‘They who turn and run away live to write another day!’
Journalists’ first responsibility is for their own safety and for the safety of colleagues. It is up to them to keep themselves safe. A dead journalist, or one severely injured or knocked unconscious, is no good to anyone. There is no disgrace in leaving a scene if the situation threatens your personal safety.
Journalists are treated in law as ordinary citizens, but with some special rights.
They have the full protection of the law under international conventions. They are also protected by the legally enforceable European Convention on Human Rights.
Journalists’ right to be at violent and conflict situations is spelt out in a recommendation of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers which stresses that “the freedom of the media and the free and unhindered exercise of journalism must be respected in situations of conflict and tension”.
Under UK health and safety regulations, and under the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, employers are responsible for ensuring that their staff have reasonable and safe working conditions. This makes them responsible for anyone sent to work in violent situations, or in situations that might become violent – in other words that he/she is fully prepared and has protective clothes and equipment.
Although it has not been tested in a Court of Law whether this applies to journalists and media personnel, we understand that it does. If journalists are attacked, injured or worse while covering a demonstration or other news event, they or their survivors should ask their union for advice. If you are not a member of a union, seek independent legal advice from a reputable firm of solicitors.
Where appropriate the union will seek compensation from those responsible for the damage, injury or death.
Being properly prepared means having had safety training and being insured. Being properly protected means having safety equipment that journalists can put on the moment a demonstration or news event looks like turning violent.