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For safety's sake: New journalist safety rules in Pakistan

From a poster by the International Federation of Journalists and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

I got an early version of the Khyber Union of Journalists' (KhUJ) list of safety rules and tips for field reports around June 16, after the June 11 double bomb in a crowded market that killed two journalists in Peshawar. Yousaf Ali, KhUJ's general secretary had forwarded the list. It was quickly drawn up after that very ugly incident in which five other journalists were injured--in all 36 people were killed. 

Arshad Aziz Malik, the KhUJ's president, just sent a revised version. I've cut and pasted his message and the list below. It reflects the hard-won field experience of a lot of people covering news in one of the toughest beats in the world right now. I'm not sure I agree with all the recommendations, but read down that list and you can get a very real sense of just how bad things are getting in Peshawar, and for that matter the rest of Pakistan. Mazhar Abbas filed a blog for us on Friday underlining that point, called "Karachi might be more dangerous for media than FATA."

And on July 6, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) released a group of posters and brochures in Urdu and English for newsrooms. Frank Smyth, CPJ's Washington representative and our journalist security coordinator, termed that list "short and sweet and sound"--high praise indeed.   

Even though the KhUJ, PFUJ, and IFJ have all drawn up safety guidelines because of a disintegrating security situation, it is reassuring to see Pakistani journalists taking the issue of their security into their own hands. Given what almost amounts to an onslaught against journalists in Pakistan from many different actors--the government, thugs from political groups, terrorist groups, abusive local feudal leaders, and politically connected warlords--and the near-perfect impunity with which the attacks take place, journalists have nowhere to turn but to themselves. The rest of civil society--the police, courts, special legislative committees, even special judicial inquiries--have not brought one perpetrator of an attack against journalists to justice since the case of American reporter Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, who was killed in 2002.

This is a point I've been making since CPJ met with President Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik on World Press Freedom Day in May this year. While we were given reassurances that the president and his cabinet were aware and concerned about the problem, since that meeting two more journalists have died in targeted killings, several more have been beaten, and several have fled the country. With five dead so far in 2011 (three of them in targeted killings), Pakistan looks on pace to have an even worse record than last year's death toll of eight dead--the highest in 2010. Pakistani journalists have to work together to assure their own protection. There is no other institution in the country that will do that for them.

Here's that message from the KhUJ's president, with the group's revised safety guidelines:

Dear All:

Khyber Union of Journalists finally developed Standard Operation Procedures for the safety of journalists, photographers, Camera people and field staff including Drivers, Security guards and DSNG staff who have been covering conflict related issues. The union arranged two meetings with bureau chiefs of various electronic media channels to finalize the SOPs. The meetings were chaired by Arshad Aziz Malik, president KhUJ, while attended by Abdullah Jan, Bureau Chief Geo News, Saiful Islam Saifi president Peshawar Press Club, Yousaf Ali GS KhUJ, Shahid Hameed GS Peshawar Press Club, Safiullah Gul, Bureau Chief Dunya News, Zahir Shah Sherazi, Bureau Chief Dawn News, Jamshed Baghwan, Bureau Chief Express News, Iftikhar Firdous, Bureau Chief Express 24/7, Shokat Khattak, Bureau Chief Samaa, Ziaul Haq Bureau Chief ARY, Iqbal Khattak, Bureau Chief Daily Times, Waqas assistant controller news AVT Khyber, Shahzad Ahmed President Photographers association and others.

The meeting also constituted a three member committee comprising presidents of KhUJ and Peshawar Press Club and Abdullah Jan to monitor implementation of the SOPs.

It was also decided that all the bureau chiefs would have a check on their staff so that proper implementation of the procedures could be ensured. Awareness sessions for all the field staff would also be arranged so that they could be sensitized to this effect.

 

Standard Operation Procedures for

Journalists, Camera People, and Technical Staff

 

  • Field staff (reporters, camera persons, photographer, DSNG staff, drivers, guards), especially those covering bomb blasts, army operations, FATA, and other beats related to war against terrorism, must have maximum insurance preferably war insurance cover.
  • Field workers must be provided with every possible security gears for the coverage of bomb blasts, army/police operations, demonstrations etc. Bullet proof life jackets and helmets are important in this regard, while a team going to such assignments must also carry a first aid box.
  • TV channels must keep life jackets, helmets and first aid boxes in all vehicles, including DSNG [Digital Satellite News Gathering] Vans.
  • First aid training should be made compulsory for the entire field staff.
  • Managements of TV channels and newspapers should be asked to ensure life insurance cover and security gears for their workers.
  • Journalists' trade unions and press clubs should also make endeavors to provide insurance cover and security gears to their members and other media workers.
  • Reporters, camerapersons, photographers, DSNG staff, drivers and guards--must wear bullet proof jackets and helmets, while covering bomb blasts, army/police operations, demos and protests, which may lead to violence in shape of firing, baton charge or teargas shelling etc.
  • News managers and administration/HR departments of TV channels and newspapers should encourage the field staff to use security gears, while covering aforementioned assignments.
  • In case of bomb blasts, fire and firing incidents, don't go very close to the spot. You can get shots and information from a far point.
  • Avoid getting closer to groups of people standing at bomb blast scenes. Always keep in mind a second blast.
  • Usually journalists (especially camerapersons) are seen standing in groups at the scene. Avoid this practice. Always stay scattered.
  • Don't be shy to wear bullet proof jackets and helmets at blast scenes. Forget about the hot weather and people laughing at you. It's your life you have to save.
  • If a proper bullet proof jacket is not possible, organizations can provide cheaper jackets with hard steel sheets in the front and rare of them. You have to save yourself from the flying shrapnel, pellets and nails etc. in case of blasts and suicide attacks.
  • DSNG Vans and other vehicles of media persons should be parked at the maximum possible distance from the spot as well as from each others.
  • DSNG guards/drivers should be trained and sensitized to keep an eye on their vehicles and surroundings.
  • Minimum distance from spot for covering an incident should be determined in consultation with the bomb disposal unit. Never go beyond that distance.
  • Be cooperative and polite at the spot with the security personnel as well as common people.
  • Never violate security forces' guidelines.
  • News managers should keep in mind the limitations of their colleagues while sending them to a conflict zone.
  • News managers should avoid sending field staff to the troubled areas after 8 pm. However, if there are proper security arrangement or the incident it too big, this rule can be relaxed.
  • Trainees should never be allowed to go to conflict zones, risky areas', as they are neither registered with their organizations nor properly trained for the situation.
  • DSNGs and other vehicles should preferably be plain-colored instead of having prominent colors and logos.
  • Prominence as media people should be avoided.
  • Identification signs and boards should be used only at the time of the need.
  • Apart from news collection somebody from the office should remain in constant touch with the field staff about their well-being and travelling plans.
  • Avoid rumor mongering.

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