The BBC is putting in place plans to help journalists cope with trauma as broadcasters weigh up the prospect of covering a war with Iraq.
With the UN inspectors’ search for signs of banned weapons production now underway, the BBC, among other news organisations, has already begun chemical, biological and radiation warfare training.
Teams of journalists will take part in a hostile environment training programme provided by safety training organisation Bruhn NewTech. During this they will be fitted with respirators and other vital equipment.
Next week a training programme will be launched to help journalists handle the emotional impact of reporting from a war zone.
A series of workshops, discussions and seminars, as well as counselling services, are being planned to train journalists and other news staff to recognise, and deal with, the symptoms of traumatic stress, both during and after their assignments.
Editors and managers will also be trained in recognising the symptoms of trauma that could be displayed by journalists who have witnessed the horrors of war.
Training has been extended to the newsroom in the light of September 11, when picture editors handling the images of the terrorist attack, particularly of people jumping from the twin towers of the World Trade Center, required counselling.
Reuters television news agency is also developing training for staff to handle traumatic situations after former video news editor Rodney Pinder drew up guidelines for procedures for dealing with post-traumatic stress.
The issue of counselling for journalists has been resisted by some in the industry who do not think it is necessary for people who are witnessing events others are suffering. But the culture is gradually changing, claimed Mark Brayne, a former World Service journalist who, after training to be a psychotherapist, has set up the programme with the BBC and the Dart Centre Europe for Journalism and Trauma.
"I think 9/11 had a lot to do with beginning to change people’s attitudes," said Brayne. "There has been resistance in the past, but the response has been one of curiosity and a lot of people have been very enthusiastic." The BBC’s traumatic stress scheme will be permanently available to journalists who work in danger spots around the world. Correspondents working in the Middle East are also being targeted for training to cope with trauma. In Jerusalem recently, the head of a suicide bomber landed in the playground of the school attended by a BBC correspondent’s daughter.
"If someone has a traumatic experience and they get the right kind of help to make sense of it, then it doesn’t have to become a disorder," said Brayne. "War is a traumatic business and we can’t avoid that. There is nothing you can do to prettify it, but you can manage the consequences of it."
By Julie Tomlin