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Journalists not protected enough when reporting from crisis areas

Protective gear for journalists meant for conflict situations is of great significance for the safety of media workers. There are countries with high degrees of awareness of the necessity to provide full protection for reporters. Of course, there are countries in which the media worker reports from conflict and other risk areas with insufficient protection.

Skopje, 29 January 2022 (MIA) – Protective gear for journalists meant for conflict situations is of great significance for the safety of media workers. There are countries with high degrees of awareness of the necessity to provide full protection for reporters. Of course, there are countries in which the media worker reports from conflict and other risk areas with insufficient protection.

Our country seems to be in the second group. According to the Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM), there have been situations in which reporters would report from violent protests, without possessing the protective gear that could protect them from physical aggression by the conflict participants.

ZNM says that media outlets are ill-equipped to work in at-risk situations, including conflict. They say it takes continuous work and education in improving the knowledge and skills of reporters concerning conflict or crisis events.

“Even though the number of physical assaults has reduced over the past 2 years, we should still take a few aspects into account. The editors need to task more experienced reporters, as well as cameramen and photographers in good physical shape, with going to events where there is violence or suspected violence. Depending on the circumstances, the reporters should be wearing helmets and vests clearly labeling them as journalists, face masks in case pepper spray is used, protective goggles etc.,” said ZNM’s executive director Dragan Sekulovski.

He believes that this kind of gear protects the reporter’s physical and mental health, which can be affected due to trauma and physical injuries.

Psychologists elaborate that feeling unsafe largely affects rational thinking, acting and concentration. In other words, fear and anxiety negatively affect the professionalism of the person facing a stressful situation.

“It’s normal for it to affect professionalism, because no matter the kind of worker, they’re still a person first and foremost. People are vulnerable and imperfect. When a person is working and perceives any kind of danger that can jeopardize their physical integrity and destabilize them emotionally, it’s expected for it to affect their professionalism and their further work,” says psychologist Atanas Ivanoski.

Aslan Vishko, seasoned cameraman, says that adrenaline and stress are the dominant emotions in conflict situations.

“Protecting oneself, the adrenaline growing to impossible levels is just part of the job. We’ve had plenty of situations where we’ve ended up in hospitals, at police stations, with broken gear and injuries,” Vishko says.

Journalists agree that first aid kits, signal kits, protective goggles and similar tools are lacking in all media.

ZNM notes that management and media owners don’t invest enough in protective gear for their employees when they get exposed to high-risk situations.

“The problem of the lack of gear lies in the management’s laziness. Ignoring this topic fuels the assumption that until a journalist gets injured, there’s no need of protective gear or training for media workers to deal with such situations. The second reason, according to some editors’ statements, is that there is not enough funds to secure protective gear due to the media’s general bad financial state,” says ZNM’s Dragan Sekulovski.

Additionally, he says that what the media can do is to inspire reporters to join trade journalist organizations where training sessions are periodically organized for free, regarding journalist and media worker safety.

“Reporter safety is a precondition for professional execution of journalist obligations and objective, timely reporting for the citizens. Guaranteeing the journalist crews’ safety demonstrates a society’s democratic capacity, because it leaves space for the journalists to freely do their jobs towards satisfying the public interest,” he says.

The Association says that these reasons make reporter safety issues one of the basic indicators the European Commission is concerned with when observing countries that are candidates to become members of the EU.

“In the EU’s annual reports, chapter 23 concerns the judiciary and human rights, providing qualifications in the context of reporter safety, as well as the policy of impunity in case of the injury of their rights. That’s why it’s important to focus on topics related to reporter safety, and for the reporters and scholars to offer solutions for the lawmakers that will then serve to create a system in which the journalists can safely do their jobs,” Sekulovski says.

In comparison, Sekulovski adds, media outlets in developed countries spend more time guaranteeing field reporters’ social and safety rights, as well as impunity which is not tolerated.

It’s a fact that incidents happen everywhere. The general conclusion is that the difference in developing countries like North Macedonia is the insufficient capacity of institutions to find and punish those who hurt journalists’ rights. That’s why North Macedonia is low on global freedom of expression indexes.

The Association says that until this practice changes, we can’t say that reporters and cameramen enjoy the same protection that the media they work for does, as well as the country’s institutions.

Simona Srbinoska

Translated by Dragana Knezhevikj

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