Dealing with threats, dangerous situations and incidents involving Reuters or its staff


Threats, Claims of Responsibility and Hostage-Taking

In light of the heightened sensitivities surrounding hostage situations, we want to make sure that we handle stories involving such incidents with special care. In general, we think we serve our readers, staff in the field, and sources best when we take the extra time to weigh the implications of publishing such material – in particular the names of hostages or other details that might place them in extra danger. With these considerations in mind, we would like you to escalate any stories or pick-ups regarding hostage-taking to Global Ethics and Standards Editor Alix Freedman or to Editor in Chief Stephen Adler before publishing.

We do not encourage groups that use violence for political or other ends to use Reuters as a publicity vehicle. We do not solicit such material and, as with any other news, we do not pay for such material under any circumstances. In the cases that follow, our bureaus need to exercise judgment in deciding whether to report that statements or calls from such groups were “received by Reuters” or “received by an international news agency”. This will often depend on the location and is a decision that should usually be taken in consultation with a senior editor.

Apart from filing our own stories first, we should not withhold textual information about threats, claims of responsibility and hostage-taking from other news organisations that ask us for details. In some locations, there may be an agreement to share information among major news organisations and it must be respected by making the material available to others promptly.

Treat a threat of violence such as a bombing in the same way as we treat a rumour. Reuters policy is to report news, not suppress it. At the same time we must avoid gratuitous damage to any individual, group or economic interest by giving circulation to threats that have not been validated. If an airliner is diverted or a building evacuated because of a bomb threat, that is a fact we should not suppress. However, we should be much more cautious in reporting unsubstantiated threats that have not led to significant precautionary action.

If such a threat is made by telephone or letter to a Reuters office it should be reported at once to the police and to the regional general news editor, who should decide whether to issue a story. It is imperative that the general news editor be consulted as soon as possible once immediate action has been taken as judged necessary by the bureau to diminish risk to life. Normally, we would have to be convinced of the credibility of the caller and have some publishable reaction from the authorities concerned before issuing a story. In such cases, we should make clear in the story that we have reported the threat to the authorities.

Statements, telephone calls and other messages claiming responsibility for violent acts must be handled with great care. Notes, and if possible a recording, should be made of telephone calls.

An authenticated statement from a recognised group claiming responsibility for an attack can be used on news merit and sourced in the normal way if we know the incident has taken place. If we get neither confirmation nor a publishable denial we may in exceptional circumstances report the statement. If a statement or telephone call cannot be authenticated as coming from a recognised group or comes from a hitherto unknown group, treat it with grave reserve.

Never use such material as the basis of a story on an incident that has not yet been independently reported. If it refers to an incident that has taken place, report the claim of responsibility only if you have good reason to believe it is not a hoax. In such a case, say why the report appears credible and what steps you have taken to check it.

Follow this procedure if you receive statements, photographs or audio or video tapes from groups holding hostages:

  • Try to advise the hostage’s organisation and, through them, the hostage’s family that the material has been received.
  • Try to get the original, or a copy, of the information to the hostage’s organisation as quickly as possible. At the same time in those countries where the rule of law operates inform the police or other appropriate security authority.
  • Any one service of Reuters (e.g. text, video or photos) that receives such material must immediately inform the others. Text should file a story at the appropriate priority if the bureau is satisfied that the material is authentic.

Dangerous Situations

The safety of our journalists, whether staff or freelance, is paramount. No story or image is worth a life. All assignments to zones of conflict and other dangerous areas are voluntary and no journalist will be penalised in any way for declining a hazardous assignment.

Journalists on the ground have complete discretion not to enter any danger zone. While all reporting of conflict and other hazardous environments involves an element of risk, you must avoid obvious danger and not take unreasonable risks. Writers may be able to produce as good a story at a safe distance as from the front line. Camera operators and photographers need to be closer to the action but using their experience and training often can enhance their security through careful choice of position.

You may move into a dangerous environment only with the authorisation of your superior. Wherever possible the senior regional editor for your discipline should be consulted. Assignments will be limited to those with experience of such circumstances and those under their direct supervision. No journalists will be assigned to a danger zone unless they have completed a Hostile Environment training course.

Your bureau chief/cluster chief and the regional Managing Editor are responsible for your safety and may order you not to run risks that you may consider acceptable. You must advise your base of your movements and of any significant increase in the danger you are exposed to whenever you have the opportunity to do so. If you decide a situation has become too dangerous and you withdraw unilaterally, that decision will be respected.

Do not move alone in a danger zone. If you travel by road do so as a passenger whenever possible, using a driver known and trusted by you and your companions, who is familiar with the terrain and with potential trouble spots. Your vehicle should be identified as a press car unless that would increase the risk. When possible, at least two cars should travel together at a reasonable distance apart in case of a breakdown. Do not travel in military or military-style vehicles unless you are with a regular military unit.

