Colin Pereira, Director at HP Risk Management
For more than 15 years, Colin has worked to shape the risk management model for journalists operating under threat. He is a Director at HP Risk Management, a consultancy assisting companies and media organisations operating in fragile environments. Previously he was head of security for ITN and Deputy Head of BBC High Risk Team. Pereira has advised teams of journalists covering wars, natural disasters, terrorism and riots globally, and has worked on high risk investigations. Colin Pereira was also a journalist for BBC Newsnight and BBC Current Affairs.
Tom Bacon, Consultant at HP Risk Management
Tom is a consultant at HP Risk Management and has more than eight years’ experience working in the risk management sector. He was previously the Geopolitical Director at Protection Group International and Head of Risk Analysis at G4S Risk Management. Tom has managed risk consultancy services for multiple global organisations, including several international media organisations. He has a MSc in International Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a BA in International Politics from the University of Warwick.
Journalist Safety 2018: Trends and Dangers
Global media freedom is at its lowest level for ten years, according to an Article 19 report published in late 2017. Repression, violence, intimidation, kidnap and murder remain occupational hazards for journalists in many parts of the world. Internet censorship has steadily become more pervasive and private communications are under surveillance as never before. Governments are using “unprecedented legal and other measures” to silence dissenters, including labelling activists and journalists as foreign agents. Non-state actors, such as organised crime, religious fundamentalists and even some businesses present other dangers to journalist safety.
In 2017, 72 journalists and media workers were killed during the course of their work, while 262 were imprisoned, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The figures could be higher, with gaps in reporting and unconfirmed deaths not captured by the data. HP Risk Management, works with journalists, newsrooms and insurers every day to minimise and mitigate the risks they face. Throughout 2018, we will produce regular forecasts and advice about impending geopolitical issues and the impact they could have on news teams and filmmakers.
Trends to Watch
Terror Attacks in the West
Terrorist attacks will continue in Western cities and on Western targets, as with the diminishing fortunes of Islamic State, foreign fighters return to their countries of origin. At the same time, the Caliphate is now virtual, radicalising and encouraging so called “lone wolves” online. As social media companies have started policing their platforms more stringently, jihadists are turning to encrypted platforms like Whatsapp and Telegram, which is making them harder to track.
Access to some of these platforms – often a key form of communication for deployed news teams – will also be limited for security reasons in some jurisdictions. News organisations have found themselves deploying staff and freelancers en masse to cover the frequent attacks. Inevitably this has meant that the younger and less experienced have found themselves effectively “on the frontlines.”
With attacks expected to continue, news organisations need to review their training, tracking and after care programmes to ensure the people they send are psychologically prepared and supported.
The Allure of Drugs and Crime
The appetite for coverage on the criminal underworld and narco-trafficking shows no sign of abating in 2018. Spurred on by the commercial success of television series like Narcos, journalists and filmmakers will continue to push the envelope to get access to drug lords, criminals and traffickers. In September 2017 Netflix scout, Carlos Muñoz Portal, was killed in Mexico while looking for locations for the next series of the popular series.
This pattern is also not just restricted to Mexico or the Sahel. In America, opioid addiction is now at crisis levels. US domestic journalists are finding themselves confronting this dangerous world, sometimes on their doorstep. As drugs like Fentanyl are becoming more popular in Europe, there is real potential the opioid crisis could spread.
When covering drug stories, journalists need to observe a similar level of preparation and contingency planning as when operating in a hostile environment – even if in their backyard.
President Trump’s ongoing delegitimisation of the media establishment as “fake news” is creating a climate that allows oppressive regimes to harass and intimidate journalists globally. In 2017, the CPJ found that 194 journalists have been jailed on anti-state crimes and the number of journalists jailed on fake news charges, doubled to 21 cases.
Dictators and authoritarian regimes are introducing or taking advantage of legislation to restrict independent journalism. Already, in 2018, Russia’s Duma has given approval to a bill that will designate journalists and media outlets that receive foreign funding, as foreign agents. In the Philippines the securities commission has revoked the registration of online news outfit Rappler, saying that it violated the constitutional prohibition on foreign ownership when it received investment from an international firm. Rappler is known for its critical reporting of President Rodrigo Duterte and has denied the charge. In Brazil, the Federal authorities have announced that in the run up to the 2018 elections, they will start to censor the internet to counter “fake news” and are looking to re-enact a dictatorship era censorship law.
When operating in countries like Turkey (73 journalists jailed), China (40) and Egypt (20), understanding the law and having legal representatives on hand is advised. Common journalistic tools like encryption, satellite communications or virtual private networks can get you in trouble, so it is important to understand local legislation in advance.
Similarly, it is essential to ensure that accreditation and the type of visa you enter on are correct as even the smallest violation can lead to deportation or at worst, the charge of espionage. Furthermore, insurance policies often do not cover cost arising from a detention if the policy holder has entered a country on an incorrect visa. Venezuelan authorities are well known for refusing entry to journalists entering the country with inadequate paperwork; and in Bangladesh there are growing instances of media workers facing restrictions when using tourist visas.
