The safety for journalists must be a priority for governments, media companies, journalists themselves and the public because journalists are at the forefront of providing vital information to the public even during a global pandemic.
This was the main takeaway from the regional webinar on "Safety for Journalists" that was organized by the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) in collaboration with UNESCO Jakarta on 4 June 2020. Ms Philomena Pragasam, Director of AIBD, who opened the discussion, noted that even amid the COVID-19 pandemic journalists continued to perform their duties in providing news and information to the public. Thus, media companies and governments must not neglect the safety of journalists and media workers.
“The first thing that journalists need to do to assure their safety in carrying out their reporting duties is to conduct the risk assessment,” said the first speaker, Mr Alistair Hollington, the Managing Director Lazarus Training based in the United Kingdom. He explained that risk assessments could help journalists draw up plans to anticipate various actions to minimize risk. Speaker Mr Nadim Majeed, a freelance Journalists and communication consultant in Sri Lanka also urged journalists to plan carefully to ensure their safety during assignments to “avoid becoming the story” themselves.
Taking care of the health of journalists was a major focus of the webinar. Ms Ruzita Mohammad Shariff who is the Resident Trainer at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in Malaysia said that journalists should identify types of hazards they would face in their work, including the biological hazards such as COVID-19. In terms of practical advice, Dr Surya Prakash, Head of Geo-Meteorological Risk Management Division (GMR) at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) in India, emphasized the importance to implement health protocols during a pandemic, including the use of personal protective equipment, masks, hand-washing with soap, keeping a distance from others, and utilizing digital technology to interview resource persons, among others.
The physical health is as important as mental health for journalists. Dr Yvonette Serrano Duque, the Senior Public Health Specialist at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) based in Thailand, shared several ways in which journalists can maintain their mental health, such as having enough rest and living a healthy lifestyle to avoid stress. Dr Serrano Duque encouraged journalists not to be afraid of seeking support when needed.
Dr Ming-Kuok Lim, the Advisor for Communication and Information from UNESCO Office in Jakarta who moderated the webinar, urged everyone to work together on the issue of safety of journalists as it is a complex challenge that requires different expertise.
UNESCO is the United Nations specialized agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression, press freedom and safety of journalists. It also reports on the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) in particular Goal 16 in relation to the safety of journalists. Over the years, UNESCO has produced many resources for journalists to improve their safety including the "Safety Guide for journalists a Handbook for reporters in high-risk environments" which can be freely downloaded.