In the eye of danger: The Adventures of Tintin, is adopted to highlight the dangers journalists face in the field. (JP/Kurniawan Hari)
As the 2011 earthquake and tsunami rocked Fukushima, Japan, later causing the meltdown of the nuclear power plant in Sendai, news reached audiences with astonishing speed.
W ithin minutes, Japan’s public and viewers around the globe witnessed footage of the natural disaster in awe.
Over the next few days, people had become aware of the imminent danger from the Sendai nuclear crisis, considered the world’s worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.
Aside from the news about Japan’s nuclear crisis, people around the globe also got daily updates about the political crisis in Syria, progress in Afghanistan and Libya and the Egyptian election.
Behind all great news stories from crisis zones are the journalists who file their reports from the frontlines. Under such precarious circumstances, they work to produce new stories for their audience and to provide up-to-date information.
And the threats these journalists face are real. Sometimes, they fall victims to physical attacks as mob situations spiral out of control. This was the case for Mohamed Nabil Elabyad, a journalist with the Middle East News Agency, who was beaten by President Hosni Mubarak’s supporters when he was covering a demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“I was beaten and severely injured,” said Mohamed, who was hospitalized for a few days. After being released from the hospital, he resumed his activities and went to Tahrir Square to cover another protest. Again, he was severely attacked by the mobs.
Mohammad Jawid Omid, a journalist with the Bakhtar News Agency in Kabul, shared a different story. He recalled how his fellow journalist died from severe wounds three days after his office in the Afghanistan’s capital was bombed.
“My colleague died at the hospital three days after the attack. We journalists work in a hostile environment in Afghanistan. Another friend of mine lost his legs from different attacks,” Omid said.
Safety supplies: A portable toilet, instant rice and dry shampoo are among the ready-to-use items journalists need to cover stories in conflict or disaster-hit areas. (JP/Kurniawan Hari)
Mohamed and Omid were only two of hundreds of reporters working in hostile and conflict environments around the world. Yemeni journalist Mohammed Mutahar Al-Azaki of the Saba News Agency also shared similar experiences.
While the northern part of Yemen was relatively safe for reporters, the southern part of the Middle Eastern country was perilous for the members of the press.
“Al-Qaeda tries to control the southern part of the country. Journalists face real threats from that terrorist organization,” he said.
The three courageous journalists shared their experiences during the Global Training Program on Reporters’ Safety 2012 organized by the World Media Summit (WMS) Secretariat at the headquarters of the Chinese news agency Xinhua in Beijing recently.
In his opening speech, WMS secretary-general Zhou Zongmin underlined that journalism was one of the most dangerous businesses in the world. Citing data from the International Federation of Journalists, Zongmin said that since 1990, more than 2,270 media professionals had been killed in action.
“In total, 106 journalists or other media staff were killed in 2011, as compared to 94 in 2010. In addition, 20 died in accidents and natural disasters,” he said.
Phil Smith, an editor for Reuters’ South Asia office who spoke at the program, said reporters needed to equip themselves with safety gear before going to the field for reports, especially in hostile environments.
“Reporters assigned to any areas of coverage need to mediate the risks as much as possible,” said Phil, who was among the first journalist to report on the terrorist attacks at the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, India, in 2008.
For many media organizations, the safety measures that reporters had to take might be excessive. But, Phil assured that such measures were required to minimize the risks in hostile environments.
Phil, for example, suggested that journalists should bring a satellite phone and/or global positional system (GPS) anytime they go to an unsafe place away from home for reporting. The satellite phone can help reporters contact their offices from any location without worrying about the signal strength of local terrestrial communication systems.
Phil also recommended reporters to bring a flak jacket, compass, first aid kit and water purification tablets, which would be beneficial in areas with poor sanitation.
According to Phil, the stuff reporters needed to bring might differ from one place to another, depending on the nature of the coverage. In the Sendai nuclear accident, for example, reporters needed to wear a gas mask.
“They also needed to wear hard-soled shoes to avoid being injured by nails from the materials swept away by the tsunami,” he said. “Basically, there’s no story worth your life. Think safety first.”
Last words: World Media Summit (WMS) executive chairman Li Congjun addresses participants at the closing of the Global Training Program on Reporters’ Safety 2012 in Beijing. Li is the president of Xinhua News Agency. (JP/Kurniawan Hari)
In addition, Kyodo News world services section chief editor Yoichi Kosukegawa emphasized reporters must ensure their safety first. “If reporters are not safe, they cannot perform their duties optimally,” he said.
Sharing Kyodo News’ experience in dealing with the March 11 earthquake-triggered tsunami, Yoichi said his office deployed 130 reporters and photographers to cover the massive disaster.
“This large mobilization of journalists was needed to cover the big incident. They communicated with each other using satellite phones. They also had to report their condition to our headquarters regularly,” Yoichi said, adding none of the Kyodo staff members were injured during the disaster.
He added that the mobilization of journalists also increased the budget of his office as they needed basic supplies including canned foods, helmets, masks, toiletries and portable toilets.
“The list of their requests for stuff got more and more specific after the explosion of the Sendai nuclear power plant,” he added.
In fact, the threats faced by journalists are not only from armed conflicts, warfare or natural disaster, but they may also come from infectious diseases such as avian flu, malaria or rabies.
“It is important for journalists to get vaccinations before they go to particular countries to prevent infection,” said Pieter Kersemakers from China’s office of the International SOS.
Given the various threats the journalists may face, they need to prepare themselves to ensure their safety before head to the field to get the story. No story is worth a journalist’s life. So, be prepared.