Exposure to spyware and other forms of communications interception by governments could be increasingly deployed against journalists in states where government relations with the media are poor, or expected to worsen in 2018. A wakeup call for journalists was when the Mexican government was accused of using Pegasus spyware equipment to monitor some prominent journalists’ communications. The technology used in Mexico mirrored the technique of phishing emails; targets were sent well-crafted SMS messages with hyperlinks that would install monitoring malware onto their device if clicked. Ethiopian authorities are also suspected of using spyware against government dissidents, including select journalists. Despite the unexpected release of some political prisoners by Ethiopian authorities this month, long-term commitment to reform is unproven and the measures do not necessarily signify an end to the monitoring of communications.
Worldwide in 2018, governments will continue to review both terrorism laws and cyber legislation, subsequently impacting rules around encryption and data storage. Keeping abreast of changes to legislation as well as reports of authorities’ use of spyware will remain paramount to securing communications while avoiding unintentionally breaking new laws. Having communications back-ups when covering major political and civil unrest will also become more important for both staff safety and the ability to provide timely, reliable reporting. Governments, local authorities or law enforcement in several states are prone to enforcing internet and telecommunications blackouts at times of large-scale unrest, presenting evident challenges to transmissions and team communication. Communication blackouts should be prepared for when covering unrest, in addition to the more traditional physical features of any training programme.
Crises Set to Worsen
A proposed deal to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh back to Myanmar threatens to unleash further suffering. So far journalists have been able to operate in relative safety in Bangladesh, but there will the editorial appetite to venture into Myanmar illicitly amid tight controls on journalist access.
The Myanmar government has stated its intentions by arresting two Reuters journalists covering the Rohingya crisis in late 2017 and charged them with violating the “Official Secrets Act,” legislation that dates to British colonial rule. In the face of ongoing international pressure, the conditions facing the Rohingya in Rakhine are not likely to quickly improve and access for international observers and journalists will remain tightly restricted.
Yemen – The Saudi/Iran tussle
A struggle for regional influence is now playing itself out in Yemen, as Iran and Saudi Arabia continue to conduct a proxy war. The killing of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in late 2017 will reinvigorate Houthi resistance to the Saudi backed forces. This in turn will prompt Saudi Arabia to extend the blockade and aerial bombing campaign. Three-quarters of Yemen’s 29 million people are facing starvation or rely on humanitarian aid to survive, the UN has announced. The humanitarian situation will continue to worsen unless the war ends.
Logistically, journalists find access to Yemen difficult and precarious. Sanaa is relatively secure, but the South and Aden remain a significant security challenge. HP Risk Management has overseen numerous journalistic deployments to Yemen this year and is able to share key experience and contacts in-country.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
A complex emergency has persisted in the DRC for more than 20 years, but could worsen in 2018 with growing violent unrest already seen in several cities in January. President Kabila’s refusal to hold a scheduled election for the second year in a row, pushing it back until December 2018 will further destabilise the country. The opposition simply do not believe he will step down and will protest intermittently in Kinshasa and other major cities for the rest of the year. The Congolese government closed media outlets and harassed journalists with increasing regularity in 2017. Foreign journalists based in the country have been forced to leave after their visa renewal applications were denied.
At the same time, in the Kasai and Kivus provinces, armed conflicts are erupting as militias vie for power in resource rich areas. Thousands have been killed, and many more displaced. Humanitarian agency CARE estimates that by the end of the year 13.1 million may be reliant on humanitarian assistance. The UN peacekeeping force is scheduled to reduce in numbers this year, creating a potential security vacuum.
It will be another dangerous year for Mexican journalists. Despite commitments from President Enrique Peña Nieto to enhance journalist protections, 2017 saw at least six journalists murdered for their work, with another five murders suspected of being linked to the their media work. An independent reporter was killed in Nuevo Laredo this month, marking the latest victim. The threat of violence and impunity for criminals has eroded the confidence of independent reporting and led to self-censorship among some publications. 2018 is an election year in Mexico and with the ties between politicians and organised crime still alive in several Mexican states, criminals will continue to target those committed to investigating and exposing such illegitimate connections.
Media teams will face increased restrictions in several other countries that go to the polls in 2018; uninterrupted and open coverage of presidential elections in Russia, Egypt and Venezuela later this year, as well as the Cuban National Assembly elections in March, will be difficult. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen this week reminded journalists that they will face legal proceedings if deemed to produce insulting content ahead of a general election in July, and the commitment to an open and transparent election in Zimbabwe under the leadership of President Emmerson Minagawa will only become apparent in the months ahead.
HP Risk Management is a leading security consultancy specialising in media safety. HP advises some of the world’s leading news organisations and provides security consul to several international journalist networks. HP understands the realities of news reporting and documentary film making in fragile environments and offers appropriate crisis management, risk assessment and training services to support operations. For more information about HP services, contact email@example.com
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