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Risks of NGO-Journalist Collaboration & Security Tools of Journalists

24 Jan 2012 | 15:28

Risks of NGO-Journalist Collaboration & Security Tools of Journalists

Like aid workers, journalists often operate in the midst of conflict and are targeted because of their profession. The killings of a local journalist in Pakistan (claimed by the Taliban) and of a local reporter in Nigeria last week, indicate the dangers faced by journalist on a daily basis. While the risk profile of journalists differs significantly from that of aid workers, there are some similarities in risks, trends and developments related to security that are worth highlighting. This alert identifies some of the tools that are used by journalists to improve their safety and security, as well as looking into the risks that may result from NGO/media collaboration.

Security and safety resources for journalists
While networks of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom have long been existent, similar to developments within the aid sector, more emphasis is now being placed on the prevention and the promotion of safety and security for media personnel.

Networks such as Reporters without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International News Safety institute (INSI) provide resources to improve safety and security that show resemblance to similar tools that are used by NGOs. These resources include a handbook for journalists developed by RSF and UNESCO ‘containing practical advice on how to stay alive and safe’ and information on a variety of security training courses. RSF specifically links to a training course by the French Red Cross for reporters going to war zones that focuses on safety, stress management and International Humanitarian Law. CPJ’s resources also contain a link to a security manual by World Vision that is aimed at journalists.

Besides advice on available resources and tools regarding safety and security, many journalism networks also raise awareness of risks through information sharing databases on numbers of journalist killed and imprisoned, and by providing country and regional reports and analyses on press freedom.

While these incident databases and country profiles are useful to identify high risk operating areas, the number of incidents reported vary considerably depending on the methodology used (e.g. death while performing duties or only when specifically targeted because of activities as journalist). A quick comparison with similar databases for aid workers, show the similarities between high risk areas for both professions, as well as similar issues in reporting consistency. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Iraq are all contexts that have contributed to the rise in deadly attacks for both groups. It is also interesting to note that incidents involving local staff dominate the total number of affected for both groups.

Databases:

NGO and media collaboration
In contexts where journalists and aid workers face common threats, their activities often overlap, for example, when working in conflict areas or in the aftermath of a disaster. For although getting the story out is the core activity of journalists, ‘story telling' for aid organisations is an important part of their work to create awareness, secure donor funding and build public support.

Risks
When NGOs engage with journalists it is important to be aware of the risks this might pose for their staff, immediate activities and future operations.

NGOs should consider how media collaboration can influence the perception and image (e.g. the impartiality) of the organisation to beneficiaries, political actors, and groups within the operating country, as well as the influence on the wider public. News travels fast and the growth of social media has significantly increased the spread and coverage of news items. When a news article about the operations of an NGO implies that the organisation favours one group or party over the other or is deemed to have critised one group, this may have direct consequences for humanitarian access, safety of staff and funding levels (see also previous EISF alert).

It is also important that NGOs are aware of the general climate of press freedom within a country in order to understand particular risks to their own communication staff, as well as journalists they may work with. When there is a repressive media climate, close association with journalists might pose risks to the NGO or vice versa, particularly for local journalists.

When a large humanitarian crisis unfolds NGOs are quick to start fundraising campaigns and celebrities or other high-profile figures are often flown into affected areas to increase the profile of aid organisations (including that of the UN) and raise awareness of the activities and projects of these organisations. This often brings about the desired result of increased funding streams, however, an organisation might also attract unwanted attention from parties that seek media attention themselves. Rebel and terrorist groups are becoming increasingly media savvy and might gain access to information on upcoming visits of high profile actors, or media accompanied NGO trips, either through media coverage or information posted by the NGO itself. Disrupting such visits might provide a perfect opportunity for rebel groups (or government) to get attention for their cause.

Blurring the lines
The Nieman Journalism Lab has dedicated a series of articles to the opportunities and risks related to Media and NGO collaboration. The articles look into changes in information gathering and dissemination methodologies and how this has led to NGOs increasingly taking up roles as information intermediaries or even disseminators, blurring the lines between traditional media and NGOs.

As pointed out in one of the articles ‘News organizations have traditionally been the primary producer and distributor of news. However, as traditional news organizations lose the resources or the capacity to do this, particularly for international news, we start to see that NGOs are asked, or act deliberately, to take on even more responsibility in ensuring that the public does not tune out the rest of the world.’

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