Palestinian journalist, Mohammad Awad (right) and his colleagues recently trained by UNESCO. Photo: UNESCO Rammallah Office
Journalists from the West Bank and Gaza are working together to establish a network in order to improve their safety during emergencies and coordinate responses when journalists face attacks.
Mohammad Awad, a young journalist from Gaza, is part of a group of Palestinian journalists being trained to better respond to the risks of reporting in dangerous areas. The training, carried out throughout 2019, is part of an initiative to create a network of safety officers within news organizations in the West Bank and Gaza. The network is being developed by UNESCO and the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, and will provide emergency support for journalists, and help mainstream much-needed safety and risk awareness protocols in news organizations.
Mohammad is a reporter covering social and humanitarian issues in Palestine, particularly in Gaza. The need for more professional media content, based on fact-checking and in-depth, investigations, is important to portray the real situation on the ground, including the attacks against journalists, he explains. This was one of the reasons that prompted Mohammad to become a journalist about ten years ago.
However, reporting can turn into a matter of survival when covering high-risk areas in Gaza. The escalation of conflict compromises the safety of journalists, who are often insufficiently prepared to react to danger. Some journalists report without any safety gear, which makes them more vulnerable. “There are many awful stories about journalists working in the field being shot, injured or even losing their lives due to the lack of safety measures or gear, such as vests, helmets and first-aid kits,” Mohammad notes.
Mohammad Awad reporting from the field. Photo: UNESCO Rammallah Office
Together with his co-workers, Fares, Nidal and Fadi, he is part of the first team of safety officers to be established in Gaza and the West Bank.
In April 2019, Mohammad participated in a Crisis Management and Risk Analysis course organized by UNESCO. More than 30 journalists, including 10 female journalists, from about 20 media organizations participated in two specialized training workshops held in Gaza and the West Bank.
The trainings allow journalists, like Shireen Khalefa (above), to share the risks they face and learn from peers' experiences. Photo: UNESCO Rammallah Office
Professional safety experts trained Mohammad and his colleagues to identify risks and prepare them to react in case of emergencies, looking at issues such as how to devise an escape route or how to communicate with senior management to keep them informed about the situation. They also learned from other colleagues’ life-threatening experiences. Mohammed is of the view that journalists joining the safety officers’ network will greatly benefit from these exchanges.
Along with his colleagues, Mohammad produced a plan of operations that outlines a distribution of duties to ensure that safety officers are fully supported by their news organizations, including their management team. The plan also includes workshops to exchange and coordinate responses between safety officers operating in the West Bank and Gaza.
When asked what media can do to better assess and mitigate risks, Mohammad underlined that media outlets have a duty to inform their reporters about the dangers involved in an assignment and to ensure proper preparation. “Advocacy through TV, print and radio is also needed to bring attention to the importance of journalists’ work in the field, which would contribute to further raising awareness about the importance of providing them with adequate protections,” he added.
"Gaza is in great need for such support," Mohammad concluded "and our team is committed to working closely with UNESCO to ensure that this network is fully functional. I am proud to be among the first teams to set an example for others to follow”.
This project is supported by the UNESCO Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists.