Covering wars and conflicts

 

Planning and preparation

•Be physically and mentally prepared. Most conflict zones require an ability at least to run, hike and endure discomfort. If possible, go on a hostile environment course that includes basic first aid training and security training before your assignment. INSI's list of training providers is available here.

•Know the background of the place, the people and the dispute. Learn a few useful phrases in the local language, including the words for 'foreign press'” or “'journalist'”. Know the meaning of local gestures that might be important.

Ensure you've had the appropriate jabs and are are carrying a basic medical kit. Consider wearing an internationally recognised bracelet with a caduceus symbol and carry a record of allergies and your blood group. 

The following documents will help with your planning:

Clothing

•Wear civilian clothes unless you are accredited as a war correspondent and required to wear special dress and avoid paramilitary-type clothing.

•Consider wearing darker clothing, rather than bright colours which stand out.

•Don't take jewelry or expensive personal belongings and ensure that all your valuables are secure.

Equipment and body armour

•Be prepared to wear flak jackets, body armour, helmets, gas masks and NBC apparel as appropriate.

•Avoid carrying shiny objects and exercise care with lenses. Reflections of bright sunlight can look like gun flashes.

•INSI's list of equipment providers is available here and you can read more about ballistic vests here

Communications

•Be aware of your communication methods which could be used to spy against you in some countries. Consider your digital and mobile security

•If you are planning to use a GPS tracker, ensure that you are aware of the pros and cons of the device, and speak to a supplier who will give you the best advice for the current situation. Some examples of different kinds of GPS trackers are available here.

Vehicles

•Travelling with a companion in a conflict zone is a good idea and in close convoy if possible.

If travelling by road, use a safe and responsible driver with knowledge of the local terrain and trouble spots. Consider identifying your vehicle as media unless that would attract attack.

Do not use military or military-type vehicles unless accompanying a regular army patrol.

•Make sure your vehicle is roadworthy, with plenty of fuel. In hot conditions check tyre pressures regularly as a blow out can be disastrous. Know how to change a tyre, and ensure the spare is roadworthy and that you have a jack. 

•Seek the advice of local authorities and residents about possible dangers before travelling.

Inform your headquarters and colleagues where you are going, your intended time of arrival and expected return. Check in frequently.

•Beware of carrying maps with markings that might be construed as military.

On the ground

•Meet unfamiliar contacts in public places, and tell your office or a trusted colleague your plans. Try not to go alone into potential danger.

•Plan a fast and safe way out before you enter a danger zone.

•Get out fast when clearly threatened.

•Do not cross the battle zone. This could be very dangerous.

•Never carry a weapon or travel with journalists who do. 

•Do not take obvious notes in public, or pull out a microphone or notebook without permission.

•Carry picture identification. Do not pretend to be anything other than a journalist. Identify yourself clearly if challenged. If working on both sides of a front line never give information to one side about the other.

•Carry cigarettes and other giveaways as sweeteners. Stay calm and try to appear relaxed if troops or locals appear threatening. Act friendly and smile.

•Carry emergency funds and a spare copy of your ID in a concealed place such as a money belt. Have a giveaway amount ready to hand over.

•Keep emergency phone numbers at hand, programmed into satellite and mobile phones, with a key 24/7 number on speed dial if possible. Know the location of hospitals and their capabilities.

•Familiarise yourself with weapons commonly used in the conflict, their ranges and penetrating power so you can seek out the most effective cover. Know the difference in the sounds of incoming fire compared with outgoing fire. Know what land mines and other ordnance look like. Do not handle abandoned weapons or spent munitions.

•Stay alert at all times, even after fighting or explosions have ended. Abandoned or apparently spent munitions can explode at any time. A terror bombing could be followed by a secondary device. Roadside bombs might be planted in rubbish or dead animals.

Working with the military

Many soldiers in combat are poorly trained, young, inexperienced –and very frightened. They will shoot first if they feel at all threatened. Do not assume they know who you are, where you are and what you are doing, especially in the thick of fighting. •Consider wearing a high visibility vest.

•Do not assume they can see you clearly, especially through their sights. A camera raised to your shoulder could be seen as an anti-tank weapon. Hold cameras low when filming approaching tanks and twitchy soldiers. Some troops have been known to mistake a camera for an RPG.

Seek the agreement of soldiers before shooting images. Know local sensitivities about picture taking.

•Be careful if you draw maps of military positions or establishments in your notebook. Be aware of showing unusual interest in military equipment as you may be seen as a spy.

Being shot at

•Take cover behind something which will protect you from the bullets like a wall (ensure it is double thickness brick), concrete blocks, thick trees or earth/sand. A hole or a dip in the ground may provide enough cover.

•In a building find a room without exterior walls such as a hotel bathroom.

•Do not take cover in position where someone has recently been firing.

•Do not wear anything bright and ensure that you try to lessen the glare/reflection of shiny equipment. 

•Lie flat on the ground once you are under cover. Make yourself as small a target as possible and don't look out. Immediately assess your situation and plan a route of escape.

•When you decide to leave your position, run if you can (do not try to zig zag as you may fall over) and try to get beyond the effective range of the weapon. 

Your rights in conflict zones

•Know your rights, internationally and locally. Know the Geneva Conventions as they relate to civilians in war zones.

•Journalists who have endured high danger and witnessed dreadful events may experience traumatic stress in later weeks. Do not be embarrassed to seek counseling. INSI's report on post traumatic stress disorder may be useful.


Photo: A citizen journalist image shows smoke billowing from a building after fighting between rebels and Syrian troops in the Yarmouk camp for Palestinian refugees in south Damascus. (AP Photo)