Setting the standards for journalists’ safety

The Associated Press has joined 25 other news organizations and journalism groups in endorsing an unprecedented set of safety standards designed to protect freelance reporters on dangerous assignments.

A document spelling out the safety guidelines, titled “A Call for Global Safety Principles and Practices,” will be discussed this evening by leaders of the organizations during a gathering at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York sponsored by the school’s Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Photographer Visar Kryeziu, left, covers riots in Kosovo's capital Pristina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Thousands of protesters clashed with police for hours in the city's streets, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. More than 80 people, including over 50 policemen, were injured, while 160 were detained. (Photo by Petrit Rrahmani)

AP photographer Visar Kryeziu, left, covers riots in Kosovo’s capital Pristina, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. (Photo by Petrit Rrahmani)

Among the seven international safety standards for reporters working in perilous regions, the document says, “We encourage all journalists to complete a recognized news industry first aid course, to carry a suitable first-aid kit and continue their training to stay up-to-date on standards of care and safety both physical and psychological. Before undertaking an assignment in such zones, journalists should seek adequate medical insurance covering them in a conflict zone or area of infectious disease.”

In addition, the document says, “Journalists in active war zones should be aware of the need and importance of having protective ballistic clothing, including armored jackets and helmets.”

Also included in the seven standards for news organizations making assignments in hot zones are these:

  • “News organizations and editors should endeavor to treat journalists and freelancers they use on a regular basis in a similar manner to the way they treat staffers when it comes to issues of safety training, first aid and other safety equipment, and responsibility in the event of injury or kidnap.”
  • “News organizations should not make an assignment with a freelancer in a conflict zone or dangerous environment unless the news organization is prepared to take the same responsibility for the freelancer’s well-being in the event of kidnap or injury as it would a staffer. News organizations have a moral responsibility to support journalists to whom they give assignments in dangerous areas, as long as the freelancer complies with the rules and instructions of the news organization.”

“Over the last two years, killings, imprisonments and abductions of journalists have reached historic highs,” the document notes. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 61 were killed in 2014 and 73 in 2013.

“As journalists from AP face ever-increasing risk to gather the news that the world needs, it is vitally necessary to put in place best practices to keep them as safe as possible to do their jobs,” said AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll. “We have embraced the values represented by these practices, and we believe they will help set the standard for the industry to protect journalists and ultimately to save lives.’’

AP Senior Managing Editor for International News John Daniszewski (AP Photo).

AP Senior Managing Editor for International News John Daniszewski (AP Photo).

A preamble to the new guidelines was a meeting of foreign news editors last September in Chicago hosted by John Daniszewski, AP’s senior managing editor for international news. “Foreign editors were asking what we could do to strengthen the commitment to safety, especially for freelancers and local journalists, after the horrific killings of journalists in 2014,” Daniszewski said, “and we were concerned that some of the newer organizations did not have organized standards and rules for protecting the journalists that they sent on assignment.”

Reuters investigative reporter David Rohde, who attended the Chicago meeting, shared the results with his colleagues. Reuters Editor in Chief Stephen J. Adler had already launched similar discussions. Steve Coll, dean of Columbia’s journalism school, and Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center, also had concerns, which led to other meetings.

As a result, the resulting guidelines were drafted by an international group of freelancers, foreign correspondents, press advocates and news executives.

Daniszewski added: “We are proud of the AP’s deep and ongoing commitment to safety and security of journalists and hope the values represented in these best practices can serve as a guide for all news organizations.”

Besides AP and Reuters, the 26 signatories include the British Broadcasting Corp., Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, the Miami Herald, GlobalPost, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Overseas Press Club, USA Today and Reporters Without Borders.

A video of this evening’s discussion is expected to be available within a few days on the Dart Center’s website.