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Introducing CPJ’s new emergency response team – March 6, 2017 IFF

Colin Perreira new Journalist Safety specialist, based in London, working on journalists facing emergency situations. Joined by Tom, working on CPJ’s Internet Freedom

CPJ compiles a list on every journalist being killed, imprisoned or exiled in the course of their work each year. 5 major programs for major global regions, publish relevant and timely updates on attacks on the press with goal of deterring future attacks and getting best possible outcomes for future cases. Write letters, using UN and other supranational bodies reporting and advocacy mechanisms to reduce impunity for those who harm journalists, bring them to justice and release imprisoned journalists.

Traditional advocacy methods of name and shame, strongly worded letters to bad actors, are effective against traditional westphalian nations but not against non-gov’t organizations with authority in areas where they operate (i.e. terrorist orgs and criminal cartels). CPJ formed emergency response team at CPJ is to use methods beyond reporting and advocacy to support journo safety worldwide. Our focus in emergency response team is on prevention and rounded remediation. Increasing our capacity to share journalist safety info before journos are imprisoned, executed or anything bad happens to them to provide more expedient response when conditions become unsafe so they can protect themselves and avoid most dangerous situations. We don’t tell journalists not to do their job, follow a specific story, etc. but we want to provide best practices, best tools and best procedures to be safe in whatever the reporting is. Point is to build a culture of safety, especially for freelancers without security advisors and institutional support. Last week published a CPJ report going into motivations for physical digital and psychological approaches to safety.

Reason we’re here today is also because we know we’re not alone in doing this, not the only people trying to enumerate best practices for safe travel and we don’t want to unnecessarily duplicate that, we want to collaborate with those with different goals/methods, if you are working on something we want to share with everyone.

Tom is computers person, Colin is physical safety, Maria runs program in NYC and Nicole works on psychological safety and on journalist assistance program (i.e. when journalists are attacked, face legal bills, medical bills, unanticipated expenses associated with their work => small grants to journalists around the world to pay for this).

Colin: No journalism background, security background until after 9/11, wanted to be a journalist and studied Islamic extremism. Been working on these topics for a long time and in the UK media sector they’ve been focusing on security for much longer than other countries/industries. In 80s/90s you could do what you wanted when working for a big news organizations. During Balkans War, UK media had to change how they operated b/c many freelancers were flying out and the kill rate of them was extremely high. One BBC journalist was sent to Croatia with no experience covering a conflict zone and he was on the ground for less than 24 hours and drove into an ambush and was killed. The first the BBC management learned of this was when they heard on the news that he had died. A culture of safety was clearly what needed to be worked on. The concept of safety itself was a difficult concept to get into journalists’ practices and for them not to see it as a hindrance to their work. Basically whatever hair brained scheme a journalist comes up with, we can’t say no to it, we simply point out it’s a bad idea and what to avoid. Today the BBC model is a very strong one and Colin has been tasked multiple times to re-create this management model in those businesses. CPJ has hired Colin to do this for the freelance community and the frontline activist community for journalists. He creates infrastructure to manage risk, effectively.

Tom: right now we have models that are identified for institutions, but we want also to focus on those without an institution behind them, i.e. build Institutions for freelancers.

Question: does CPJ have a protocol for keeping safe on social media? The answer is no. Mozilla does have some best practices they’ve put forth. Advice put out recently regarding stalking, fixation and abuse predominately because of the increase in abuse against American journalists receiving abuse since the election and they’ve asked for it. Facebook is not as much a problem for that issue, but mostly it’s twitter and anonymous sources. Advisory put out recently by CPJ, something we put out when elevated risk is detected, highlighting existing resources.

Comment: how to protect certain journalists in Mexico who have multiple identities on social identity in order to stay safe. It’s a broad discussion of online harassment and keeping safe concerning different issues, cross sections of journalists.

