The International Federation of Journalists in cooperation with International Media Support in Denmark today called for an international programme of risk awareness training for journalists in danger areas following a successful pilot course for Afghan journalists, which took place in January in Peshawar, Pakistan.
"Afghanistan, where eight of our colleagues have been killed, has delivered a brutal truth that journalists need better training to deal with the multiple dangerous situations they face when covering a war", said Sarah de Jong, Human Rights Officer of the IFJ.
Martin Breum, Deputy Director of International Media Support originally approached the IFJ with the idea of holding such courses after taking part in an Afghan Media Assessment Mission alongside Article 19 and the Baltic Media Centre during the months of October and November 2001.
Afghan journalists were and are still much in demand by international and local media organisations, not just as journalists but also as fixers and translators, following the events of September 11. "These journalists had little or no training in the areas of safety and security. Often required to work in potentially dangerous situations it was obvious there was an urgent need for specialist training", said Breum of IMS.
A total of 103 Afghan journalists attended the seminar of which 19 were women. Seven of the journalists made the journey from Afghanistan. Each customized one day "Surviving Hostile Regions Awareness Course" consisted of the following elements: personal security, trauma medical, mines and booby-traps, public disorder and riots, and hostage situations.
The IFJ and IMS are now planning more safety training in high-risk areas. Palestine is next on the agenda. "But we need a more strategic approach", said Sarah de Jong. "Media organisations and journalist groups everywhere should now look to make risk awareness a compulsory part of newsroom training in all parts of the world."
Two participating journalists offered examples of being involved in hostage situations similar to that now being faced by Wall Street Journal reporter David Pearl. Speaking of the success of the Peshawar initiative, David Dare Parker, IFJ Coordinator from Australia said "It was truly remarkable to see the impact of the risk-awareness course on the Afghan journalists. Afghanistan will most likely be a dangerous work environment for journalists for sometime to come. As long as Afghanistan remains 'newsworthy' there will be a constant demand by the international media for English speaking locals, either as correspondents or fixers," he said.
In Peshawar, almost without exception journalists expressed a desire to return permanently to Afghanistan to continue their careers as journalists within their homeland. They also demonstrated throughout the course a hunger for information relating to their chosen profession. Knowledge develops confidence, preparedness and professionalism. "These courses can provide both solidarity and life-saving tips for journalists," said Martin Breum. "We want to spread the message far and wide that safety matters."