Reporting from protests – Challenge for the reporters and cameramen

Written by: Ivana Stojkova

Insults, attacks, and even attempts to destroy equipment – such situations are faced by some reporters and cameramen when they have to report from protests. When asked whether their safety at work was ever endangered, the answer for both reporters and cameramen is „Yes, and most often during protests“.

Jovica Paunovski, a reporter for TV 21, says that often the protesters, but also the police do not recognize the media workers, who are there to do their job, so they are left alone when it comes to protecting their security.

„Especially those who were announced as peaceful but escalated later. In those moments, the journalists, must do everything they can to stay professional, report and at the same to save themselves. Because then neither the police nor the protesters treat the journalists any different“, said Paunovski.

The cameramen are not exempted either, as they often receive threats in an attempt to report about the actual situation.

Aleksandar Dimitriovski, cameraman at TV24

 

„Threats are in the form of „I’m going to break your camera, why are you filming?“, „Who are you to film this?“, „Your media are traitors, get out of here, you can not film“ and the like, said Aleksandar Dimitriovski, a longtime cameraman for TV 24.

Dimitriovski adds that in general filming at protests is like any other filming on the scene, but sometimes it can be risky.

„If the protest starts with aggression, i.e. throwing objects, pushing, etc., it is already starting to be risky because of the desire to report from the front lines, a cameraman or a journalist may be injured“, Dimitriovski added.

Journalist Irena Karevska was literally spat at by protesters a few seconds before she went live from a news event and started reporting. Instead of concentrating on reporting, conveying the atmosphere, paying attention to what and how to say it and staying calm, she becomes a target of protesters.

Despite that, Karevska managed to complete the task professionally and put the professionalism before her own safety, but she says that such attacks, which are still not uncommon, are worrying.

Irena Karevska, journalist at „360 degrees“

 

„I reported about the attack in the news, but I did not initiate further proceedings. The reason was probably the fact that there are no encouraging statistics when it comes to the punishment for attacks on media workers. „Although, from today’s perspective, I would probably have acted differently and reported the case, even if it remained just a statistic in the reports on media freedom in the country“, said Karevska, journalist at „360 degrees“.

The pandemic of covid-19 and anti-covid measures have further increased the number of protests and demonstrations around the world, most of which are violent, with media workers reporting on them being targeted.

In Macedonia as well, among the latest cases of attack on media workers is the protest against anti-covid measures, at which reporters and cameramen were insulted, belittled and sent vulgar messages.

Protest against anti-Covid measures

What is dangerous is that such verbal attacks by those present can further incite the present mob to violence, thus directly endangering the safety of media workers.

Is better communication and cooperation between journalists and the police needed?

Statistics show that this year eight charges have been filed with the police for violating the safety of media workers during protests, five of which have been fully cleared and rounded up with three criminal charges, one against seven persons, one written notification to the BPPO and one misdemeanor sanction against two persons. However, three of the reported cases are still not cleared, the perpetrators are not punished.

„During 2021, a total of eight reports were submitted, compared to 2020 when 10 such cases were reported to the Ministry of Interior, nine of them have already been completely cleared, and for one case measures are still being taken for its complete clearing. „Out of this year’s eight charges, five have been completely cleared and rounded up with three criminal charges, one of which against seven persons, one written notification to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and one misdemeanor sanction against two persons“, said the Ministry of Interior.

They add that the Ministry of Interior is continuously taking intensive measures and activities to increase the safety of journalists. They point out that workshops were held with the participation of journalists, photo reporters, as well as members of the Ministry of Interior, and the experiences were shared and the points where the cooperation needs to be improved were located.

How to increase security while reporting?

Natasha Kovachev, a reporter with 15 years of experience in television journalism, a correspondent for „Euronews Serbia“ from Vojvodina, shares some tips and experiences about possible unforeseen situations that may occur while reporting on protests and various demonstrations. For safe reporting, she says, it is necessary to prepare and organize the field teams in advance, as well as the newsrooms themselves.

„It, above all, means clear agreements on who does what, where he/she will be deployed, how the material and information will be sent from the field, but also what are the contact points in the newsroom, i.e. who are the people journalists can contact if on there is a problem on the field. The better the preparation, the lower the chances of a problem“, Kovachev said.

„At the event itself, it is very important not to stand between the protesters and the police or behind one or the other group. The best position is on the side – that way you will have a better overview of the situation, but you will also be able to move faster if the two sides collide with each other. It is also important that you do not argue with the police or oppose the arrest. Make it clear that you are a journalist, show your ID card, and if that is not enough, try to inform your newsroom or lawyer about what is happening. Since the phones may be confiscated, journalists are advised to write down the phone number of the editorial office or the lawyer at hand to be available to them“, Kovachev stressed.

Reporting from a protest is an important and risky thing, but with good preparation, knowledge of the field and possible police tactics, the risks for journalists can be minimized, concludes Natasha Kovachev.

The number of attacks on journalists covering protests around the world is growing

International organizations warn that the number of attacks on journalists covering protests around the world is rising sharply. According to UNESCO, 10 journalists were killed during protests between 2015 and mid-2020, and 125 cases of attacks or arrests of journalists were registered. The organization, whose role includes monitoring media developments, said in a report that such situations were also the result of „a wider upward trend in the use of illegal force by police and security forces in the last five years“.

Impaired media security – violated citizens’ right to be informed

The protests from April 27, which turned into violent demonstrations, speak about the dangers of reporting from the protests, during which the safety of the journalists who reported from the Parliament, where the protesters stormed, was directly violated, and even their lives were in danger. A case that has become a synonym for impunity of attacks on journalists, but also for the dangers of reporting violent protests and demonstrations.

Each field is a story for itself, and the security can be changed in just a few minutes, says the reporter Paunoski, and in order to increase the security, he says that appropriate punishments are needed for the perpetrators.

„Priority should be given to cases of attacks or threats against journalists, and appropriate punishments for the perpetrators. Increasing the rights of journalists, improving the procedures for police treatment of journalists and registering attacks“, Paunovski said.

The cameraman Dimitriovski shares the same opinion.

„Institutionally, they should be more protected and every attack should be properly sanctioned without exceptions“, Dimitriovski added.

According to journalist Karevska, it is high time that the attack on the media worker was treated as an attack on an official.

„Solution? For a start, the long-awaited amendments to the Criminal Code should be adopted immediately, which will treat the attack on a journalist, cameraman or photojournalist as an attack on an official“, Karevska commented.

The media workers who are officially present at the public protests are there on duty in the interest of the public, and the violation of their safety from such events denies the citizens the right to be informed.

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