War games: Training journalists for the worst

As threats against journalists in the field soar, several organisations are trying to make training more accessible.

| | Media, Europe, England, Journalism

Five minutes earlier our "Turkish" driver had been talking about David Beckham and his love for English football, now, he is laying face down in the dirt, his leg apparently blown off by an anti-personnel mine. A decision is made to leave him there; it is too dangerous to get close

Instead, the team decides to focus on the car crash metres away. Inside, an NGO worker appears to have a complicated fracture and is fast losing consciousness. Under the vehicle is the body of a young child with a major head injury. He will almost certainly die and there is little that we can do. 

Thankfully, for all involved, the rather macabre scene is only a training scenario, taking place on a hill in rural England. The dead child is a mannequin, covered in fake blood, the driver is our instructor and the NGO worker is a local actor. 

The five-day "hostile environment training" course for media professionals is one of many run by companies around the world in an attempt to better prepare journalists for the pressures and risk of conflict. 

"Journalists may face serious threats when operating in hostile environments and it is important they are equipped to deal with dangerous situations," Joel, an instructor with course provider AKE in the UK, said.

"Response is key. By having response plans they can avoid delays when an incident occurs. Delays can be deadly."

Such courses have been standard for years for media outlets, but they remain expensive and often prohibitively so for many freelancers. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of organisations who are not only pushing freelancers to undertake such courses but also assisting them financially. 

The Rory Peck Trust is one of those organisations, helping to fund 75 percent of course fees for freelancers undertaking training in the UK. Other organisations, such as RISC, provide free training and medical equipment to those fortunate enough to get into their much sought-after sessions that take place around the world. 

Earlier this year, over 30 major news companies and journalism organisations, called for the endorsement of the worldwide freelance protection standards which urge all journalist to take similar hostile training if appropriate to their work.

"I did the course because the conflict in eastern Ukraine has been an important part of my remit. My editors' insistence was also key: They wanted to make sure I was better prepared before returning to eastern Ukraine," Dan Peleschuk, a senior correspondent with GlobalPost in Ukraine who took part in the course pictured below, said.

"Strangely enough, I think one of the most valuable takeaways is the realisation that we won't always know exactly what to do in critical situations. I've certainly come away with more than a few staple facts and skills I won't forget."

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