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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Weekend of violence proves need for greater safety awareness training for journalists


25th October 2005

Attacks on journalists by rioters in Birmingham at the weekend have given the media industry a stark warning that it must take the safety of its journalists seriously and implement training and issue safety equipment as basic requirements, says the Chartered Institute of Journalists.

Journalists have always found themselves targets when covering incidents of public disorder but these situations have become more dangerous in recent times as more and more thugs are beginning to carry knives and bottles.

Recently, efforts have been made to train journalists who are sent to cover conflict zones and their employers are beginning to implement the issuing of safety equipment as standard. However, it is clear from the amount of recent attacks on journalists covering public disorder news stories on the domestic scene, that newspaper proprietors and local broadcast media can no longer ignore the safety of their staff.

At the weekend a number of news crews and journalists were deliberately targeted with one photographer being seriously assaulted by a mob. Only the quick thinking actions of someone nearby stopped his injuries from being more serious.

A recent report by the Association of Chief Police Officers claims that knife attacks in counties that are normally considered as benign rural areas have increased in the last couple of years – such as Lincolnshire (24 per cent) and Devon (41 per cent). The Institute contends that this is worrying proof that violent action is no longer an inner city, or sink estate, problem and journalists throughout the country could find themselves covering public unrest stories without adequate ‘safety first’ training or protective clothing.

At its recent AGM, held on 8 October, members of the Chartered Institute of Journalists urged employers to make safety their top priority when sending journalists to cover public order incidents, and reminded them that to send their staff into dangerous situations without adequate training or protection may be considered to be in contravention of health and safety regulations.

Now is the time to act. Journalists at all levels need to have safety training and safety equipment should be available to all who cover incidents such as those we witnessed at the weekend.