Reporting on demonstrations and civil disorder

Demonstrations like the one in Charlottesville, Virginia can quickly turn violent. INSI has some advice for journalists covering protests.

Before you head out to cover a protest, consider the following:

Have you taken a hostile environment course and is your medical training up to date? Do you have a local fixer? Do you understand the way demonstrations take place and the tactics of the security forces, as well as the weaponry that is used and why? Decide what your story really is. Do you need to go there to get the story or can you get it another way? How long do you need there?

  • Have a plan for emergencies and know the area of the protests. Do a map study and plan escape routes
  • There is safety in numbers. Broadcast journalist should try to send three people and stick together. Individuals should go with other journalists or take someone with you who knows the area
  • Try to get a sense of the mood in the morning. Who is there? What are people doing?
  • Where will you keep your valuables?
  • Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and the 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. If you get arrested, how do they get you out?
  • You may wish to alert the authorities that your news organisation plans to cover the protests, if it is appropriate and not dangerous. If so, obtain the mobile number of the person in charge; the more senior the better
  • Set your mobile phone to speed dial a pre-set emergency number
  • 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

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


Ensure you take the following:

  • A backpack with photocopies of your documents. Do not take your passport. Take a colour photocopy
  • Money
  • Any prescription drugs
  • Food and water for drinking and for washing away tear gas
  • Torch and spare batteries
  • Goggles and dust mask, or preferably a respirator/gas mask with a spare canister in case of tear gas
  • Hard hat/bump cap to protect your head against bricks
  • 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
  • It is advisable to have a car on standby as near to the protest area as possible for use in an emergency. The driver must stay by the vehicle

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 escape plan is
  • If you decide 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

See INSI’s advice on tear gas here.

Image by AFP