BBC's workshop Working in Hostile Environment23 Nov 2013 It was a morning like no other. My classmates and I headed to the BBC Broadcasting House, in the very heart of London, for a special day of workshops about 'Working in a Hostile Environment.'
If you are fool enough to read this blog, you are probably interested in journalism. MEaning, it is very likely that you too share that fascination for international correspondents, war reporters and other heroes we picture jumping from plane to plane.
We all do, and so we went to learn more about this discipline.
The BBC prepared everything with incredible precision and effectiveness. From airport-like security to the first talk in the red-lit auditorium. We were escorted by stewards and had a short glance at the huge newly-revamped newsroom. The day began with a short movie which, in a couple of minutes, showed us the best-of the BBC international correspondents. Each facing the cameras in their nice shirt in the middle of attacks, sometimes with blood over them. Needless to say, a thrilling atmosphere had invaded the room as the grandiose image and the dramatic music went down.
The day consisted of three one-hour long workshops and two panel talks - to open and close the day.
After talking about the job becoming more and more dangerous, our group went to see a psychiatrist who briefed us, with the support of an acronyms-filled Power Point, about the dangers and the prevention of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), among other trauma-related problems. The awareness in the job really seems to change, and it can be considered a good thing that rookies are talked through these problems before they hit the ground. However, for journalists as for soldiers, the language needs to be framed: "You will want to seek help after a traumatic event. Not because you are not tough, but because you want to continue to do your job good and for a long time." This adjustment in the language was quite remarkable.
We were then taken to Karen, the Head of the BBC High Risk Team, an ex special forces lady, who explained the necessity of risk assessment, training and communication plan. As well as passing around a body armor metal plate for us to see how heavy it was. Basically, we were shown how great it is to work for such a big organization as the BBC, and reciprocally the benefit of having that same huge machine to watch your back and support you. If the price to pay for such efficiency is a little bureaucracy when the office threatens not to let you go without a written risk assessment, we think it is worth paying.
After a quick lunch break, we enjoyed what was the more topic-related workshop. Keith, who works in private security, talked to us about his job: planning the work of journalists and NGOs in hostile environments. What to bring in your medical kit, what problems you'll face at borders for all your tactical equipment, how to choose a good fixer... or why you should not pick up your buddy hit by a secondary blast dropped by a jet before the plane comes a second time. Planning, planning, planning. That's what will keep you alive. He was really impressive to listen to, full of common sense, and very keen on dispensing his military sense of logistics.
The last talk addressed an important concern: who is responsible for the people sent on the ground? Guests in suits sent by Sky, the AP and the BBC, explained in details to the audience that their news organization is responsible for their staff, how they take precautions for them to be safe(r), and how they try to deal with the fact that the editor in London does not have the knowledge the field guy has.
All recognised the difficulties the freelancers have. They do not belong to such big organizations which have the power to take them out trouble and the competitive pressure may incite them to take incredible risks. Therefore, many insisted on the necessity for us in the audience to be trained and well aware of where we're heading.
Because "when working in hostile environments, you can die."