WAN-IFRA has long advocated for journalists’ safety, representing the industry at the highest-level during decades of work in partnership with UNESCO and the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the European Union, and alongside hundreds of colleagues and peers across the media support sector. But our commitment goes a lot further than campaigning, influencing policy, and ensuring the voice of the industry is at the forefront of discussions: our work with newsrooms worldwide shows the practical steps being taken to keep journalists safe.

Tackling safety concerns in news organisations is embedded in the Media Freedom strategy that guides WAN-IFRA’s engagement with members and media partners alike. Alongside business capacity development, editorial and newsroom skills building, and a gender, diversity and inclusion focus, safety for newsrooms and individual journalists occupies a key space in the Media Freedom portfolio. It is a direct approach that currently reaches media in challenging or emerging markets in over 20 countries.

A worsening press freedom situation across the globe combined with deepening financial uncertainty has seen an upsurge in demand from media organisations fighting challenges on many fronts. Despite these growing insecurities, there is a strong commitment from members and partners alike to keeping their people safe.

An annual investment of around half a million Euros from WAN-IFRA’s major Media Freedom public donors (the Swedish International Development cooperation Agency, Sida; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark) over recent years has been dispersed across sub-Saharan Africa, MENA, and Southeast Asian newsrooms via an approach we call SaferMedia.

Understanding how media operate

We invite media to open themselves up to a comprehensive deep dive across all strands of the safety conversation. Led by expert security and advisory teams with deep local knowledge as well as global security experience, internal resources and skills are first identified before we move on to shaping a more responsive and meaningful engagement that tackles the threats media are facing.

There are multiple dimensions for newsrooms to consider when thinking safety, and any number of factors that can influence how these are addressed. Ultimately, through our engagements we’re encouraging media to strengthen an internal culture of safety at every stage of the business; to make organisations safer places to work that value a professional approach to safety in the same way they do news production or conducting business.

On a basic level, training journalists to stay safe on dangerous assignments (either via online courses or in-person HEFAT-style training) is a welcome asset for every newsroom we work with. We go beyond this to provide resources, skills training, and practical tools to editors, senior managers, HR and operations staff to ensure everyone with responsibility for an element of a company’s approach to safety is working with the best available resources and is applying these efficiently and effectively.

Looking at management processes for safety policies and protocols to structure appropriate, manageable, and sustainable responses to safety challenges is key. Guiding newsrooms through the refinement and updating of existing policies, reformatting, or restyling them in response to new challenges and changing environments, and better understanding immediate threats and potential risks, is also essential.

We engage senior newsroom and corporate staff in these conversations, in our trainings, and through our online seminars and e-learning platforms, recognising that buy-in from decision-makers is critical to instilling new operating procedures and setting the tone for a change in working habits.

Equally, we’re engaging editorial and corporate staff lower down the hierarchy, training them in everything from physical safety in preparation for dangerous assignments, to offering mental health and well-being coaching, to trauma recognition and effective psycho-social response mechanisms. We look at basic digital security right the way up to advanced IT infrastructure protection, as most newsrooms globally are reporting a dramatic recent increase in cyber-attacks and online disruption.

Our Women in News team have made tremendous progress in training newsrooms on recognising and responding to sexual harassment, instigating management processes to effectively manage policies and complaint mechanisms, workplace sensitisation and advocacy. Similarly, thousands of women journalists across Africa, MENA and SEA have received online harassment training, and we have instigated a ‘training of trainers’ model to empower local newsrooms to continuously inform and update staff on the risks and responses to online violence (that studies show disproportionally targets women journalists).

75 years and counting

WAN-IFRA’s advocacy around safety and security issues, dating back to the then FIEJ’s foundation in 1948, is premised on the belief that financially healthy media businesses stand the best chance of defending their rights and promoting freedom of expression via the exercise of press freedom.

It hasn’t always been a fashionable or popular position; WAN-IFRA’s unique role as a trade organisation with a human-rights mandate somewhat separated us from the usual civil society or NGO actors in this field. Our championing of strong media businesses and all the components therein challenged the thinking about how development money should be allocated.

Thankfully, this has become mainstream thinking, and any number of public agencies, private donors, and peers in the field now rigorously promote the idea of business sustainability and media viability as a necessary component of humanitarian support for media freedom.

Having been around through multiple iterations of the same challenges, WAN-IFRA is well placed to offer analysis and thought leadership across many subjects that impact our industry. When it comes to identifying and recognising trends, safety is no exception, but we couldn’t – and shouldn’t – aim to do it alone. Creating a culture of safety and tackling the many challenges facing modern newsrooms requires expertise and knowledge from across the board.

Forging international alliances

For this, be work with several recognised partners with a huge range of expertise, but we are particularly grateful to actively engage in the ACOS (A Culture of Safety) Alliance. ACOS is a unique umbrella organisation that brings together journalists, editors, news organisations, safety experts, trainers, NGOs, funders, innovators, and more to contribute to making that culture a reality in newsrooms across the globe.

The impetus to create such a network was born out of tragedy: the deaths of freelance reporters James Foley and Stephen Sotloff in Syria in 2014 led news organisations – including the AP and Reuters – to come together to define a set of basic principles to address the safety of freelancers, often the most vulnerable and exposed given the precarity of their employment status. The Alliance encourages media organisations to ‘sign-up’ to these principles as a commitment towards changing the culture of the industry. WAN-IFRA was an early signatory and has since actively encouraged members to consider doing likewise.

But ACOS is more than just signatories; we are proud to have worked closely with the ACOS team on several projects and initiatives, most recently a two-year effort to create the first dedicated training resource designed exclusively for editors – the Editor Safety Hub.

Engaging WAN-IFRA members and ACOS signatories throughout the process, our community has shaped a tool made in the image of today’s editors that responds to newsroom challenges wherever they are across the globe. The team behind this included award-winning documentarists, designers, e-learning experts, and safety professionals, crafting a tool that we know editors will enjoy engaging with and that will deliver much-needed support when it comes to safe commissioning. It’s a unique tool, and one that we’re confident will help drive the safety conversation forward in newsrooms across the globe.

This exciting online platform will be launched early in the New Year. In the meantime, our commitment to ensuring a safer media environment continues with ongoing advocacy and financial support on behalf of colleagues in Ukraine, Gaza, Indonesia, the Philippines, Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Zambia – and wherever media are threatened. Your support to WAN-IFRA goes a long way, reaching thousands of media professionals every year, proving solidarity across the industry has a meaningful and direct impact where it matters most.

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