Safety Handbook for Journalists

3. Operational Media Task Planning

Risk Assessment

After the risk assessment, planning is the second-most important stage of preparation before newsgathering. Before any deployment can commence, detailed prior planning must take place to ensure the success of the assignment, reduce the risk and retain control. Planning 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.

Operational media task planning

The emphasis of operational media task planning is to research all possible risks. You must be proactive and realistic in your mitigation measures, supported by continued field monitoring to assess risks and threats.

It must also include the editorial plan so that your mitigation measures allow you to carry out your news gathering duties, otherwise your mitigation measures will sometimes clash with your editorial tasks. The news desk has to hold a copy of all plans and mitigation measures so everything is clear, and the editorial management must be aware of all calculated risks pertaining to the news gathering task. Nonetheless, the final decision on any safety matter should be made by the field journalist, not the news desk.

Purpose of Planning

  • Helps to anticipate and assess events and risks.
  • Allows you to anticipate risks when you are in a volatile environment.
  • Successful planning means that the person has a principal plan and complementary countermeasures.
  • Provides layers of protection.
  • Assess the information of the present and the past.
  • Each plan has an aim, objective and response.
  • Know how to use and implement the plan correctly and how to engage countermeasures.
  • A good plan can mitigate dangers thus reducing damages.

The seven Ps of preparation and planning:








The Planning Process

The planning process should be conducted in a logical sequence, from the generalities to the specifics of the mission. It is important to consider the slightest detail whilst, at the same time, be realistic and applicable to the editorial side of the task. A plan with too many details will get the journalist and the news desk confused as to what the main focus is. 

A plan should include all measures and practices that are related to the mission of the journalist and their safety:

  • Research: This is the backbone of the plan. You must do extensive research about the story that will be covered and about all aspects that are related to the journalist’s task. Research must include the historical background, geography, culture, and politics.
  • Conflict history: If the task takes you to a conflict zone, there is a need to have an overview of the country and surrounding regions that may have experienced a similar conflict. In recent events, for example, the Arab Spring Protests started in Tunisia and had similar uprisings in nearby countries. Conflict is infectious.
  • Map/Geographical studies: Having a good geographical knowledge about the area you are going to be deployed, such as roads, perimeters of conflict, hospitals and safe havens, areas of danger, and exit strategies.
  • Contact details: All journalists should create a small list of essential contact details; starting from the editorial contacts to the people that will be included in the making of the story. The news desk must also have a copy of all details in case of emergency or loss of contact. A hard copy of this contact list should also be kept in case your electronic devices are lost or confiscated.
  • Current Situation reports: Stay current on the situation throughout the build-up and deployment phase of any trip. The journalist and news desk must be kept updated with any new changes in the region and add the information accordingly into the plan.
  • Medical and health requirements: Being healthy is your responsibility. Journalists must inquire about prevalent diseases and prophylactic medicines and/or vaccinations that are required. A full medical and dental examination should be carried out prior to any deployment to prevent any complication whilst on the ground.
  • Visa and passport requirements: Always research visa requirements. Are there problems with previous visa stamps in your passport that may prevent entry into another country? Has your passport got at least two empty pages and six months expiry date life left on it?
  • What equipment are you going to take: The equipment taken needs to reflect the environment where the deployment will take place.

The Planning Phases

Task: The mission must be clearly stated and the objectives should be prioritised to enable you to accurately plan.

Aim: The aim of the assignment or story should be as precise and editorially realistic as possible within given safety parameters. If there is lack of access to the desired region because of security issues, alternate planning may have to be implemented.

Estimation of task: Covers all aspects of the task (security, health, contingency and crisis management).

  • Secure communication and IT – Make sure you have the correct secure measures in place. Cyber-attacks on news organisations are commonplace nowadays, as is surveillance on journalists whilst deployed in foreign countries. Consider the use of electronic equipment prior to departure, and the likelihood of data interception and manipulation.
  • Cultural intelligence and the law – Being ignorant of the local culture is not recommended. Online resources are available to familiarise journalists with customs in any country. Research cultural considerations and the many laws that may be different or unfamiliar, especially in a conflict region where there may be no enforceable laws.

Safety Info Resources

There are multiple resources that can be used to assist you in the planning phase. It is important to not rely only on one source of information. Use a minimum of two sources and cross check them; some sources might be contradictory and independent sources, whilst more reliable, might be biased.

  • Embassy / Government agencies
  • Other media organisations
  • NGOs / UN
  • Local actors on the ground.
  • Recent visitors
  • Field guide
  • Internet resources
  • Private resources
  • Local bureaus and field staff
  • Colleagues

One of the phases of planning is to determine the overall task to be covered. If more than one story is to be covered at the same time, two plans should be employed, or one plan with the shared commonalities should be developed that has a separate section for the implementation.