Safety Handbook for Journalists

3. Conflict and risk mapping

Conflict and risk mapping is a system of identifying a geographical location of threat where you or your team might be at risk. Journalists in conflict regions like Libya and Syria have used this system with great success. This should be done in electronic format as it is easier to change and upgrade threat locations. Kindly see the example above.

This system should only be used in the office or bureau for briefing purposes. Taking such information on to the ground whilst news gathering can be extremely dangerous, as you should never carry maps that are marked. If you are detained and have marked a location on the map that is near a military location you may well be compromised. Mark the map with locations of threat and incident landmines and attacks. Also mark your location with reference to distance from troubled spots. You should also mark possible areas of threat for example ambush or possible improvised explosive device placement.

Identify if your location is at threat from indirect artillery or mortar fire or direct fire from small arms, or if there is threat from aircraft or drone attack. You must also identify where local medical and logistical facilities are in case of incident or emergency.

Actor mapping example for journalists

Actors are individuals who aspire to influence a decision- making process through organisational or institutional means.

Actors in conflict areas can help in your protection and newsgathering for it to be done effectively and safely. There are many examples of the current situation in Syria where journalists have gone directly to areas of conflict without liaison with local actors and have paid the ultimate price. Actors can help you with safe passage and accountability especially when embedded or travelling with unconventional forces; the more layers of protection you can have the better.

Liaising with local NGOs or tribal leaders can help your logistics and protection. Making sure you are meeting the correct sources and arranging safe houses can help in the event of kidnapping and abduction. Also, if there is a casualty or emergency situation, they will have local knowledge on medical or treatment facilities even lone doctors working in these environments.

On the asymmetric battlefield, the use of local actors is an essential element in creating security in depth.

Example list of actors & stakeholders:

  • Ministry of interior / rehabilitation
  • Local authorities
  • Political parties
  • Humanitarian actors / organisations
  • Representatives of religious groups
  • Suppliers and contractors
  • Local Media
  • Opposition forces
  • Military and police

Handling sources

List all actors, describe their relationships relevance to the newsgathering, describe the position, responsibilities and functions of all actors by answering these questions:

  • The position of the source?
  • Can the information be confirmed?
  • Is it credible?
  • Does it fit in with the pattern?
  • Background of the source?
  • The motive?

Protecting the source

  • Be careful with the phone
  • Don´t send email (unless encrypted)
  • Use dummy email and use draft box to communicate
  • Use aliases
  • Meet at safe places
  • Discuss how facts can be used
  • Think about how compromising of source could lead back to you and/or your location

Cameraperson-specific security protocol:

  • Planning, preparation and risk analysis are vital for a cameraperson working in areas of conflict.
  • Always plan your editorial shoot in conjunction with your safety policy.
  • Make sure you are physically fit to carry your equipment.
  • Pick your equipment specific to the task; do you take a large or small camera, a tripod or a monopod? Carrying large amounts of photographic and lighting equipment can cause you problems, especially when travelling.
  • Use equipment that is robust and not easily damaged.
  • Use equipment that is easily portable in case you have to react to incoming fire. A good telephoto lens can give you distance and thus provide a safety margin for you.
  • Power considerations; Charging electrical items, such as your camera battery and phones can be a problem in conflict zones. Think about what power source you will be using, have you got the correct adapters, spare bulbs and disposable batteries. You should also consider portable power packs and solar chargers such as the power monkey or use of a portable generator.
  • Protective equipment for your camera, such as special rain covers or plastic bags to protect gear from rain, snow, dust, or sand. In desert conditions, put gaffer or electrical tape over vulnerable terminals or openings on the camera, use plastic ties for cables. Use carabiners and a climbing strap or velcro hooks for securing your camera to your body.
  • Transport camera equipment covertly – Take the least number of hard pelican cases, if necessary, pack them inside normal suitcases to bring less attention when collecting baggage and leaving airport.
  • Permissions – Permit to shoot in the country, typically from the Information Ministry.
  • Local technical help – A local technician who can troubleshoot equipment problems and supply backup equipment in case of loss or damage.
  • Be aware that filming children and women in some cultures can be dangerous.
  • Make sure you can legally photograph in public places – When you are on private or government property you could be arrested for trespassing.
  • Think about having your equipment confiscated – always backup your footage
  • Always have a spare memory card ready to hand over – security forces could try and confiscate your footage and it could also be used against you.
  • If you are arrested for taking photographs: Always remain polite and never physically resist. If you are detained, politely ask what crime you are suspected of committing, know the law of that country and have a contingency plan for this type of incident.

Photography in public places:

  • Keep a low profile. Think about using covert or low-profile cameras
  • Also, the profile of your camera equipment from a distance can look like weaponry. A large camera on the shoulder can look like some sort of shoulder launch weapon and you could receive incoming fire. Also flash photography can look like the flash off a weapons muzzle, it can attract combatants fire.
  • Unless you have permission, do not photograph military installations, equipment or military exchanges or checkpoints as this is extremely dangerous.
  • Always carry out a 360-degree check whilst shooting. When looking into a lens you cannot see what is going on around you.
  • Use a monopod and small camera to observe around corners and to look over cover to save exposing yourself.
  • If you find yourself filming a combat situation in an urban area, keep to the left hand of cover if you are right-handed. By staying on the left side; this allows you to keep your body protected, exposing only the camera to always look for doorways and side streets. If you are left- handed, apply the reverse principle.