BY INSI

SAFETY ADVISORY: Brazil as at 21/06/13 (available in Portuguese)

Protests have swept across Brazil over the past week. 

Demonstrations have been staged in Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio. Reporters face potential threats from both demonstrators and security forces.

INSI has been informed that at least 15 journalists were injured and/or arrested by police forces at a protest in Sao Paulo last Thursday. One photographer was hit in the eye by a rubber bullet, and another was detained for two hours without charge.

Journalists have also been physically and verbally attacked by protesters in Sao Paulo. Journalists from well known media organisations such as Globo, Band and Record, are considered to be prime targets. On Wednesday, an award-winning reporter from TV Globo was cornered by protesters and punched, according to reports. A live link car from TV Record was set on fire, although nobody was injured.

INSI is issuing the following safety advisory for journalists as they cover the largest protests seen in Brazil for more than 20 years.

Planning

Planning is key to covering a protest safely. Conduct a full risk assessment, consider all scenarios and have emergency plans ready before your team deploys.

Ensure that you have read INSI's safety advice for covering demonstrations and other civil disorders before you cover any protests. 

INSI is aware of reports that journalists are using vinegar to counter the effects of tear gas. This will not help the situation and may even lead the security forces to believe that the container will be used as a weapon. One reporter was arrested last Thursday for carrying a bottle with vinegar in it and was released two hours later.

Read INSI's safety advisory for information about what to do in case of tear gas.

On the ground

The security forces will counter violence with violence, so be prepared for this. Try to understand and learn police tactics so you can work more safely.

Look out for the security forces and watch their movements. Try to predict what they will do next. Keep an eye on side streets, where the riot control teams will gather with shields etc. It is likely that they will be receiving radio reports from their colleagues nearer the crowds, and they will move forward as required.

Know your weapons – i.e. what baton guns (the weapon from which rubber bullets are fired) and water cannon vehicles look like. Common police tactics are to use tear gas, followed by rubber bullets, followed by water cannons. It is likely that police with riot shields will split crowds. Be aware of 'kettling', which involves police forces herding protesters into a particular area and not allowing them to leave. ‘Snatch squads' involve several police officers rushing forwards to break through the front of a crowd in attempt to grab individuals and arrest them.

If you get close to the police and they consider you a threat, they may use personal pepper spray. You must show them that you are not a threat - consider using open hands to indicate that you are not a threat and back away to put a space between you and them. 

Keep everything in a backpack and consider wearing it on your front if you are in a crowd.

Carry a first aid pack and water.

Consider bringing a small fire extinguisher in case of fire, and torches and spare batteries for night work.

Wear non-nylon clothes.

Ensure that you take personal protective gear with you. Bring eye protection (glasses from a DIY shop or swimming goggles will protect your eyes from tear gas, however this is not adequate protection from rubber bullets) and protection for the mouth/lungs (consider using a robust dust guard from DIY shops). Bring a hard hat baseball cap, which will protect the head if objects are being thrown.

Consider taking small/low profile cameras if you are filming, and try to take more covert shots, if the crowds are aggressive. Consider hiding your spare batteries, media cards, etc. on your person (i.e. in your bra or trousers, or use a money belt or ankle money belt) so that you get out with your story. Swap media cards frequently.

Do not take expensive possessions with you as they may get stolen.

Ask yourself, what is the story? How long do you need to be there? Plan what you want before you go in. Get the footage and move away. Consider filming from height and keep away from the crowds as much as you can.

Go in small teams and try to keep a low profile. Ensure that someone in your team is watching your back – i.e. looking for escape routes and watching for changes of mood in the crowd/with the police. Everyone needs to blend in.

Do not get caught up in the middle of crowds – stay to the side instead.

Have a plan B ready. What are your emergency plans? How will you get out? How will you let your team/editor know where you are?

For further information please contact INSI.

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 the media in preparing to work in Brazil and are not meant to be negative in nature. If they cause offence to anyone, sincerest apologies are offered in advance. INSI holds no responsibility for any ensuing problems, bodily harm or death in relation to this advice.

Photo: Protesters run from the clouds of tear gas during an anti-government protest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)