Caucasus: Dec ‘09/Jan ‘10

IWPR course trains journalists to stay safe when covering conflict.

Caucasus: Dec ‘09/Jan ‘10

IWPR course trains journalists to stay safe when covering conflict.

Friday, 5 February, 2010
A course to help television crews reduce the dangers of working in a war zone has been widely reported on TV in Georgia and has even been the subject of a documentary.

IWPR’s Conflict Reporting School ran its first course at the Georgian military’s Sachkhere base on December 6-13 with reporting crews from six leading Georgian broadcasters, teaching them how to professionally report conflicts and helping them develop the ability to work in critical situations.

The event was covered in 47 reports carried by 12 Georgian TV stations, with up to 30 news pieces, radio reports and articles. The broadcaster Sakartvelo even shot a three-episode documentary about the school and the course.

The Conflict Reporting School was created by IWPR with the Georgian defence ministry as part of the project Building Bridges/Building Capacity in the South Caucasus, which is funded by the British and Norwegian foreign ministries.

The school aims to promote accurate, responsible media coverage of conflicts and reduce the risk of casualties among journalists. In 2010, the school is to run at least two special training courses for television and print journalists.

The decision to establish a conflict reporting school emerged in response to the August 2008 Georgia-Russia war over South Ossetia, in which several journalists died who were untrained in working in hostile environments.

IWPR had already provided eight conflict coverage seminars, one in each of Georgia’s eight regions, five round-table discussions in Tbilisi and two large-scale simulated military operations.

In the week-long intensive training course, the trainees learned how to prepare TV reports according to international journalistic standards: how to stay safe, to give first aid to others on the battlefield, and to respond to emergency situations quickly and effectively.

On the final day of the course, a simulated military operation was staged to test how well the trainees had learnt the theoretical lessons.

British ambassador Denis Keefe gave a press briefing and later played the role of a human rights campaigner in the simulated military operation.

“I believe the school will prepare the journalists for working in any difficult situation they ever may find themselves in. I am happy to be part of this process,” said Keefe, who also presented certificates to graduates on December 16.

“I will always remember the words I’ve heard here,” said Gogita Kharebava, a Georgian public broadcasting cameraman. “No one has ever provided training to us, the camera operators. This is the first time we’ve been given such an opportunity, and I am very grateful for it.”

The seminar on conflict coverage provided by Reuters trainers Nino Ivanishvili and Dato Chkhikvishvili was especially interesting.

“During the August war ... we reported live, showing the Georgian army entering Ergneti, which we now know was a mistake. The training workshop revealed many other mistakes we made when covering that war,” said Aleko Gabunia, a camera operator for TV company Sakartvelo.

The lecture that some trainees found the most interesting included psychological grounding, tips on how a journalist should be dressed and equipped when covering a conflict, journalist-military contacts, discipline and self-control in an emergency situation, non-disclosure of confidential information and coverage of protest demonstrations.

“During the August war, we were absolutely disorientated, out of control, and God must have helped us survive,” said Rustavi-2 camera operator Ramaz Utrugashvili. “The training of the Conflict Reporting School means a lot to me and every one of us, as it made us think about things we’d ignored before.”

Psychological trauma expert Jana Javakhishvili lectured the journalists on the basics and sources of conflict, factors that may contribute to conflict de-escalation and other issues related to conflict reporting.

“We had tried several times to give this kind of training to journalists, but our national broadcasters’ reporters proved very difficult to get hold of, which is why, unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to talk to them until now,” Javakhishvili said.

Dato Kakulia from the television company Rustavi-2 said, “I’ve been actively engaged in journalism for several years, but this is the first time I’ve taken this kind of training.”

A lecture on the technical characteristics and tactical use of different weapons was closely followed.

“Thanks to the lectures, we can now tell a machinegun from a tommy gun and know what danger we should expect from each particular weapon,” Giorgi Tukhareli, from the Sakartvelo TV company, said. “I was immensely impressed by a lecture on mines, their classification and technical features. The knowledge we gained at the seminar will be of great use to us when we, for instance, happen to report an act of terror.”

Salome Makharadze, who heads the Georgian defence ministry’s department for relations with the public and media, said, “The course was a test for the organisers, and they have passed it successfully. That is why the defence ministry of Georgia and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting will continue cooperating, working to further improve the training programme. Soon, the Conflict Reporting School will be open to any journalist who wishes to study here.”

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