Safety on the Front Lines

Physical Safety Tips

19 November 2020

The Double Exposure Film Festival last October featured inspiring movies like 76 Days about the emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan, and Collective about the horrible treatment of burn victims in Romania. 

In addition to jaw-dropping films, the organiser 100Reporters offered sessions for upcoming filmmakers and investigative reporters. There were sessions on copyright, ethics, fact-checking, proposal-writing, reporting plans, and safety for starters. 

Global Ground Media attended the session Safety on the Front Lines by Katie Townsend, Legal Director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Elisa Lees Muñoz, Executive Director at the International Women’s Media Foundation and Harlo Holmes, Director of Digital Security at the Freedom of the Press Foundation. 

The workshop was geared towards attending protests in the U.S. but had many relevant lessons for other high-strung environments around the world. This year’s festival was for the first time accessible online for reporters from all over the world.

The workshop started with the unsettling news that attacks on journalists are increasing according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Between 80 and 100 percent of reporters will, directly or indirectly, experience traumatic events during their job. 

With that in mind, here are some of the lessons from the workshop to keep you safe.

  • Newsrooms have a duty of care for their staff and freelancers! So ask your newsroom if they have a safety plan and how they can assist you in being safe. 
  • Establish communication channels and a check-in plan with your editor. Take these check-ins seriously. Put an alarm on your phone to check-in and don’t forget. 
  • Share the contact details of your local contact and any travel companions. 
  • Share emergency contacts and relevant medical history including blood type and medicines you’re taking with your newsroom. This document should be locked and stored safely. 
  • Think about backup communication methods for when you don’t have data (bring sim-cards from multiple operators). 
  • Discuss with your newsroom if there will be a debriefing afterwards and available psychosocial support. 
  • Attend a safety training.
  • Do your homework. Identify potential threats like arrest, tear gas, harassment or targeted attacks and prepare for them.
  • Identify your goal of going into a dangerous area and when you’ll have enough information. Don’t stick around unnecessarily. 
  • Team up with another reporter or photographer if possible.
  • Research the location extensively and nearby police stations.
  • Bring personal protective equipment (only if that doesn’t make you a target!)
  • Have a lawyer on standby if there’s a high risk of being arrested.
  • Know the applicable laws: media might be able to move more freely than protesters, but follow directives from the police.
  • Use a separate, or even, burner phone (perhaps not a smartphone if you don’t want to be tracked)
  • Avoid breaking the law for example by accessing restricted areas.
  • Even if you turn off ‘Location Services’, your phone still shares its location with cell phone towers and you can be tracked.
  • Use encrypted communication and don’t forget to turn off the visibility of messages on your locked screen. 
  • Be careful with what you post on social media as governments monitor social media traffic. 

Let us know if you have any questions or comments about safety. Please contact us for a free 30-minute safety assessment


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