilian
journalists at The Stars and Stripes, a newspaper owned by the US Department of
Defense, are required to go through the US Army’s standard hazardous
duty/chemical warfare training before they can report from the Balkans,
Afghanistan or other areas where US military forces are located.

The
US Army self-insures the life and medical insurance of civilian journalists
working at The Stars and Stripes. And while there is "a wall full of
memorabilia" dedicated to Stars and Stripes reporters killed on the job
over the last century, the spokeswoman adds she is "unaware of any
circumstances where our benefit plans have not paid out".

The
government-run workers compensation insurance also pays when an American journalist
is killed or injured on the job, as it does for employees at any US company.

But
most media firms cannot afford to self-insure journalists for hazardous duties.
They must turn to the private insurance markets, which have raised their rates
since the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York.

Rees
says his 20 staff used to be covered worldwide by a policy costing about
£30,000 a year. But he says by the time they reached Afghanistan for a media
consulting job last autumn, the price had risen to about £5,000 per person per
week.

A
Newhouse News Service reporter who worked in the war-torn country said the
added cost to insure a photographer’s trip to Afghanistan made it cost
prohibitive to send any.

Some
media organisations are relying more heavily on local freelancers to provide
coverage, or negotiating co-operative arrangements with transnational
competitors to supply news and photos. Some are more actively determining when,
where and how their reporters go into an area. Those decisions used to be left
up to the journalists and their editors, Rees says.

Some
also now insist their journalists wear body armour, often at the behest of
insurers who won’t cover journalists in certain areas unless they do. Rees says
the protective gear has both pros and cons for journalists and can sometimes
make them more of a target.

Several
observers say government and military policies aimed at keeping the media at
bay have actually increased the dangers for journalists. Without military
co-operation, "reporters have mostly been left to figure out what’s going
on and where to go", says an American magazine writer and university
instructor, who requested anonymity.

"Reporters
are facing some very difficult choices they’ve never faced before. Do they arm
themselves? Do they hire local warlords to protect them?"

Yet,
because journalists work in competitive businesses with 24-hour news cycles,
they feel pressured to find a way to get the story or the pictures, with or
without military guidance.

Rees
advises journalists that even if they get military co-operation, they need to
travel with enough gear to make them self-sufficient. He also advises media
companies to be insured against kidnap and ransom demands, although journalists
are more likely to be abducted in an effort to send a political message, rather
than for financial reasons.

Often,
insurers don’t like to cover journalists because "they’re risky
people", says Thomas Clayton, who runs Thomas A Clayton Consultants, a
California risk assessment company. At the same time, they aren’t usually
kidnapped for ransom, because "they’re not perceived as having very much
money", he adds.

Clayton’s
company negotiates numerous kidnapping and ransom payouts for other international
businesses and wealthy families. "But I’ve never had a case where a
journalist has been kidnapped," he says.

Yet,
it does happen. Twenty-five times since 1992, journalists have been kidnapped –
taken alive by militants, criminals, guerrillas, or government forces – and
subsequently killed, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ
counts 389 journalists killed while carrying out their work between 1992 and
2002. The International Federation of Journalists counts nearly twice that
many. Eight more journalists were killed in the first half of 2002, including
an Italian freelance photographer who was shot dead by Israeli gunfire in the
West Bank city of Ramallah in March.

Risky
business

While
it is unknown how many – if any – media companies now buy kidnapping and ransom
insurance, published reports say sales of the insurance are up dramatically
among businesses in general this year. The insurance also covers hijackings,
extortion, and in some cases, terrorist attacks.

However,
there is some debate whether journalists are at more risk today than in the
past. Last year 37 journalists were killed, while 66 were killed in 1994. The
early 1980s saw a number of renowned journalist kidnappings in the Middle East.
And local journalists have long been at risk in Third World nations where there
is little press freedom. But the perception is stronger now that the risks have
grown for journalists from the West.

"I
think the Western journalists are feeling more vulnerable, particularly those
from the US. [The murder of] Daniel Pearl raised the feeling of vulnerability
among western journalists," says Linda Foley, president of the
Communication Workers of America and The Newspaper Guild.

"If
you want to get on the news, attack a reporter," says Bruce Shapiro, a
journalist who helps to run the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, which
encourages news organisations to offer post-traumatic stress counselling to
journalists. For weeks after the 11 September attacks, the centre hosted public
forums about the topic as well as a confidential referral service to
journalists wanting counselling.

Some
studies have shown that reporters and photographers have rates of
post-traumatic stress disorder comparable to firefighters, police officers and
combat veterans, and should therefore receive the same level of counselling,
Shapiro says. "Media organisations are behind other firms where there are
rough and tumble, individualistic occupations," he says.  

Several
observers say media companies now face increased legal liability if they do not
provide more training and protection for their journalists in risky areas,
which is one reason why some have increasingly turned to freelancers, says
Foley.

"There
is a recognition on the part of news organisations that you can’t just throw
people into the field. It’s just not responsible," she says. "I guess
we all needed a wake up call."

Safety
and security information

Zerorisk
International News Safety and Security Database

A
subscription website providing news industry safety, security and risk
management information, contact advice, safe transit information, country
briefs, threat assessments and an online forum. Run by senior managers and
editors of APTV, CNN.com, ITN, Reuters, BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corp.   www.zerorisk-international.com  information@zerorisk-international.com

Dart
Center for Journalism and Trauma

University
of Washington
School of Communications
Tel: + 1 (206) 616-3223 www.dartcenter.org
 info@dartcenter.org,
uwdart@u.washington.edu

Personal
security/risk assessment training

Centurion
Risk Assessment Services

Tel: +44 (0) 1264 355255
www.centurion-riskservices.co.uk
main@centurion-riskservices.co.uk

AKE

Tel
UK: +44 (0) 1432 267111
Tel US: +202 974 6556
www.akegroup.com
services@ake.co.uk

Pilgrims
Security Services

Tel:
+44 (0) 870 757 0180
www.pilgrimsgroup.com/PSS.htm
info@pilgrimsgroup.com

Chemical,
Biological and Radiological Training

Bruhn
Newtech
Tel: +44 (0) 1980 611776
www.bruhn-newtech.co.uk
info@bruhn-newtech.co.uk

Comments are closed.