War reporting: Five top tips for staying safe

More press workers have died in Iraq than in any other conflict, and the Committee to Protect Journalists estimates three journalists a month are being murdered in the world’s hot spots. So how do we go about trying to ensure the safety of our press at flash points across the world?

In April, students from the new MA course in international journalism at University College Falmouth had a taste of what life might be like as globe trotting reporters, when they took part in a unique Hostile Environment course at Penhale Military camp in Cornwall. It’s thought to be the first time that such a course has been offered as part of the curriculum at a British University.

The three-day course is run by former Royal Marines and includes basic military safety and survival techniques, conflict resolution, checkpoint and hostage negotiating and first aid.

Hostile environments come in many forms, from football crowds to some inner-city housing estates, and all the way up to war zones. For journalists, they’re also where the action is, and so when others are fleeing we tend to be heading straight for them. These are my personal top five tips for staying safe:

  • If you hear gunfire – find shelter. When safe, think long and hard, and then think long and hard again before going anywhere near. No story is worth dying for.
  • If in unfamiliar surroundings in the UK or abroad, try to team up with local journalists and follow their advice.
  • In riot situations (not involving guns) try to keep behind the security forces – watch out for bricks and bottles meant for them but heading for you.
  • If going by car to a potentially dangerous event, get someone who knows the area to drive. You don’t want to end up trapped in a dead end when the action starts.
  • Trust your instincts – if you feel in danger retreat/cross the road/run away. Don’t try to be macho.
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