Collective Action Urged on Safety Training

Cliff LonsdaleThe physical and emotional wellbeing of Canadian journalists will be front and centre on the second day of the CAJ national conference in Montreal (May 28-30). Cliff Lonsdale, president of the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, will moderate two sessions focusing on difficult assignments at home and abroad. He says there are issues the whole industry needs to get together to tackle.  


Here’s the good news: it’s becoming increasingly clear that
predictions of the death of Canadian journalism as we’ve known it were
premature. The patient is stabilizing
and even showing signs of recovery. But
every silver lining has its cloud.  


The past decade or so has seen advances in the recognition
of news organizations’ obligation to do more to protect their journalists from
physical and emotional harm as they do their jobs, at home and abroad. The question now is whether these advances
will be slowed or reversed in a leaner climate, and what we could do together to
mitigate or eliminate the damage. 


Don’t get me wrong.
I’ve worked both sides of the management/union fence in a long career. I know the real level of concern that news
managers feel when they place reporters and others in harm’s way, the pain of a
budget squeeze and the importance of journalists being able to trust the
organization they work for. This is a
time for creative solutions, not a retreat into traditional rhetoric.


The Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma is
working with other journalism organizations to find sensible ways forward. One aspect of that drive will be seen at the
Canadian Association of Journalists national conference in Montreal later this month.  


The Forum is working with CAJ to produce two panel
that focus on the growing dangers journalists face in covering
natural disasters or hostile situations. There are many aspects to this, but we’re particularly concerned about
one of the unintended consequences of belt-tightening.


With the cutting of staff and the closure of bureaus comes
increased reliance on freelances to fill the gaps at home and abroad.  Few if any of these freelances receive safety
training. News managers fear offering it
would open floodgates to a deluge of expensive demand they simply couldn’t


It’s an industry-wide problem that calls for an
industry-wide solution. The Forum is
putting forward a plan that invites news organizations and other interested
parties to contribute affordable sums to a common fund for freelance safety
training. Places for freelances on
hostile environment courses would then be awarded by an independent jury. 


Such issues call for consensus-building. So do many other physical and emotional
safety issues confronting Canadian journalism that will be raised during the two panels the Forum is producing. 


Under the title In Harm’s Way, issues for staff and
freelance reporters on dangerous assignments will be discussed by Lorne Motley,
editor of the Calgary Herald; Rodney
, director of the International News Safety Institute (based in London,
UK); and Dr. Anthony Feinstein of Sunnybrook Hospital and the University of
Toronto, who is widely considered the world’s leading authority on trauma among
journalists in war zones and other dangerous assignments.  Dr. Feinstein is also a director of the Forum.(Saturday, May 29, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Room A)

A second Forum-produced panel will consider Covering
Haiti and the Impact of Tragedy
. François Bugingo, the Congo-born
president of Reporters Without Borders Canada; Paul Hunter from CBC News
Washington; and Sue Montgomery of The
Montreal Gazette
will join Dr. Feinstein for that discussion. (Saturday, May 29, 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., Room A)




Cliff Lonsdale is president of
Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma
. He is former chief news
editor of CBC News and now teaches in the Graduate Program in Journalism at the
University of Western Ontario.