IFJ Calls for Caution and Media Union Action to Counter Scare Over Anthrax

The International Federation of Journalists today warned journalists whether on international assignments or at home base to exercise caution in the current climate of uncertainty and threats to the lives of people working in news media, particular in the United States.

"We want people not to be frightened by the latest developments concerning exposure to anthrax, but it is the time to be cautious and to ensure that health and safety regulations are being followed," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. He said the IFJ commended the action of its US affiliate The Newspaper Guild-CWA which has asked union representatives to meet urgently with media management to discuss precautions and guidelines for staff in handling postal items.

"There is no need to panic, but acting prudently and with caution at a time when journalists and news staff are being targeted is necessary," said Aidan White.

Following the circulation of anthrax material in a Florida media company, which led to the death of picture editor Robert Stevens, confirmation of a case of anthrax at the NBC television network in New York, and a report that the veteran Middle East reporter and co-author of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, Judith Miller, of the New York Times had opened an envelope containing suspicious powder, media companies, including Reuters, have warned employees to be careful about opening mail. Experts say this is a good policy.

"The good news is that, even as a powder, anthrax is not contagious," said Aidan White. "In Florida they tested hundreds of people, only three of whom tested positive, but a single victim is one too many, so media staff must be better protected."

Rory O'Neill, the IFJ Health and Safety Officer, Editor of Hazards, a leading Health and Safety Journal, is available to give advice to IFJ member unions on issues arising from the anthrax scare in the United States. He can be contacted on: [email protected]