International News Safety Institute

18 November 2022

  |  INSI news, News

The progress we’ve made

By Elena Cosentino, INSI director

The progress we’ve made

Over the past two decades of activity promoting high safety standards in the news media industry, INSI members have effected a sea change.  

Many colleagues will still remember when staying safe in a war zone was mostly down to the journalists themselves. “He’s very experienced”or “She’s seen it all before”, used to pretty much sum up many news organisations’ relationship with risk ownership, with an old flak jacket and ballistic helmet thrown in for good measure.

For some outlets around the world, regrettably, this may still be the case. Certainly not so for INSI members, who, by fully owning their teams’ risk in the field and providing them with the training, tools and back-up they need, are setting impressive standards of risk management within their own organisations and across the larger news media industry.

Today, every news organisation that makes up the INSI network has, in accordance to its size and needs, at least one senior role, often several, with direct involvement in and responsibility for editorial safety matters. Plus of course, when needed, access to a host of very specialised and highly skilled media safety professionals to turn to for risk advice and on-the-ground support.

It should not be any other way, no matter the price tag. With our activities, at INSI, we hope to help spread this mantra ever further and wider in our industry.

The conflict in Ukraine, where so many seasoned journalists have been killed and injured, sadly reminded us all that experience, even when coupled with top-notch training and PPE, is not always enough to protect journalists and media workers, thrust overnight into the hell of war. While there is no such thing as a risk-free frontline assignment, risk and its context are both specific and dynamic, and so should be the news industry’s approach to safety.

The war in Ukraine is again a case in point. INSI members were quick to adapt after realising that the skills and experiences that so many of their own staff had acquired through decades of frontline reporting across the Middle East, and through their regular safety training, were often different from the set of skills and military nous that were needed to stay alive along Ukraine’s frontlines. The environment, the language, the threats, the weapons there, were totally different from Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq. The balance of power was actually reversed. For the first time in decades, international journalists found themselves covering a major conflict from the side of the invaded and the weaker, rather the invader and the stronger.

In response to this new and dangerous scenario, everything had to be reviewed. Training courses were adapted and updated and new safety protocols and practices were discussed and implemented. Also very importantly, our members shared information, experiences, dilemmas and possible solutions with one another in real time, to better support, both physically and psychologically, their international and local staff.

Many of INSI’s members, around 50 of the world’s leading news organisations, are fortunate to work with talented and experienced safety professionals who are invaluable in supporting the best of news journalism. They include trailblazing professionals such as Mark Grant who, between a top job at the BBC and then at Sky News, pursued a doctorate in Security Risk Management with a ground-breaking thesis on risk management in support of frontline reporting. Mark’s seminal project is the first work of this kind and scope and we are delighted to publish it on our website.

News safety management is emerging as a fully fledged discipline and, as we work together to continue improving its standards, the lessons learnt by news teams in the field, often at great personal cost, should become a life-saving body of reference for all.


Image by AFP

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