IFJ Media Safety Advisory for Journalists Covering Armed Conflict in Ukraine

The International and European Federations of Journalists today expressed their grave concerns over the safety of journalists covering the war in Ukraine, following air attacks by the Russian air force on cities in Ukraine, bombing in the east and reports of troops’ movements in other parts near the country’s northen border.

Credits: Canva

The two Federations are working closely with their affiliates in Ukraine , Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine (IMTUU) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJU), to provide safety tips for journalists who will be covering the fighting from the front line, while travelling to and from war zones as well as in news rooms.

The conflict which has broken out in Ukraine  is conventional warfare and  assessing strategic movement and tactics is of key importance. A  plan for news gathering in such an environment needs to be implemented and a good mitigation strategy and rapid response mechanisms is the key to safe practice in such an environment.

To this end, the IFJ is publishing this media safety advisory, in addition to other similar initiatives by NUJU, including a hotline and the setting of a committee to support journalists.

1. Safety protocols for contacts: Newsrooms should adopt clear protocols for staying in touch with their staff deployed to cover the fighting in or near the war zones. These would cover the use of encrypted devices to communicate, designated contacts, times and venues for such contacts to reduce risks of easy identification and localisation by those ill-intended. Consideration should be given for contacts using satellite equipment when there are airstrikes because of risk of localisation. ​​They may also come under surveillance and be targeted for hacking their telephones to listen to their conversation with their contacts as well as jamming their means of communication.

2. Secure stories filing from the field: Journalists should not be locating themselves near military or strategic targets such as defensive positions, railways and fuel depots, as multi launch rocket systems, artillery and heavy mortars are likely to be used, presenting a serious threat.

Live transmission and Piece to Camera (PTC) from the vicinity of fighting are to be avoided as they expose journalists to identification and attack either deliberate or when mistaken for legitimate military targets. Instead, journalistsshould be encouraged to file material (footage, interviews, etc) as fast as possible back to the newsrooms. That way, they can delete the material which can attract the wrong kind of attention.

3.Safe travel:  It is crucial to consider how and when travelling in a conflict zone. No journalist should travel alone. It is advisable to avoid travelling at night, in poor weather and during landor air bombing. Whenever possible, journalists should move together and preferably local/national with foreign reporters as this may offer some protection at the hands ofhostile soldiers. In convoys on the move, keep a good distance in remote areas andcloser together in urban ones. However, they should not be travelling by vehicles in convoy if the convoy is a perceived target, especially military or logistical convoy.

4. Handling group pressure
Exercise caution: When covering armed conflict, there can be pressure to get to the nearest to the action and rushing from one front to another to beat the competition in breaking the latest story. Closer is not always better. Think of a higher, more distant position. Explicit images are rarely broadcast.

This raises the risks of missing some detail and ending in the wrong place. Journalists should resist the urge of gaining an edge on others in dangerous situation. Their protection is greater when there is on-going consultation, and they operate close to one another and look out for each other. This may look like slow journalism, but in a war situation, it may be the only safe journalism possible. 

5. Providing overall support and liaison with Armies’ HQs, Governments’ Offices, Embassies

Trouble shooting: This role is best played by IFJ union members in Ukraine and/or Russia. For, even with the best laid plans, it can happen that journalists can become trapped either behind military position or end up in crossfire situations. In such cases, if they can establish connection, the union can reach out to army headquarters and relevant ministries as well as embassies to secure their extraction.

Many journalists travel with little or no knowledge of the region or the application of local or international law, and without being aware of their own rights as independent and neutral observers. Journalists should be briefed on the relevant protocols of the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian law defining the rights of non-combatants, the political and legal conditions in the region, and should be aware of the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UN agencies and regional political bodies before leaving home. 

Preparing contacts database: To provide this service, IFJ union members in Ukraine created a database with contacts of national and foreign journalists who seek their assistance, with copies of their passports, names of their media organizations, insurance numbers, and telephone numbers (as well as WhatsApp, Signal, Sat, etc) they use in Ukraine. They should also have contacts of embassies in Kyiv/Moscow as well as the ICRC representatives in the two countries. If possible, a web page should be set up on the union members’ websites with easy access from Home Page where emergency contacts numbers and other important numbers such as the local or ICRC hotlines are available to journalists in need of assistance.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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