Covering Conflict

Posted by: Dr Janet Harris
Journalism Safety – Covering Conflict

Pictured left, Dr Janet Harris filming in Iraq during 2003
Pictured left, Dr Janet Harris – documentary filming in Iraq during 2003

In this the second blog in JOMEC’s series addressing the dangers faced by journalists and media workers across the globe, Janet Harris discusses the dangers for film-makers and journalists in conflict zones.

Although concerns are focussed on the dangers for film-makers and journalists in conflict zones, I have always thought that some of the issues which arise are pertinent to all journalists.

It is not only in conflict zones that one is faced with potential conflict.  However, these are some issues to consider when covering war:

  • There are budgetary limitations, but responsible media organisations will ensure that you go on a safety course.  If you can get on one – go.  These are of enormous value, for example on my first course an exercise involved being shot at.  We all ran across a field to find ‘cover’ – a few flimsy blackberry bushes.  In real life we would all have been shot, firstly because we were actually running towards the shooter, secondly, it’s not like films – bullets go through cars and blackberry bushes, and thirdly you cannot outrun a bullet.  When it did happen in Iraq, I dropped to the ground, face first in a large puddle; I had learned from the course and so survived in Iraq.
  • Check insurance – As a single person with no offspring, I did not worry about anyone else, but many journalists have been injured or beaten up and you have the rest of your mortgaged life ahead.
  • Have a good fixer – Your life and your film can depend on him.  Contacts are often the best way to find one.  Also know his background and respect his knowledge of the situation and people he finds for you, but also be aware that many fixers can come with their own agendas.
  • RESEARCH – You can never do enough, but one of the most valuable precautions is to know as much as possible about what you are getting in to, so plan for all contingencies.  One thing I learned very early on from the military is that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’.  People who have agree to be interviewed don’t turn up, roads get closed, transportation is unavailable, major contacts develop diplomatic illnesses, very little does actually go to plan;  but with some knowledge of the politics of the area, the people of the area and the issues, you can have plan B up your sleeve.

There are many other issues to think about when covering conflict for news or television, but remember it is just that; news or television.  You only have one life.

Read the first blog in this Journalism Safety series by Nick Mosdell – Silenced Witness

– documentary