Bringing the news to our screens and airwaves can be a dangerous pursuit and the brave souls who risk their lives to bring back stories from war zones, violent protests and areas too dangerous for many of us to tread, often do so with a higher purpose.
For them, it’s not just a job. They run towards the places that others are desperate to escape, so travel risk management is not something that’s given much attention.
The truth, however, is that the job of a journalist can be so risky, that New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports over 1 200 journalists have been killed on assignment since 1992. Iraq, Syria and the Philippines have the most recorded deaths during this period and the deaths have occurred while covering politics, war, human rights and corruption.
“We are working to promote a culture of safety among news organisations and journalists as the situation is becoming increasingly dangerous,” says Maria Salazar-Ferro, CPJ Emergencies Director. “The press community has become more aware of duty of care since the violent deaths of freelancers in Syria in 2014. There’s certainly more talk around how to look after journalists, but it is still largely reactive.”
Duty of care requires companies to ensure the safety or well-being of their employees when on assignment for that company, yet none of the media outlets and journalists surveyed in South Africa for this article were aware of this legal and moral corporate responsibility or, in fact, whether a duty of care policy existed.
“I’m not aware of any duty of care policy, but am 100% confident that I would be looked after as the publisher has an excellent track record of assisting staff when they are on duty travel,” says Claire Keeton, Sunday Times senior news and features writer.
“We have company travel insurance and all international trips need to be approved and undergo more processes than domestic duty travel, but I’m not aware of any duty of care policy existing at Media24,” says Selene Brophy, Traveller24 editor.
While the media organisation does have a travel policy and travelling staff are armed with comprehensive travel insurance, the company’s HR Manager Jeannine Scheltens confirms that no duty of care policy exists.
Xola Ka Madiba, SABC travel manager, says the organisation does not have an official duty of care policy, but that travelling staff are given travel insurance. “When our journalists are invited to cover government trips, there are very specific instructions. We have had situations where our journalists have had to be removed from harm’s way, but we solicit the assistance of the diplomatic mission in that country. We do recognise, however, that we need to introduce a duty of care policy so that our response is less reactive.”
First step of duty of care
The first step for media outlets to safeguard their journalists on assignment is to do a risk assessment, says Salazar-Ferro. “It’s a very basic first step to duty of care. Media outlets can also visit the ACOS Alliance website to find information on how to incorporate the highest safety standards in their work.”
The travel programme for media organisations must be more flexible than for many other industries, explains Stage and Screen Travel Service’s Jennifer Smith, who specialises in this niche area of corporate travel and duty of care programmes. “It’s not always possible to plan ahead because news just happens, so a lot of this kind of travel is last minute and you have to be particularly resourceful when the whole world is rushing to the same spot to get the news first.”
“Depending on where you’re going, you’ll need the assistance of a travel agent to find accommodation, flights, visas/ permits, carnets etc., quickly so you don’t miss out.”
Smith says the right contacts are essential for media travel. “Travel plans like flights and visas can be looked after by your travel management company (TMC), but as journalists arrive on the ground they are largely responsible for assessing the situation and feeding back to their management and TMC to assist them.”
Having a duty of care programme doesn’t need to be a daunting task, or a very time consuming one. With the help of the right TMC, you can quickly implement simple emergency or evacuation procedures that can turn those days of turmoil into peace of mind that your travellers know exactly who to contact in an emergency and how to get home. If a TMC has all your traveller details on file, it’s easy to track them down should an emergency occur and provide assistance or alternate travel arrangements to ensure their safety.
There is no question that the world would be a sadder place without the brave journalists who risk their lives to report on the news. The number of journalists who lose their lives as a result would, however, be vastly reduced if media organisations had proper travel risk and duty of care programmes in place.