Journalism in times of war: how to learn to protect yourself

A Kena British ex-serviceman, does not like tripods. Better to avoid them when possible, he says, although many times it is not and it is time to accept them. “Why don’t I like them? Because they’re easy to confuse with heavy rifles. They are dangerous and can turn the journalist in An objective“, Explain.

This year, Ken Perry has been busy. He and his company Protect Consultancy -who advises large media outlets- have carried out several free security courses for journalists in Birmingham. “We are doing it because in the Ukraine, while we were there on a mission, we saw that many journalists freelance no experience or training. This is our way of returning the favor of your great job“, explains Ken, friendly in the treatment but hard when it comes to getting down to business.

For anyone who goes to a conflict -or who finds himself plunged into it- these types of courses, very common but very expensive, are key: their contents, at first, seem obvious, something obvious as soon as it is explained. However, not everything is so easy. In risk situationsthe normal becomes unimaginable, and what is easy to think is difficult to do.

In Ukraine, to date, more than thirty reporters have died due to the conflict, mainly in bombardments – more than 5,000 Ukrainian civilians. Most of the deceased journalists, moreover, are local reporters.

“There are many risks in Ukraine today, and if a journalist doesn’t have any means to back it up, it’s better not to put yourself in danger. Sometimes we only look at the possibility that you drop a bombshell above, but there are many more risks, both physical and psychological. Someone investing all their savings and not being able to publish anything in a medium is a problem. But that this person also suffers a psychological trauma is much worse,” explains the president of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Spain, Alfonso Bauluz. RSF, in fact, has created a help platform and guide to journalists who want to travel to the Slavic country to cover the war.

The examples of dangers that can be found are many: on the road, after a accidentit must be avoided that injured make sudden movements, especially in the back. The person may be hurt even though there is no sangre. And if a wound bleeds endlessly, even if doing so means losing an arm or a leg, applying a tourniquet as soon as possible can save lives. Every minute that passes chances of survival go down.

“In first aid there is a very clear protocol to follow. The order is very important: Are there more dangers in the area? Does the person respond? Are there injuries that could be fatal? Is the airway open? Does the person breathe normally? Is the skin white? Does it now respond after the first steps? How are the pupils? Are there more wounds and blood on the body? It is a ladder that you have to go down depending on the answer to each question. Answering these questions wrongly or late can cost him his life to the injured person,” explains Jarrod, paramedicalso ex-military and professor of the course.

mortar fire

After theory comes practice. “Look, now we will go to a common grave embedded with a ukrainian militia, and there we will interview the leader of this militia. Be ready and get in the car,” explains Ken, who during practice turns into a Ukrainian daredevil driver, Sergei.

Upon arriving with the militia, the mortar fire. The militiaman is wounded: the journalists must follow the steps. In this case, at first glance, the militiaman has a life-threatening wound on his arm. The procedure is simple to list but complicated to carry out: apply a tourniquet, pick up the man and, with him on your back, run for cover, towards the nearest building. In cases like this, the neck and back of the injured person matter little. The choice is clear: either three dead people or three alive, even if one of them has the damaged spine forever.

“In cases like this it is important listen to the artillery. It has a rhythm, and if you learn the pattern you can guess when it will drop; from the time it is fired until it hits there are some minutes of delay. Learning to listen to the rhythm of the artillery can save your life,” explains Ken. According to him, in the Ukraine, artillery works like a tennis match: first the Russians fire a series of artillery, then the Ukrainians answer. It is between this mortar dialogue in which the journalist -or anyone- can flee from the bombed area.

an imperfect plan

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Most important of all, however, is to plan always before leaving: establish main routes y alternativesstudy risks, locate hospitals along the way, manage accreditations and action protocols before official and unofficial authorities -in Ukraine armed civilianssometimes drunk, set up checkpoints on the highway-, decide to use certain phone applications and set a schedule for communication with the newsroom, and a etcetera that is almost endless but is crucial because the plan will always end up breaking down, but it is a stable base on which to function.

“There are many times that despite the plan instinct is the boss says Ken. A few months ago a member of our team was driving with some journalists on a road near the front lines in Ukraine, and his instincts told him to something was wrong. She told the driver to find a alternate road, that they should not continue down that path. About 30 minutes later the Russians attacked where they had been. He saved them their instinct. You have to trust him.”

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