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Ensuring safety of field reporters covering COVID-19 (WAN/IFRA)

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World News Publishing Focus

In a WAN-IFRA webinar on Thursday, Roger Renni, Director and Senior Security Consultant at Key Objectives, and Dr Kane Mortlock, Active Paramedic in State Emergency Support, Australia, and Key Objectives Instructor, offered expert advice for journalists working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Neha Gupta and Simone Flueckiger 

“We have to conduct the same planning and risk assessment as we would if we were going into a war zone, covering a natural disaster or a violent protest,” Renni said.

“The dangers and threats of this environment are actually worse. What we’re dealing with here is a threat that, if not managed properly, is not just going to harm the people local to us. It can have a ripple effect.”

Personal safety for journalists

Personal safety is hugely important during a pandemic, especially for journalists who can’t self-isolate and need to continue to report from the frontlines.

Mortlock explained that the moment you leave your house, you should assume your hands are contaminated, and avoid touching your face.

Once you return home, immediately wash your hands before touching anything inside your own living space. If you’ve been in a high risk environment, put your clothes in the washing machine and go directly in the shower.

For journalists who are going to be around people who are likely COVID-19 positive when reporting, wearing a mask will offer additional protection.

When choosing a protective mask, it is important to pay attention to the rating on it, and not to its appearance. For instance, masks P1 and P2 look similar but while the P1 mask only offers protection against low levels of dust, the P2 mask (aka N95 respirator) helps lower the risk of contracting the virus.

“It’s imperative to know what mask you have, to avoid a false sense of security,” said Renni. “If your budget allows it, purchase a P2 mask with an attached valve since it doesn’t trap moisture and increases the lifespan of your mask.”

Both Renni and Mortlock advise against using improvised masks. If a journalist is using an improvised mask and going into the field, they are putting themselves in danger and must do a risk assessment as though they did not possess any personal protective equipment (PPE).

Respecting social distancing measures

Journalists should also follow social distancing guidelines whenever possible. Social distancing refers to the physical separation between people, maintaining a distance of at least 2 meters (6 feet), as well as taking steps to avoid crowds or crowded spaces.

Many countries have implemented such measures in a bid to halt the spread of the virus, but they can only work if at least 80 percent of people follow them, Mortlock explained. If only 70 percent comply with distancing guidelines, they essentially have no effect.


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