Unequipped on the frontlines
Photojournalists seek better safety equipment, gear
Dateline: Karachi, December 9
Photojournalists from across Pakistan emphasized the need for media houses to provide safety equipment and better gear to enable them to better cover major incidents like explosions, attacks and protests without exposing themselves to mortal danger.
This was the consensus at the ‘National Consultative Dialogue on the Safety and Security of Photojournalists,’ organized by the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) with the support of Open Society Institute (OSI) at a local hotel in Karachi.
The participants of the dialogue identified various problems faced by photojournalists in the field, particularly when covering sensitive or dangerous assignments. They ranged from inadequate gear, lack of safety equipment like helmets and bullet-proof vests, lack of awareness of safety procedures, unrealistic demands from reporters and editors, long shifts and low pay, among others.To address the issue, they suggested more trainings and workshops for greater awareness on safety and security, dealing with hostile environments, administering basic first aid, dealing with trauma, etc.
Another major problem faced by media personnel is of threat and intimidation, not only from protestors but also from law enforcement agencies. Journalists shared stories of being roughed up by law enforcement agencies due to lack of communication, information or protocols. It was suggested that the government and media owners should coordinate with law enforcement agencies to create better coordination between them and photojournalists to reduce the risk of injury and also improve communication between them through trainings, meetings and consultations.
Lack of photo editors is another issue faced by photojournalists. According to the participants, those with prior history of photography have a better grasp of the on-ground situation, as opposed to news editors; and, therefore, photo editors can be pivotal in reducing the risk faced by the fraternity.
Absence of uniformity in standard operating procedures (SOPs) and safety protocols is another issue identified by photojournalists. The group discussed the need for enhanced SOPs to allow them to perform at the optimal level while on assignment.
The dialogue also focused on the issue of insurance of photojournalists and their equipment, along with adequate compensation in case of injury or death. Job insecurity, financial considerations, low salary that is often delayed, and lack of support network also featured heavily in the discussion. The need to implement the Wage Board Award was also emphasized.
The meeting, which was attended by photojournalists from across Pakistan, including those from international media and major media houses, suggested that the onus for improving conditions was as much on media owners, associations, LEAs, as on photojournalists.
The attendees also called on media houses as well as associations of photojournalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to take up the issue of journalists injured or killed while working, and to follow-up on their cases to ensure they get the necessary compensation and support.