With the rise of Daesh and the kidnapping of other freelance journalists and photographers in Iraq and Syria, photographer Alison Baskerville decided to use her military experience to give other freelance journalists hostile environment training. “I completely undervalued my experience in the military. I thought when I left, I am done. It wasn’t until I really went to the frontline as a photographer that I saw all the freelancers who didn’t have enough experience”, Alison mentioned.

Freelancers often have to cover stories that involve taking risk. However, they are often left alone when it comes to assessing the risk and covering with trauma. According to Alison, the risk, most of the times, happens after the assignment. To her, the stages of planning and risk assessment are of high importance. “We have to be self-sufficient. If your editor calls you to cover a protest you will not have the time to fill out a 400 pages risk assessment – but you should send a message to someone you trust, this is where I am going, this is what I will do’. Her experience has taught her that the only predictable thing about hostile environments is that they will occur. So in order to reduce thinking time when an incident occurs we need the plan!

Hostile Environment trainer Alison Baskerville. Photo: Annabella Stieren
Hostile Environment trainer Alison Baskerville. Photo: Annabella Stieren

 “Absence of the normal – Presence of the abnormal”

The preparation starts way before you leave the door. Think about the climate, the culture, the type of the task, how long you will have to be exposed. Take under consideration all kind of contingencies: What if a civil war breaks out – where can you go, how you can escape. What if you get kidnapped, who has your risk assessment. Be sure that you know the closest hospital and how long does it take to go there. Read the history of conflict and ask yourself how much risk you are going to take. Don’t publish your travel plans and don’t tell people where to go. Ensure your personal affairs on the location.

Build a network

Building a network is not only for stories but also for your safety. If you can’t afford equipment like satellite phones, ask other journalists working for agencies, they have a lot of equipment. “You need to think of alternative communication methods – Some of my colleagues use post and write encrypted letters”.

Be able to read a map and a compass. You need to know where you are on the ground, where to go – which borders can you cross.

Security training. Photo by: Katarzyna Mortoń

Familiarise yourself with the area

Get local orientation, find venues you may need and security locations. Make your intentions known: who, why where, what, when! Carry medication, an appropriate amount of money and consider your clothes. Remember: only pack what you can carry! Also take care of your anonymity. As Alison mentioned “if you raise your profile you will raise their interest”.

Hotel selection

Alison shared with the participants practical tips regarding accomondation. Check if there is a 24 hour- front desk, where the elevator and the fire escape exit is, never give a passport and always take a photocopy of your passport with you and.

Weapons awareness and safety equipment

It’s important both for your safety and for your story, once in the field to be able to recognise what weapons police, army and other groups are carrying. Moreover most of the times journalists covering conflict zones are in the frontline so personal safety equipment does matter a lot. Body amour, ballistic helmet and a medical kit is what you should have with you.

Security training. Photo by: Katarzyna Mortoń

Kidnapping and hostage

Most of the journalists are kidnapped on their way to their assignment.

“It’s something that may happen to you and people have the tendency to ignore it”

It’s important to know how we can help ourselves while we are in captivity or how much we can be involved if there is a rescue attempt for us. Talk to the people, give them a chance to see if they want to negotiate and remember our first aim must be to avoid being a victim but in the case we are, the aim is to survive.

The Inclusive Media training is supported by the German Foreign Ministry, the German Institute for Foreign Affairs (ifa), the International Women Media Foundation (IWMF), the European Youth Press and the Syrian Female Journalist Network (SFJN).

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