Journalists and Newsrooms – Better Prepared To Face Security Challenges

15 December 2022

Photo: Constantin Grigorita

Due to the recent threats and dangers, including Russia's war against Ukraine, journalists are increasingly faced with situations that can seriously affect their physical and psychological integrity. To help them cope with these challenges, API in partnership with DW Akademie on 8-11 December 2022 conducted a training on “3-D Safety for Journalists" with British experts. The activity is part of the Media Assistance Program in the field of security, attended by journalists and managers from nine national and regional media outlets in the country (TV and radio stations, online and print media).

On the first  day, expert Gavin Rees of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma told attendees how they should react to professional trauma and what newsrooms should do to increase their staff resilience to intimidation and other challenges such as harm and harassment. "Journalists often face stressful situations, whether they are at protests, war, etc. The first thing you need to do is to establish the reasons for the stress, find methods of recovery, avoid maximum exhaustion, not to find yourselves gripped by burnout (professional exhaustion), which is a complex condition associated with mental, physical and emotional exhaustion due to long-term accumulated excessive stress,” the expert explained. He also said that for the safety of journalists who go to risk areas it is important for them to move in a team; in this way, they would be safer and able to count on their colleagues’ help if they are attacked.


The next two days of the training were dedicated to physical safety, and participants learned how to protect themselves in hostile environments such as conflict zones, violent protests, kidnapping attempts, etc. Experts Stephen Smith and Jade Miller from SEPAR International emphasized theory but also on certain practical exercises: providing first medical aid, using state-of-the-art equipment, security measures they have to undertake when going to dangerous areas as well as the importance of controlling emotions and  maintaining a high level of awareness.  "When we see an unconscious person, we must eliminate all sources of electricity with the help of a material that does not conduct electricity, put them in a recovery position, check if they are breathing and only do artificial respiration if they are not breathing," expert Jade Miller said. She also talked about different types of burns, wounds, fractures and how they can be cured during the first medical aid: "When we have external hemorrhage (hand, leg), we raise the hand or foot up, we put pressure directly on the wound (a piece of cloth) to help the blood return to the body, not to lose it."  "When we go to a dangerous area, we have to take care that the means of transport is properly prepared and equipped, that we have essential things for food, sleep, health," expert Stephen Smith added. He recommended to journalists, among other things, some online applications to protect the accumulated content and data. "Tella is an application that helps you work in challenging environments, with limited connection or no Internet connection. The application helps and makes it safer to document events, be it violence, human rights violations, corruption or electoral fraud. All content and data stored in Tella is encrypted. Another useful app is Protonmail, where you can keep your conversations private. It is free, easy to use, has maximum security, no one can read the messages except the sender and the recipient, it offers strong protection against phishing, spam and espionage/tracking, etc." the expert from SEPAR International concluded.


During the training, API also organized an online discussion with Tetiana Kozak, a journalist from Ukraine. Between 2016 and 2018, together with a colleague, she visited the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, including the regions controlled by the separatist regimes, and reported on the fate of the people in those areas. Participants had the opportunity to ask her questions and receive answers about her experience and how she ensures her physical and psychological safety.


On the last day of the training, practical actions took place mainly at a paintball club in the vicinity of Cricova, where the participants simulated providing medical aid, immobilizing a vehicle, detaining journalists, questioning them at checkpoints, kidnapping, moving under gun fire, etc. Mass protests involving citizens and police as well as journalists, etc. were reproduced. "In extreme situations, the journalist must control his emotions, calm those around him, think positively no matter how difficult it is, maintain a high level of alert, provide help to the injured. Journalists need to be cautious, first to protect themselves and then to help those in need. However, journalists often come to the rescue without thinking about their own security. It's their choice, each decides in their own way. Journalists are not doctors, they only have to call for help and intervene if they are convinced they are keeping the situation under control, that they have the medical knowledge to act," Jade Miller specified.  After the practical exercises with the Moldovan journalists, she added: "It is the best team of journalists that I have trained in my professional career, which has done so well in providing first medical aid to the victims. All the victims to whom you have given first medical aid have a very high chance of surviving, because you have followed exactly the recommended procedures and steps."


The participants were impressed by the way the training was carried out, the performance of the trainers, the involvement in practical exercises, etc. Some of them recounted situations from their own experience. Here are some opinions of the participants:


Viorica Tătaru, TV8: "After the publication of materials from the protests organized by Shor Party, I received threats, and someone wrote to me, "you will receive a cartridge in your head for your questions." It was a death threat, which is why I immediately filed a complaint with the police. I decided to speak publicly about it, so that the person who threatened me but also other people, understand that journalists do their job and cover events. At the training, we talked a lot about the limit between doing one’s work as a journalist and helping people who are in need. I concluded that the most effective thing is to act simultaneously, to help people in need, but also to do your duty as a journalist, to report about the events you attend. However, it also takes good preparation to be able to make the right decisions on time."


Irina Tabaranu, "I have been working for more than two years in an area with high risk of insecurity and even hostile towards journalists. I need knowledge to get over the traumas caused by the professional activity. We have had cases where unknown persons have tried to thwart our on-the-spot interviews. One time, when we were filming an interview, a person tried to intimidate us: he passed by us several times, he had an aggressive appearance, and he held an unknown object in his hand. Both we and the protagonist of the reportage panicked, we were afraid and we did not know what to do. Now we already know what to do when we are intimidated in the field."


Nadejda Roșcovanu, Jurnal TV: "In my twelve years of work as a reporter-photographer I have faced various hostile, aggressive situations on behalf of the protesters. I have been threatened by political leaders during the protests, even hit over the hand, only so that I could not capture their actions from a perspective that did not suit them. Many times, I did not know how to proceed to cope with the situations and to overcome negative emotions. Now thanks to the training I am much better prepared both psychologically, and physically. Such seminars are very important, necessary for journalists and managers and the media."


Andrei Captarenco TV8: "In 2014, the TV team we were working for had a trip to Crimea annexed by the Russians to report on those events. We were detained by Russian soldiers their and interrogated separately for hours in a row. We had to explain who we were, why we had come, why we had protective equipment, etc. We were saved by the fact that we had had some training on how to behave in such situations as well as a story made up in advance; we said we were going to film a report on the Romanian diaspora there. Now, after the training, I realize that we made some mistakes then, but we escaped. It worked for us, but we need a much better training for the future."


Olga Stavila, Radio Moldova: "In 20 years of work as a reporter, I have had different situations of security, some during election campaigns and others during the protests. At this year's protests, I was suddenly assaulted by a number of protesters, and during the altercations between protesters and policemen, bangers were thrown; it was very difficult to be there and report on what was happening. During the training, we learned that in order to minimize the risks, it is best to move as a team. Today for the first time I was put in the situation of saving a person, and it was not at all easy, to do a resuscitation. The training was very useful and will help us to work safely."


At the end of the training, each participant received a certificate confirming that they had completed a training course on physical and psychological security. Early next year, API and DW Akademie will conduct additional training on digital security. Participants will get acquainted with digital threats such as theft of sensitive data, online espionage, surveillance of communication channels, etc.


The event was held by the Association of Independent Press (API) under the project "Training and Assistance for Media Resilience in the Republic of Moldova" with the support of DW Akademie and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.