Journalists covering Venezuelan protests should consider using body armor: CPJ

By Alejandro Martínez

Journalists covering the mass protests in Venezuela should consider wearing bulletproof vests, said Frank Smyth, senior advisor for journalism security for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a recent blog post.

Smyth highlighted the need for extra protection for journalists working in Venezuela and Ukraine, where the use of firearms has surfaced in the midst of recent confrontations between police officers and protesters.

In Venezuela, protests in recent weeks against shortages of basic products, inflation and violent crime have left 18 persons dead and many more wounded. Journalism organization IPYS has documented 65 attacks against freedom of expression during the protests, which include physical aggressions and arbitrary detentions.

Smyth mentioned that at least one journalist, Mayra Cienfuegos with state TV network VTV, was injured by gunfire on Feb. 12 during the protests. VTV blamed protesters for the gunfire.

“Level II body armor vests are designed to protect against most handguns, including 9mm and up to a .357 Magnum pistol or revolver,” Smyth said. “This might be sufficient for covering violent protests in Venezuela, where handguns have been the main firearms used so far.”

Smyth recommended stronger protection in the Ukraine, where military rifles have been used.

The safety of journalists covering protests has become a growing concern in other parts of the American continent as well. Brazil’s Minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo approached journalism organizations to gather proposals on how to improve safety conditions for journalists after cameraman Santiago Andrade died a few days after being struck with a flare while covering a Feb. 6 protest in Rio de Janeiro.

Before his death, four bills were introduced to the Brazilian Senate to improve journalists’ safety and stop impunity in crimes against them. One of them, Bill PLS 699/2011, would require police to provide bulletproof vests to journalists covering police actions.

In its Journalists Security Guide, CPJ recommends using protective gear appropriate to the level of risk in each coverage situation. In the case of civil unrest, CPJ mentions the existence of thin, lightweight vests that can protect against knife attacks, rubber bullets or other hazards, as well as baseball caps with metal plates underneath.

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.