Reporting Disasters : journalism minders in Libya Reply

As the Libyan civil war hotted up, reporters crossed the border into danger, to get the story.

When they did so, Shaun Filer was there to try to keep them safe.

Some journalists believed that if you got one step closer to the fighting, the more chance you had of getting the big story, Filer said. “In many cases it was the photo journalists… who needed to get really close to get that image,” he said. “It’s not like text [reporting] or doing a piece to camera, the photo journalists needed to go forward”. While Filer was in Libya, a photo journalist was shot near the front lines.

Libya had an open border, with no border patrols or requirements for visas. It was on the doorstop of Europe and a short flight to Cairo, [followed by] a drive to the border and you were in a country afflicted by civil war. There were no checks or accreditation. Anyone could get in and have a go.

Filer was an international emergency assistance consultant for Dynamiq Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based company which “helps organisations to reduce operational risk and protect their people and assets at home and abroad”. He’s a former US Marine Corpsman (medical orderly) who completed a Masters degree in Journalism at QUT. Dynamiq provided “outsourced resources” to organisations operating in remote, complex and high risk environments. Its global operations included:

  • International legal advisors
  • Trauma counsellors
  • 310 safety and security experts
  • In-house emergency doctors, nurses and paramedics
  • PR advisors
  • A presence in 208 countries.

Filer ran safety training courses for the ABC, the BBC, Thompson Reuters and Australia’s Channel Nine to try to prepare foreign correspondents for disaster and war zones. When the public was evacuating the media were moving in. They had to be prepared for what they could face.

On completion of the Managing Hostile Environment course, participants were said to be  able to :

  • Carry our safety planning
  • Understand medical and security evacuations
  • Conduct life saving first aid
  • Seek safe accomodation
  • Understand the threat of kidnap
  • Cover assignments in high risk environments

We do role playing. We do a lot of medical scenarios. It’s about getting people to feel self sufficient. In most cases in the field you are not going to have a security guard. The majority of the time you are going to be traveling alone or with colleagues. It’s about feeling confident.

The Dynamiq group organised evacuations for journalists if things got too hot. They had a network of field intelligence, support systems and even safe houses in places like Benghazi.

Generally you want to stay and cover the story. But in dire situations, you need to have an out…One of the key areas [in training] was preparing exit strategies. When in doubt, know you way out. If the threat is local, focused and directed at foreign media, it may involve pulling people out of that country for a period of time and waiting until conditions changed until you could head back in.

News Agency journalists often went “close to the risk”.  But, there were dangers in being isolated and cut off. If Benghazi in Libya had been surrounded by Gaddafi military forces, dozens of journalists might have been trapped. “If the nuclear crisis in Fukushima escalated, they may have had to look for more evacuation methods”, he said. This could have involved air evacuation, or simply sending in support to ensure the journalists had a route out.

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