Story first, safety second?

BY: Rebecca Kwei
•Media men and women struggling to get into the bucket of a truck to cover the 2016 6th March Independence parade
•Media men and women struggling to get into the bucket of a truck to cover the 2016 6th March Independence parade

On Saturday, October 7, 2017, a cameraman with Net 2 TV, Mohammed Ashley, lost his life when he was filming the gas explosion that occurred at the Atomic Junction, near Madina, a suburb of Accra.

Sad to say, a number of journalists and other media persons have lost their lives in the line of duty. A Ghanaian Times reporter, Samuel Nuamah, then a member of the Presidential Press Corps, died in a motor accident on his way to Accra after covering the visit of then President John Mahama to the Evangelical Presbyterian (EP) Church convention in the Volta Region. Some of his colleagues sustained various degrees of injury.

Indeed, there have also been many attacks on journalists in their line of duty. A freelance journalist, Kendrick Ofei, alleged that he was brutally assaulted by some soldiers during the celebration of Ghana’s 60th Independence anniversary at the Independence Square.

A journalist from GhanaWeb and another from TV3 were assaulted by the New Patriotic Party (NPP) security personnel at the party's head office in December 2017.

A presidential staffer, Stan Dogbe, was reported to have destroyed a voice recorder belonging to a reporter of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in August 2015.
Just recently, on March 27, 2018, a broadcast journalist with Joy FM, Latif Iddrisu who had gone to cover protests against the arrest of the Deputy General Secretary of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), Koku Anyidoho, was allegedly assaulted by police officers at the premises of the CID Headquarters. The reporter was later hospitalised.

As with any profession, journalism is not immune from risks, yet health and safety are hardly topics of concern for media houses and journalists, particularly in our part of the world. As far as I can remember, there has been no time in my career when my employers have conducted a risk analysis for any assignment. The usual refrain reporters hear is: "There is an assignment here; there is a demonstration there, go and cover it."


There appears to be no process or mechanism in place to check how safe the journalist will be in covering that assignment, nor is it usual to provide protective gear for hostile environments. What has become the “norm” is usually to organise security awareness programmes for journalists during election periods.

Journalists often come under attack in the line of duty

A short internship with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) revealed that the health and safety of workers are not taken for granted. There are a whole range of resources on health and safety, risk assessment for journalists and, indeed, training for all workers to manage health and safety issues.

BBC journalists must attend a public order safety course before being deployed to a riot or a situation that may develop into one. For the BBC, if the risk assessment conducted on an environment is deemed not safe for the reporter, then he/she will not have to cover the assignment. Additionally, journalists are trained in what to look out for and how to protect themselves in times of danger.

Health and safety measures do not only apply to covering assignments but also the workplace, where care is taken to prevent harm or injury to workers. For example, cables are properly laid and not exposed to prevent people from tripping and hurting themselves. The BBC even goes as far as consider the safety of people who send videos, photos, emails or texts that it uses in its journalism.

The BBC Academy Health and Safety Project Manager, Nick Whatcott, in an article for the BBC Academy (http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/), says: “Awareness of health and safety in broadcasting is as important and potentially as simple – as knowing how to cross the road.”

So who should be aware and concerned about health and safety?

Whatcott says: “Everyone from the head of the company right down to the newest trainee has an individual legal responsibility to look after themselves and others at work. Obviously the onus is on employers to create and manage an environment in which health, safety, security, environmental and fire safety arrangements are in place, managed and monitored, but that doesn’t stop you from having to do your bit too.”

Safety tips

While it is important for media practitioners to insist their employers put in place health and safety measures, journalists, photographers, cameramen, etc. must, on their own, safeguard their well-being in any assignment they cover.

A former Head of the Public Affairs Directorate of the Ghana Armed Forces, Col. M’bawine Atintande (retd), maintains that journalists have to understand that their safety is their own responsibility as individuals and offers guidelines for journalists to stay safe in the course of their work:

• First and foremost, know the kind of environment you are getting into because you cannot assume that a peaceful environment you are in cannot turn hostile. You also need to know the likely threats to that environment. For instance, you are covering a peaceful demonstration but you need to know the likely threats that may follow - such as a surge by demonstrators, which may end up in getting you injured.

• Find out how you can counter what is likely to threaten you - once you know what the likely threats are and how you can protect yourself, you then make sure you have those tools available to ensure your safety. For instance, if you use your phone for recording, make sure you have a secure place to keep it on you.

• Dress appropriately — Ensure that you dress appropriately for a programme and also wear clothing that will help you secure your equipment, if you have any. For instance, it’s not advisable to wear high heels when covering a demonstration. The high heels may be a danger for you.

• Read widely on the environment and the issue you are covering - this helps you to make an informed decision on how to be safe and not assume things. For example, in conflict areas you need to know what is happening, who is there, the antagonists etc.

• Identify leaders of the body organising a programme so you can easily contact them when there is a problem. Carry water and snacks when you are going out for a long time and also get personal insurance.
According to Col. Atintande, media organisations are key to ensuring the health and safety of journalists. He says that they should be interested in the health and safety of journalists and suggests they need to:

• Think about every possibility of risk on an assignment. The editor or whoever is responsible for assigning knows who the organisers are and should be able to identify individuals who can help in times of trouble.

• Have contacts of people you can contact when you are at risk.

• Have a safety officer who is responsible for the safety of journalists. The person should know the number of journalists in the field on a day-to-day basis, where they are going and how to contact them. It is possible when there is danger on a particular assignment, the journalist may not be aware but the safety officer can call the journalist and offer advice. The safety officer should also develop a safety document for journalists to use.

• Provide insurance cover and protective clothing for journalists when necessary.

• Have a clear communication line for journalists to use at any given time to report crises or challenges in the field.

• Organise regular health and safety sessions for journalists and make resources on how to manage challenges available.
Col. Atintande notes that any entity organising a programme is also responsible for the safety of journalists and must ensure that it is adhered to.

Ghanaian Times Photographer, Vincent Dzatse (arrowed) was attacked by a man in uniform while covering an assignment

Filming on public roads

In a blog/video for the BBC Academy, BBC Producer, Nick Welch, provides tips on how to be safe while filming on the streets. Whenever you film in public areas, he notes, you need to give serious consideration to the specific area where you will be filming. For instance, are there any special events taking place - such as marches or protests - that can affect your shoot? Is it a dangerous area where you can be at risk?

He advises taking precautions to keep yourself and the public safe. Allow space for people to step around your equipment safely. And keep valuables out of sight.

Public order safety course

Media Safety’s Mal Geer, who runs the public order safety course for the BBC Academy, explains in an Academy interview what journalists need to know: “Good planning is the best way to improve the safety of journalists who are covering riots or disturbances.”

He points out that even covering riots “requires permission - so there is time to plan” and stresses the need to gather as much information as possible to make the right decisions about technical and protective equipment — plan, do recces, or even check Google Street View.

He says the best piece of safety equipment is good footwear, as debris on the ground, kerbs or people treading on you all pose a threat, warning: “Once your feet are out of the game, you are out of the game.”

Invest in health and safety

Investing in the safety of journalists is simply the right thing to do. The less injury you have in the workplace, the higher your profit margin.

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