Safety Handbook for Journalists

2. Risk Management

Risk: what is produced by the interaction between a hazard and a victim or a person’s exposure to the hazard.

There are five basic strategies to risk management:

  • Risk Acceptance – Control of risk factors must be in the hands of the journalist at all times so that there is an understanding of the present risk.
  • Risk Avoidance – A journalist can carry out a task successfully by avoiding a risk, such as covering combat operations from a distance or covering a public disorder event from an elevated distance.
  • Risk Transfer – where risk is personally unacceptable, professionals who are able to deal more proficiently with the situation must handle the task.
  • Risk Reduction – Standard operating procedures and training may reduce the occurrence of risk. The use of physical protection and risk management systems should be considered in areas of conflict.
  • Ignoring the risk – This is where situations of risk are not taken into account and/or bypassed in favour of editorial considerations.

Dealing with risk

It is important to have a detailed risk assessment and plan for the mission. Doing extensive research on the covered area and establishing contact with people on the ground is essential to prepare for your deployment. The planning phase is crucial and journalists should dedicate a proportionate amount of time for it. Also, in the event of an incident, crisis management systems have to be in place when operating in such environments with strict countermeasures.

Risk Reduction

Having a pre-established risk management protocol and applying it correctly helps in reducing the risk. However, these protocols can be changed and should be reviewed on a daily basis depending on the developing situation on the ground. Risk assessment is one of the core elements of the planning phase. It is important and vital to consider all the risk elements in your planning, including future developments.

Having good procedures enables journalists to gain access to the more volatile environments. Journalists should always evaluate the current situation so that they can assess the risk versus the story. Upon the evaluation, journalists can make their decision either to continue the preparation for the story coverage or withdraw to rethink their current situation. Professional safety management enables you to control or reduce risk to a level of acceptable exposure to the present risk.

Standard Operating procedures (SOPs)

A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is a detailed explanation of how a policy is to be implemented. An effective SOP communicates: 

Who will be assigned to the task, 

What materials are necessary,

Where the task will take place, 

When the task shall be performed, and 

How the person will execute the task in a safe and professional manner.

Purpose of SOP: To serve as a framework for organisational policy and provide direction and structure.

It is a written document of best practice that explains in full the roles of responsibility.

SOP essentials:

  • There must be familiarity with current procedure and best practices.
  • There must also be awareness of any relevant updates in procedure (e.g. the risks can increase on an hourly basis in volatile environments).

Lack of time and prior warning, which is often the case with breaking news, are a contributing factor for not correctly assessing current threat and adhering to procedure. Pre-deployment planning is essential even if it is only for a couple of hours before deployment. Too many journalists go blindly into situations they have no control over.

In conflict environments, safety and security of the journalist or the media team has to be the number one priority. The golden rule is to produce and report the story not to become the story yourself.

Due Diligence, Assessment and Analysis

Know the operational, physical and mental limitations and have clear guidelines.

  • What are the journalists going to do?
  • What is required of them?
  • Do they have the correct resources?

Threat Analysis for conflict zones:

  • Should the field team remain present when in escalating risk situations?
  • Does the task or newsgathering put the journalist in the path of combat operations?
  • Does the task or story directly impact personal safety?
  • Does the newsgathering take place in high risk and high incident areas or areas of armed conflict?

Threat Assessment:

  • First step for threat assessment is to evaluate the nature of the threat: Asking the right questions and sourcing information off the correct people.
  • The second step is to check if there is a pattern that led to the current threat: Location, time, and target group. What are the past and present factors leading to the threat?
  • Third step is to assess the objective of the threat. Establishing a clear definition may help to pre-empt incoming threats.
  • The fourth step is to investigate who are the direct and indirect people or organisations that are involved in the threat; try to be as specific as possible.
  • Last step is to reach a reasonable conclusion about whether or not the threat is tangible.

Media team competence

The team members must have knowledge about the current security situation and comply with the given standard operating procedures and plan. Everyone in the team must be included in the security plan and SOP.

Everyone in the group must support each other in their tasks whilst being deployed. Any new decisions that are taken in the conflict zone should be done with the consent of the whole group, and everyone should have a say in the overall decision. There must be good information sharing between the team to cover any possible eventuality.

Other considerations:

  • Are IT and communication plans covered by your security policy?
  • News desks should know about any plans, current situation on the ground and any important relevant information.
  • Prioritise the threats using risk management techniques.
  • Match the threats that have been listed with the vulnerabilities that are visible.
  • Match the known threats with the relevant capabilities.

The Components of the Risk Assessment Cycle

Risk assessment is the most important stage of preparation before newsgathering. Before any task can commence, a detailed risk assessment must take place to ensure the success of the assignment, reduce the risk and retain control. Risk assessment allows you to anticipate events and create a threat and risk analysis with countermeasures. It reduces reaction time and enables you to start immediate implementation of your proactive plans.

The Risk Assessment Cycle has seven components:

  1. Fact Finding: Intelligence gathering and research
  2. Due Diligence: Personal concepts of security
  3. Risk Assessment: An assessment of likely threats that may be encountered
  4. Security Planning: Essential security information for implementation prior to deployment.
  5. Implementation: Adherence to all SOP’s and Security procedures.
  6. Response: Re-evaluation of current operational procedures.
  7. On-going Assessment: Review of the latest developments and intelligence.

Some possible reasons for not observing security rules and procedures:


Unintentional The person is unaware of the rules.

S/he doesn’t apply the rules properly.

Individual problems The individual does not agree with some or all of the rules and considers them unnecessary, inappropriate or ineffective based on personal experience.
Group problems A general lack of organisational/individual motivation at work can lead people to ignore security rules.
Organisational problems There aren’t sufficient financial or technical resources to make it easy for staff to follow the rules.

There’s a contradiction between the rules and particular areas of work. Some rules might suit one work area and contradict another.

Journalists have a heavy workload and limited time, and don’t prioritise some or all of the rules.

A general lack of motivation, arising as a result of stress, workplace disputes, etc.


Contingency planning is a key responsibility of the organisation. Your contingency plan should cover:

  • Medical emergency
  • Arrest and detention
  • Physical assault
  • Evacuation cross border evacuation
  • Communication breakdown
  • Kidnap and special risks
  • Escape routes
  • Relocation of news gathering
  • Vehicle breakdown
  • Lost or separated procedure
  • Loss of passport or equipment