SAFETY ADVISORY: Covering demonstrations in Bangkok and Kiev

Journalists have reportedly been injured and attacked while covering the protests taking place in Bangkok and Kiev.

INSI calls on all sides involved to respect the journalists' rights to do their work safely and is re-issuing the following safety advice for covering demonstrations and other civil disorder.

The advice below will not prevent you being attacked, but it may help you to avoid getting into a situation that is potentially dangerous.

You are not advised to cover protests if you:

• Have not undertaken a hostile environment course

• Do not have up to date medical training

• Are an inexperienced journalist

• Do not have a local fixer or do not speak Arabic

• Do not have a robust communications plan

• Do not have emergency plans in place

• Do not understand the way demonstrations take place and the tactics of the security forces, as well as the weaponry that is used and why


Ensure you have considered the following prior to going to cover protests

• Have a plan – decide what your story really is, do you need to go there to get the story? Can you get it another way?

• How long do you need there and why?

• Have a plan for emergencies and know the square or the area of the protests. Do a map study and plan escape routes. Try to drive around the square and the area, so you know the back streets before you have to walk it

• Make sure you have an entry plan and exit plan

• Broadcast – try to send 3 people and stick together

• Other individuals try to go together with other journalists if possible (safety in numbers)

• Take someone with you knows the area

• Find a fixer to act as your guide. This may give you some level of protection

• If you are a foreigner and do not know the language take a translator with you

• What time of the day do you need to go to get the story, can it be done during the day? The night is always more dangerous as the dark hides the criminal elements and the security forces find it more difficult to react - and canoverreact

• Atmosphere – try to get a sense of the mood in the morning. Who is there, what are they doing?

• Try not to show disgust at anything going on in the Square it will make things difficult for you

• Where will you keep your valuables?

Remember to download and read INSI's checklist for covering demonstrations before your assignment


Ensure you take the following

Backpack with

• Photocopies of your documents. Do not take your passport, take a colour photocopy

• Money

• Any prescription drugs

• If it is hot, sunhat and sunscreen

• If it is cold, a hat and sweater or jacket

• If it is raining, an umbrella or raincoat

• Water for drinking and for washing away tear gas

• Food - snack bars

• Torch and spare batteries

• Gogges and dust mask, or preferably a respirator/gas mask with a spare canister

• Hard hat/baseball cap to protect your head against bricks being thrown

• Small fire extinguisher

• Eye drops

• Medical pack with equipment for burns and gunshots

• Compass and map so you know where you are and which way to run to safety

Clothing for females in conservative countries

• Wear long trousers with high waists and tight belts

• Wear large knickers under the trousers; tuck a vest top into the knickers underneath any blouse you wear

• Make sure that blouses are large fitting and cover all flesh to the wrist. They should be high necked and not show off chest

• Avoid wearing jewelry, keep watches in pockets and wear cheap sunglasses

• Consider wearing lightweight gilet to cover up. If it has pockets, you can carry batteries or notebooks in them to give you some protection of the chest areas

• Carry your backpack on your front to cover your breast and intimate areas at the front of the body 

Thoughts for consideration

• If you take pictures of people doing bad things it is likely they will turn on you. This applies to the security forces and locals. Both sides are just as aggressive

• Consider driving around the square and surrounding areas in the mornings/during the day when there is nothing going. Do this to familiarise yourself with the layout of the square

• Ask whether it is safer to send a man or a woman. Would it be safer to send a man given the atmosphere? 

• Female colleagues need so consider putting aside any feminism ideals in Muslim countries and think safety. By way of an example; local women and foreign women have all been attacked/assaulted/raped by mobs in Egypt.

• If your fixer or your local guide says it is time to leave, trust them

• If you get into trouble, you may not be able to get help. You have to be self sufficient

 Ask yourself - what will you do if you are attacked or assaulted? Have a plan

Transport and routes into the protest areas

• Think about the transport you're going to use to get there, and have a car on standby as near to the square/protest area as possible for use in the event of an emergency. The driver must stay by the vehicle 

• Ensure you have communications with your driver, so you can get them to assist you if needed

• Ask yourself, what is the best approach to the square/area of the protest? Seek local advice

General advice for covering demonstrations

Before you head out, consider the following: 

• Ensure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible. Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer. 

• Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you’re arrested or hurt.  Ensure they know how the legal system works in the country you are working in. Think, if you get arrested, how do they get you out?

• You may wish to alert the authorities that your news organization plans to cover the protests, if it is appropriate and not dangerous to do so in the country you are in. If so, obtain the mobile number of the person in charge; the more senior the better.

• Take protective gear. This can include helmets, gas masks, or bullet proof vests with protective plates. Your decision regarding this may depend on what weapons the local police force uses for crowd control.

• In case of tear gas, carry a bandana and soak it in water. Cover your mouth and nose with it.  Try to use some sort of goggles to protect your eyes. Ladies – consider not wearing make up as tear gas sticks to it

• Try not to wear contact lenses as the tear gas will get under the lense. Bring eye drops and spare glasses.

• Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.

• Wear natural fabrics, which may be less flammable than synthetic fabrics.

• Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day: lightweight raingear, energy bars and water, spare batteries for electronic equipment. Protective equipment

• Pack a medical kit and know how to use it.

• Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer. Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you’re arrested or hurt.

• Set your mobile phone to speed dial with an emergency number pre set.

• If possible, ensure you have studied the map prior to going on the ground. Consider filming from high vantage points. Agree a rendez-vous point in case you lose your team and agree a “safe” place where you can retreat if the situation becomes too dangerous.

On the ground

• As soon as you arrive, look for escape routes and ensure you know the landmarks to head for if you become disorientated.

• Try to stay on the edge of the crowd and do not get caught on the line between police and protesters.

• Crowds have a life of their own. Be constantly aware of the mood and attitude.

• Alert your editors if the mood starts to change and begin to think of what your plan is.

• If planning to change direction, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you’re heading.

• Television crews should travel as light as possible. If experiencing aggression, ensure your backpack is big enough to hold the tripod and pack it away. Be prepared to leave it behind if you need to run away.

• Avoid horses. They bite and kick.

•  Try to avoid getting in the line of the water being fired as it will damage your kit. It often has dye in it for the security forces to be able to identify the protesters after.

•  Try to stay stay low if the wind appears to be lifting the gas, if not then move to high ground as some may accumulate in low areas. Once the area is clear, or you have moved away, consider standing legs apart and arms raised and face into the wind until the effects have subsided. This will allow the wind to blow the CS gas off any clothing and ensure that you get plenty of fresh air.

•  Consider laundering your clothes when you return to your base if not the gas will remain on the clothing for many months if not washed

• If the police detain you, try to ask them to call the person in charge if you have their number. Try to speak to a senior officer, as this will have more impact.

A Portuguese version of this advice, kindly translated by Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Abraji), is available here. 

Note: The views here are those of the author and are personal reflections and safety advice. They are meant to assist journalists covering demonstrations and are not meant to be negative in nature. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems as a result of this advice.

Photo: Reuters photographer Gleb Garanich keeps working despite being wounded by Ukraine riot police (Twitter)

Some of the information above has kindly been provided by SecureBio