While correspondents, photographers and camera operators should work closely together in trouble zones, the differing nature of their work imposes different degrees of risk on them, and they may be safer working separately. Weigh the risks involved in each situation.

You, or someone in your party, must have a good knowledge of the local language or languages. If you do not speak the language, be sure to learn some key phrases such as foreign press, journalist, friend, various nationalities etc. Learn the local meaning of flags, signs, sound signals and gestures that could be important. Seek the advice of local authorities and residents about possible dangers.

Do not accompany or operate close to people carrying weapons without the explicit authorisation of your bureau chief or regional managing editor. Never carry a weapon or travel with journalists who do. Do not carry maps with markings that could be misconstrued. Be prudent in what you photograph or film. Seek the agreement of troops in the area before you take pictures. Always be conscious of the fact that troops may mistake camera equipment for weapons. Make every effort to demonstrate to them that you are not a threat. If you are unable to get agreement from troops before taking pictures, you must get authorisation from your bureau chief before proceeding, and must discuss with the bureau chief the safest way to get the pictures required. Carry identification, including a Reuters card, appropriate to the area where you are, unless being identified as a Reuters journalist would jeopardise your safety. If challenged, offer as much information about yourself as you can without compromising your safety. Never cross the line, or give the appearance of crossing the line, between the role of journalist as impartial observer and that of participant in a conflict. If working on both sides of a front line never give information to one side about military operations on the other side.

If caught in a situation where people are acting in a threatening manner, cocking their weapons and so on, try to stay relaxed and act friendly. Aggressive or nervous behaviour on your part is likely to be counter-productive. Carry cigarettes or other small luxuries you can use as an icebreaker.

Always wear civilian clothes unless accredited as a war correspondent and required to wear special dress. Use your judgment as to whether to dress to blend with the crowd or to be distinctively visible. In either case, avoid wearing military or paramilitary clothing. You should wear protective clothing such as a helmet and body armour in war zones as long as this does not increase the risks. You should also carry a gas mask and appropriate protective clothing if entering an area where there is a possibility that biological or chemical weapons may be used.

It is worth carrying the internationally recognised bracelet available with the caduceus symbol on one side and with space on the other on which to list your blood group and any allergies. The party you are travelling with should have a basic first-aid kit and a supply of sterile syringes.

Covering conflict and other stories of human suffering can be traumatic. Such reactions are normal and assistance is available through the Editorial Assistance Program or your local HR manager. Do not hesitate to seek this assistance if you think you would benefit. It will remain confidential.

Incidents Involving Reuters and its Staff

The internal reporting of serious incidents involving Reuters and its staff is an important part of any manager’s job. The reporting of such incidents is essential to keep senior company officials up to date on situations that affect staff and operations or which have the potential to embarrass Reuters or affect the company’s reputation. A report from one part of the world – on an attempted hoax, for example – can also provide an important tip-off to managers in another part of the world. We also need to be able to spot trends and take precautions if a pattern is discerned, instead of treating each “incident” as a once-off. Bureau chiefs, specialist editors and other managers with responsibilities for staff or news should familiarise themselves with the following guidelines:

When to file a report

An incident report must be filed when:

  • Staff members are injured, killed, imperilled or harassed.
  • Reuters is threatened with legal action as a result of a story or the behaviour of staff.
  • Reuters withdraws a story, graphic, photograph or video.
  • Reuters makes a mistake that adversely affects a customer (loses them money, for example) and/or prompts a large number of angry calls from clients.
  • Reuters is the target of a hoax or an attempted hoax.
  • Serious allegations of wrongdoing are levelled against our employees.
  • Service is seriously disrupted to customers, due to natural or manmade causes or technical breakdowns.
  • We are involved in an issue that has the potential to embarrass the company.
  • Reuters is involved in an issue or a controversy that could result in an analyst’s or a reporter’s question to a company official.

The list above does not cover every eventuality. In general, err on the side of caution in making sure your supervisors are made aware of serious situations.

How to file a report

When a serious incident occurs, it makes sense to be in quick contact with your direct supervisor either by telephone or e-mail to discuss how to proceed. As soon as possible after that, you or your supervisor should file an incident report using the Corporate Incident Notification Site. You should update your report on that site until the matter is closed.

It is the responsibility of the managing editor in each region to make sure bureau chiefs or specialist editors in their regions are aware of relevant incidents in other parts of the world. Managing editors are also responsible for keeping a register of incidents and complaints in their regions. This database will be maintained centrally.

This page was last modified 16:25, 8 September 2014.

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