Media at Physical Risk

Defend the role of journalists in society (especially those journalists at physical or emotional risk for covering the stories that the powerful don’t want to be told)

Press safety: In some countries journalists face severe threats to their freedom, if not their lives. The physical and mental safety of media professionals is woven into their independence. And depending on the kinds of story journalists cover there may be additional risks as well: for example, journalists may risk losing their jobs if they report on subjects that prove to be uncomfortable to those in power.

If journalists are afraid to report on certain subjects for fear of reprisal, then they may not cover those stories. As a result self-censorship can have the same effect as outright government censorship of the press.

  • Student exercise: Research and write up the story of a heroic journalist or other FoE activist from your own region to commemorate Press Freedom Day, and/or the anniversary of Article 19. Make sure you answer the questions: Who targeted the journalist? Why?

➢ Possible stories can be found among the UNECO press freedom winners and the CPJ press freedom awards

  • Class discussion: Sometimes the risks to journalists are mental, as well as physical. There are all kinds of news stories that may pose mental or physical risks to journalists—from covering war, corruption and the drug trade, to covering domestic violence and traffic accidents. Reporters, photographers and camerapeople have to be present to see what has happened, to talk with victims and survivors. They ask the tough questions and make the answers public. When they stay on a story, especially for a long time—or when they cover repeated similar incidents: following drug traffickers, or reporting on multiple murder scenes, for example—they often risk both their physical health and safety and their emotional health.
  • Class discussion: If you work in a news room that covers violence and crime, how could you protect yourself from both physical and emotional harm? (You might want to think about training sessions—what should you be trained in? You might want to think about reporting behavior—i.e. covering stories with a partner. You might want to think about counseling sessions to talk about what you’ve seen and experienced, etc.) See also the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to find out what you could do.
  • Student exercise: Find a media story that would be traumatic to cover–it may be a crime story or a disaster story, a story about violence against women or children. What if the reporter covers stories like that every day? Write up guidelines for a newsroom about what the editors or producers could do to help their reporters.
  • Class discussion: Is any story worth risking your life? Is putting out a newspaper or a radio program worth risking your life? How might you lessen the risks but still report on a story?
  • Class project: How can your class and your community support the work of at-risk journalists? “Danger” shared may mean less danger. See the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists for ways to help. ) As part of this exercise, bring an exiled journalist to class (a journalist who has taken residence in your country after being exiled from another country). Come up with a list of questions to ask that journalist–from questions about the risks taken by the journalists to cover the story to questions about the personal well-being of the journalists.
  • Student exercise: Make a list of organizations that work for press freedom in your country and region.