Question: how does CPJ deal with mental health issues in cases of PTSD for journalists? CPJ has adopted model of dividing safety threats into three categories, physical, digital and psycho-social. Threat modeling and mitigations people take to evaluate risk: i.e. someone with specialty in computers will evaluate all technological risks but won’t anticipate the other two categories naturally. Media organizations should have a much bigger role in psycho-social type threats and how to address them, i.e. when to take breaks from work, dealing with PTSD, safety consequences on mental health as a consequence of their work must be dealt with just like if they had experienced physical attacks. Promotion across organizations.

Comment: media organizations have been working a lot lately on peer support for psycho-social effects, working on it at ACOS, and it’s proven to be one of the key things for psychological support. CPJ: communities of freelancers, peer communities are a critical structure as a substitute for the corporate infrastructure that can help protect the physical and digital and psycho-social effects on journalists.

Question: regarding digital security, tools, trainings raise awareness, but does CPJ work in social media policy? Many policy changes have occurred over past years which affect privacy of journalists.

CPJ: training journalists is important but it’s better to not have to train because the world is safer to begin with, i.e. with great policies and practices of social media organizations/technology with good underlying norms. Separate part of CPJ’s work, i.e. advocacy program working to change policy norms in the legislative/governance sense. Technology program advocates with tech companies, open-source projects, tool developers to make sure tools have best interests of journalists and those who gather and disseminate news are safer.

Comment: RSF + CPJ + ACOS team up to work on policy, especially in DC, regarding recent US DHS detentions of journalists at the border/possible device searches because we’re all interested in working on this together because common goal.

Question: problem with journalists being stubborn about how they work. Perception is journalists tend to distrust anyone but themselves or anyone but their own media organization so how can media organizations work better with CPJ to amend this issue? CPJ: more than happy to help on individual level to work with media organizations in order to foster better connections and communications.

Comment: Someone trains a lot of local journalists, what is CPJ doing to increase protection of killings of local journalists, especially for local journalists who would’ve survived if they had helmets, which they didn’t. Lack of access to non-western, English speaking freelancers. CPJ: we are trying to tell media organizations how to offer this. But we don’t offer it ourselves, specific legal implications of full body armor lending by NGOs in Libya, other countries?

Question: how do you define who is a journalist? i.e. feminine well-known blogger who is also queer and in India, is that still a journalist for you? Organizations who are doing this and are well-resourced and are able to get equipment and be out there? CPJ: attacks on people who engage in acts of journalism have consequences on the act of journalism in itself. Many people engaging in journalism also engage in other pursuits, i.e. activism activity. When you’re collecting information according to journalist principles and reporting information to the public, then you’re engaging in journalism and we want to protect that individual. CPJ’s assistance program has a broad definition of journalist/blogger, once someone is in the program receiving assistance we have a broad sense of who can receive protection.

Comment: the security environment is really failing because there are huge gaps. HEFAT (verify) training doesn’t work for everyone, i.e. in Mexico. You said you have support, but what is the timeline of how quickly you can react? CPJ: processes each request with all due haste in terms of what is an immediate response, how urgently needs to be dealt with. Currently we’re evaluating where the gaps are and the newest most emerging threats are not automatically captured and we haven’t yet concluded what we’ll say about the training other than telling people to get good training. We need to say what sort of content should be provided, etc. Hostile environment training is based on military training as an offshoot and it’s designed for western journalists going to a war torn country and then coming home, and doesn’t meet local concerns. If trying to select a training program you should look at who is training, who they’ve trained in the past and what circumstances, environments they have been working in.

Comment: CPJ’s manual is great to help with prevention and takes journalists a good deal of the way toward safety. But the problem is that things have become static because the diversity of threats is intense. Can you create a clearing house of input of people encountering situations not already in the manual to help perfect it and make it useful for others, esp. in different unprecedented decisions? I.e. what is the protocol and when do you assume when someone has been kidnapped? Manual is CPJ’s journalists’ security manual, downloadable online. We’re making improvements at the moment to address gaps. CPJ is working with Elisabet and ACOS to create a product called infoshare to push examples of best practices and exporting them to other situations.


Action points, please contact us individually/in groups to discuss.