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New Advice for Journalists covering public disorder 2021

Safety advice during public disorder

BELFAST AND DISTRICT NUJ Branch has produced the following revised advice for journalists covering public disorder.

BEFORE COVERING any demonstration, which could lead to public disorder, riots, petrol bombings or shootings, time spent on preparation usually pays off in keeping safe and getting good pictures/stories.

Useful information can be found on the following organisations' websites: National Union of Journalists, NUJ London Freelance Branch, International Federation of Journalists and the DART Center.

Research and preparation

  1. Check demonstration times and route with the organisers and police press office. Find out about: feeder marches, expected numbers, speakers, expected problems, any counter demonstrations, flashpoints, marshalling.
  2. Always carry a printed map (in case of poor mobile coverage) and Google map to check alternative routes and exit points.
  3. Leave time to drive or walk the route to check positions for good pictures, trouble spots, level of policing, exit routes.
  4. If parking a car, think carefully where you leave it.You might need to get out in a hurry. Park too close to the demonstration or public disorder and your car could get damaged, blocked, hijacked, burned.
  5. If freelance on commission, are you insured by the media organisation?

Preparing yourself

  1. Wear comfortable strong walking boots or industrial shoes.
  2. Wear strong, tight-fitting clothing which allows you to move about freely. Dress appropriately for the weather.
  3. Have a checklist: equipment charged, mobile phone, flash, batteries, bodycam, memory cards, lenses, laptop, dongle, broadband/internet access, NUJ press card, driving licence, water, energy bars. etc.
  4. Carry only a small camera bag with the minimum amount of equipment so you can move quickly. Do not carry a step ladder; it can be used to assault you or others.
  5. Shin guards, kneepads, body armour, helmet, gas mask, protective goggles - all or some may be worth thinking about.
  6. Let someone know where you are, what you are covering, when you are going, when will you be back. If working to a news desk or picture desk, update them regularly.

At the demonstration

  1. Enter a situation carefully and openly. Talk to people, and always be willing to show your press card to whoever wants to check your credentials. Short courteous conversations on the way in can give you useful local information and if things turn difficult may help you on the way out.
  2. At large demonstrations or public disorder events a police liaison or press office person may be present and can be helpful.
  3. Be aware of what's going on around you while working. There's a world outside the viewfinder and trouble can come from behind as well as in front.Women journalists should be aware that there havebeen increased incidents of gender targeting and of threatening, abusive and/or patronising and marginalising behaviour at some events.
  4. When working you should not be taking part in the demonstration. At all times you should be distinct from the protesters.
  5. Take care when working alongside or near the police as the demonstrators may mistake you for a police photographer.
  6. Always assess where the greatest risk is and remember that this could change. Factors to consider: rioters, counter rioters, police officers, members of the public, other journalists, police crowd control measures, kettling/encircling, use of thrown objects, petrol bombs, firearms, riot shields, police batons, truncheons, tasers, charging horses, plastic baton rounds, water cannon, armoured vehicles, CS gas, pepper spray, etc.
  7. Do not respond to provocation. If verbally or physically threatened please note the incident and advise the PSNI and the NUJ.
  8. Carry your press card in an accessible place not on a lanyard and use it to identify yourself as a legitimate news gatherer.
  9. Carry your cameras openly and act professionally as a journalist. Always remember that how you conduct yourself can cause problems not only for you but also for other media workers.
  10. Keep an eye on fellow journalists/photographers in case they need help.
  11. Always work in such a way that if something happens you can extract yourself.
  12. Avoid use of social media when on location at public disorder events because it could increase your risk.
  13. The police have no authority to delete or confiscate journalistic material.
  14. Observe government health and safety guidelines when applicable (for example, be covid regulation compliant).
  15. Inform the NUJ and your employer or client of any concerns or adverse incidents that happened.
  16. NUJ solicitors Thompsons operate a 24-hour emergency number for work-related criminal matters.
  17. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma website has extremely useful information and advice from experienced journalists on looking after yourself, including Self-Care & Peer Support.
  18. No story is worth a life. Take care and stay safe.

Remember the American tank commander Sgt. Oddball (played by Donald Sutherland) in Kelly's Heroes: "I always like to get out of trouble, as quickly as I got into it."