Covering Conflicts

With the events unfolding across the Middle East, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma contacted myself and several other journalists who have worked in conflict zones to better understand what you can do to cover volatile street protests without getting injured. Here are my comments and please look at this link to see some intelligent advice from a  few well-known, seasoned journalists who have collectively covered many of the most dangerous hot spots on the globe.

1) First find a safe place that gives a clear view of what is happening without putting you in the middle of the fighting. For example, go on top of a building above to analyze what is happening below. Take time to watch how the police/military   and crowds are reacting. Do they have live ammunition? Are events escalating quickly? Its important to understand what might happen and how to find a safe place to cover unfolding events.

2) Go with someone who knows the city well if you do not.  Know where there are some exit points. For example, don’t get caught in between a crowd and the police on a bridge. There is nowhere to escape if it turns violent. If it’s in a city, look for doorways and alleys to slip into if you need a quick escape.

3) Understand there is no reasoning with mobs. My own personal experience was in Palestine when a mob of angry young men thought I might be an agent of a foreign government. The only thing that saved me was because I had spent the day with a group of women in their home and they saw the angry mob and came to rescue me. Because they felt they knew me and trusted me, they got involved. If I had only showed up to cover this event and had known anyone, there is a good chance I would not have made it out alive. Mobs are angry, there is no reasoning with them and they often want to see blood in order to avenge someone.

4) Understand visual cliches and try to get past stereotypes in a fast-breaking story. For example, I will often try to find quieter ways of telling a violent, sensational story. The violence often overshadows the deeper message.

Return to Sierra Leone

I am leaving tomorrow to Freetown, Sierra Leone filled with feelings of anxiety as well as hope. The last time I was there was just a few months after the brutal civil war ended in 2002 that claimed tens of thousands of lives and left more than a third of its population displaced. Yet it is the unspeakable atrocities that are so haunting. I remember back in 1999, Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora, a friend and extremely committed journalist, who was later killed covering the conflict, told me stories of rebels offering their victims the choice between a “long sleeve” or “short sleeve” just as they were about to hack off their victims’ arms. When I arrived, three years later, I saw faces devoid of expression, weighed down by these horrific memories. The goal was not just to kill people but to terrorize an entire population.

Today security and the politics are steadily improving but there is a quieter battle still going on.  One in eight women are dying giving birth. The government recently announced free health care to pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children under five beginning on April 27. With only about 170 doctors for more than 5 million people, this will be a daunting task.  I hope this documentary can raise awareness, promote change and help. The doctors, health workers and government are working hard to change the statistics.

If you are interested in learning more about this or want to donate, the following links are to organizations working there.

Unicef

Marie Stopes International

Doctors Without Borders

Amnesty International

Israel/Palestine

A young teenage Palestinian couple defy a curfew and dance together during their wedding ceremony  in the West Bank city of Nablus. A British non-governmental agency recently reported that Palestinians are currently living in a state of extreme, worsening poverty and fear for their future. Almost three-quarters of Palestinians now live on less than US$2 a day, below the United Nations poverty line.