CPJ presents report with recommendations to journalists and measures to improve their safety

Despite the fact that the security of journalists has become a matter of concern for international organizations such as the UN, which even proclaimed a day to encourage the fight against impunity in crimes against journalists, the statistics attacks against these professionals do not appear to be decreasing.

According to Carlos Lauría, senior coordinator for the Americas program at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at the global level, the last six years were the deadliest in the history of modern journalism and the number of journalists imprisoned for the exercise of their profession grew exponentially.

In this scenario, CPJ recently launched the report “The Best Defense: Threats to journalists’ safety demand fresh approach,” available only in English, which identifies the different threats facing journalists and how reporters, media companies and governments should respond.

According to the report, attacks on the press have their origins in different aspects. One of them is the change that the media have undergone linked to technological development and the economic crisis of the industry. These two situations have led to more and more journalists working as freelancers especially in hostile environments and have created conditions for media to rely on them.

Also, this technology advancement that has facilitated communications, has also made them more vulnerable to digital attacks. The emergence of terrorist and insurgent groups that see journalists as a target to attack countries at war or a way of gaining publicity, have put journalists, especially freelancers, in a very vulnerable position.

And it’s important to not forget the intimidating factor always at the disposal of governments, those which abuse “their own laws,” censure and imprison those who criticize or investigate them, the report said.

“Against this backdrop of brutality and intimidation, traditional methods of advocacy are not enough. Journalists must strive to educate themselves about the threats and work in solidarity to combat violence and impunity. Press freedom groups who have relied on direct financial help to at-risk journalists and advocacy with governments must adopt a more holistic approach incorporating physical, digital, and psychological aid,” the report added.

On the subject of physical security, especially during coverage of hostile environments, CPJ recommends that all journalists take hostile environment and first aid (HEFAT) training. Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez of digital site El Faro agrees and told CPJ that these trainings were necessary.  “Every journalist should know how to tie a tourniquet or how to detect if he is being followed,” he said, according to CPJ.

However, the high costs of these trainings as well as lack of awareness about their necessity, mean that many media don’t provide it for their journalists, much less to the freelancers they contract.

“It is a problem because in Latin America there are many, many problems with covering issues of violence. There is still conflict in Colombia, although a peace process is happening, in Mexico, there are many issues of conflict with drug trafficking, or there are problems in covering the crime itself, and this practice is not established,” Lauría told the Knight Center.

This “lack” of courses makes journalists covering the region even more vulnerable.

Something similar happens with the subject of digital security. Although the need to encrypt communications and to take measures to protect sources has been talked about for various years, the majority of Latin American reporters still do not take advantage of the practice.

“It is an issue that is still under development. That, to protect your sources and to perform your work safely you need to use the appropriate technology and methods, the use of encryption, secure keys [...] the issue of security in equipment and what equipment to use, how to protect data. There are a number of recommendations and methods that can be used not only to protect their equipment and work, but also to protect their sources of information and that is fundamental,” Lauría explained.

The gloomy picture of some journalists and media outlets led CPJ to create an emergencies response team and to hire a security specialist. Through this report, the team seems to support and facilitate the work of reporters in general, but especially those covering conflicts or working in hostile environments.

“It is important that the recommendations in this report be known so that journalists who are increasingly engaged in covering conflict, reporting in hostile environments have and can take the steps to work more safely, to protect their equipment, their data, their sources, and to prevent attacks that in many cases can be lethal,” Lauría concluded.

Some recommendations from CPJ

Here we present some of the recommendations given by CPJ to journalists, media companies, governments and organizations that train journalists in security matters.

To journalists:

  • Research the risks on every assignment and follow international news organization best practice in planning and preparing for hostile environment reporting.
  • Take a HEFAT course and keep your training current.
  • Acquire assignment-appropriate safety and communications equipment and insurance.
  • Provide local journalists and fixers you hire with the necessary safety equipment and training to ensure their safety.
  • Secure your devices with strong passwords and encryption, and use encrypted communication tools.
  • Cooperate with other journalists to promote safety, even in competitive environments.

To media companies

  • Sign and implement the ACOS Alliance principles on safety of freelance journalists.
  • Train editors and commissioning editors in how to work with and protect freelancers reporting in hostile environments.
  • Pay freelance journalists fairly and on time, and reimburse expenses promptly.
  • Provide free or subsidized HEFAT places for freelancers.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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