Several journalists have been injured or detained while covering civil unrest in the United States and abroad. The following are some tips – courtesy of the International News Safety Institute – to help prepare you for unruly protests or events.
Before You Head Out:
- Contact protest organizers/check Facebook event: Is there a planned route?
- Research local police tactics. Is kettling, tear gas, pepper spray likely?
- Make sure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible.
- In case of tear gas, don’t wear contact lenses and bring eyedrops and spare glasses.
- In case you expect pepper spray, don’t apply face cream and cosmetics. They burn on contact.
- Use earplugs to help neutralize sound cannons.
- Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.
- Wear comfortable clothes made of natural fabrics, which are less flammable than synthetic.
- Have you news director/point person on speed dial.
- Are there Twitter hashtags to follow to track events?
If possible, explore the terrain ahead of time:
- Are there stores you can dart into?
- Can you cover from a high vantage point?
- Negotiate a “safe” place where you can retreat if mayhem erupts.
- Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day:
- Lightweight raingear
- Energy bars and water
- Spare batteries for electronic equipment
At the Scene:
- Don’t go alone. Get someone to watch our back if you’re shooting pictures.
- As soon as you arrive, spot escape routes and look for landmarks like a tall building or lamppost. It’s easy to get disoriented in a crowd.
- Stay on the edge and do not get caught between police and protestors.
- Crowds have a life of their own. Stay aware of the mood.
- Alert your news director if the scene turns angry. Be on alert for aggressive people. They may provoke a violent response.
- If planning to move, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you’re heading.
When Trouble Erupts:
- Maintain a distance from the violence.
- Avoid horses. They bite and kick.
- Stand upwind from tear gas.
Repeat to police officers that you are the press. Keep note of officers’ badge numbers.
If detained, call your news director your lawyer and your union representative.
Click on the titles below for useful resources on media safety.
- Afghan Journalists Safety Committee
- Committee to Project Journalists – Security Guide
- DART Center for Journalism & Trauma
- International Federation of Journalists
- International Women’s Media Foundation
- International News Safety Institute
- Global Journalist Security
- Reporters Without Borders
- Society of Professional Journalists
- UNESCO Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists
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