Oh the tales of the blue shirt! How many complains we have read about it, some call it the filthy stinky and sometimes even Anderson's security blanket. Sure he can afford more shirts, but maybe it's his lucky one. Anderson must be missing it... particularly what it represents: FIELD REPORTING! Get out of the studio Anderson!
When we started the FreakSpeakers project we wanted to focus on the behind the scenes and the perils of being a journalist. It has been awhile since we last blogged about the topic but for the newbies we will be repeating some of the post of our archives ( hey if Anderson Cooper and CNN repeats to the 9th degree why can't we? It's summer!). This post was first published October 15, 2006 and since then our community and readers have increased significantly.
Why the Blue Shirt and other concerns
Minimizing Risks in Conflict Zones
How journalists conduct themselves in the field may help save their lives, and the unwritten rules can vary from conflict to conflict. In some situations, for example, it may make sense for journalists to have a high profile, while in others, drawing attention to yourself may draw a hostile reaction from combatants. Talking with seasoned reporters who have covered the region is essential; veteran correspondents are usually generous with advice to newcomers.
Clothing and Culture
Journalists should be mindful of the kind and color of clothes they wear in war zones. Members of the media should always place prominent labels on their clothing (including helmets) that clearly identify them as press. Journalists who accompany armed combatants—irrespective of whether the combatants are uniformed— must consider how their own clothes may look from a distance. Bright and light colors that reflect a lot of sunlight may make a journalist too conspicuous. But wearing camouflage or military green could make journalists targets. Depending on the terrain, dark blue or dark brown may be preferable. In particular, some photojournalists prefer black because it doesn’t reflect light, but some combatants, especially rebel forces, often wear black. Of course, journalists should also respect local sensibilities. This includes men and women dressing as decorum may require. Foreign journalists of both sexes should also be aware of practices that could be offensive in some cultures.
Journalists covering conflicts should never carry arms or travel with other journalists who carry weapons. Doing so jeopardizes a journalist’s status as a neutral observer and can make combatants view correspondents as legitimate military targets. In some particularly dangerous conflicts, journalists have hired armed guards. The practice first became widespread among television crews and reporters covering Somalia in the early 1990s after journalists traveling without armed guards were robbed at gunpoint. Journalists who use armed guards, however, should recognize that they may be jeopardizing their status as neutral observers. For example, CNN crews used armed guards in northern Iraq in 2003. On one occasion, unidentified attackers shot CNN’s vehicle, which was clearly marked with “Press,” and CNN’s hired guard returned fire. The gunmen continued to shoot the vehicle as it turned around and drove away. CNN International president, Chris Cramer, defended the network’s use of armed guards as necessary to protect CNN personnel in Iraq. Robert Menard, secretary- general of the Paris-based press freedom watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières, however, criticized CNN, saying that the practice “risks endangering all other reporters.” Many broadcasters now regularly employ experts from private security firms to accompany their news crews in the field, but these experts are not armed and primarily provide guidance on movements in conflict areas, including large street demonstrations.
For their own protection, journalists should not engage in participatory behavior on the battlefield, such as identifying enemy locations, and they must be mindful at all times of their behavior, language, and attitude toward combatants. Whether they are embedded with military forces or traveling independently, the only role that journalists should play on the battlefield is that of observer. All journalists must remember that participatory behavior while traveling with combatants—or anywhere within a conflict area— an put them and their colleagues in danger.