Dealing with threats, dangerous situations and incidents involving Reuters or its staff
Threats, Claims of Responsibility and Hostage-Taking
We do not encourage groups that use violence for political or other ends to use Reuters as a publicity vehicle. We do not solicit their phone calls, press releases. videos or any other material relate to threats, claims of responsibility and hostage-taking. And, as with any other news, we do not pay for such material under any circumstances. Our bureaus need to exercise judgment in deciding whether to report on the statements and images released by such groups. Our decisions should be based on whether the material contains fact-based news or is purely propaganda. We have a duty to inform the public, but we must avoid being used by groups whose goal primarily is to spread fear or hatred.
Striking this balance can be difficult. Decisions typically should usually be taken in consultation with a senior editor.
We should treat a threat of violence such as a bombing in the same way as we treat a rumour. While Reuters policy is to report news, not suppress it, we must avoid gratuitous damage to any individual, group or economic interest by publishing information that has not been verified. If we decided to publish information that we have not verified, we should disclose that. 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.
A threat made by telephone or letter to a Reuters office should be immediately be reported to the bureau’s general manager and the regional editor. If the threat is deemed imminent and credible, local authorities should also be advised.
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, as well as your regional editor, before publishing.
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.
Category: Specialised Guidance