RPT and FFR take freelance safety surgeries to Jordan

The Rory Peck Trust and the Frontline Freelance Register (FFR) were in Jordan this week delivering safety surgeries to freelance investigative journalists from across the Middle East and Africa.

Safety surgeries to Jordan

Left to right: Abeer Saady, Zied Dabbar, Sarah Giaziri (FFR), Mary O’Shea (RPT)

Held at Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalists Network (ARIJ)’s 11th annual forum, the surgeries gave 34 freelancers the opportunity to discuss their safety issues and concerns with expert consultants.

The journalists who took part – over a third of whom were women – came from nine different countries including Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, and Yemen. The consultants, Abeer Saady and Zied Dabbar, who both have extensive experience of reporting and safety training in this region, gave each of them practical guidance on safety, risk assessment and digital security.

Abeer is a war correspondent, researcher, media consultant and trainer from Egypt with 27 years of professional experience in conflict zones within the Middle East and Africa. She has trained hundreds of journalists and worked with organisations such as UNESCO and Reuters. She said, “The one-to-one consultations are very unique and a good idea – interactive, hands-on and straight to the point,” she said. “At events like this, there are many panels and you get to hear a lot of people speak – but it’s also important for freelancers to be heard.

Tunisian journalist Zied has worked with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) as a safety instructor for journalists in hostile environments around the Arab world and is on the executive board of the Tunisian Union of Journalists. He praised the effectiveness of the surgeries, “I have experience of training more than 500 journalists over the past seven years, but this is the first time I have done face-to-face safety consultations and I am finding it more productive. The journalists are more comfortable and feel at ease to speak without worrying about asking supposedly ‘stupid questions’.”

Journalist Shimaa Hmady has been working as a freelancer in Egypt for five years, but this was her first chance to receive any safety advice or training. “It’s very rare to have this opportunity in Egypt,” she said. “It has helped me to organise my thoughts and I am now more clear on what steps to take in the preparation process. It’s great … to share my concerns, and also reassuring as I found that some of my behaviour is right.” Shimaa added, “I now feel supported to continue working as a freelance journalist”.

Sudanese freelance journalist Safia Elsiddig also noted that this was the first time she has been able to talk with a professional safety expert, despite having freelanced for four years. She said, “I work in a complicated country and sometimes I don’t report stories as I cannot assess what might happen to me or my sources.” Safia plans to share her experience and the advice she received with her female colleagues in Sudan.

Among the nine Yemeni journalists participating in the safety surgeries was Ahmed Baider, who recently undertook a HEFAT course in the UK with a training bursary from RPT. He said, “In Yemen, we live in a real hostile environment. We face danger daily. Most of the journalists die because they have no idea of safety.” Ahmed said it was great to have access to this tailored safety advice in Arabic, adding, “Safety surgeries are a really good introduction to safety, giving clear first steps on how to plan, travel and return home safely. You will go to cover the story, not to become the story.”

At the forum RPT also took part in the panel, ‘The New Frontline: Support For Local Investigative Journalists’. Alongside speakers from FFRCPJ and the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, Head of Programmes Mary O’Shea discussed the Trust’s work supporting freelancers facing multiple, hybrid threats and our collaborations to foster a culture of safety among journalists and news organisations.

The only regional gathering for investigative journalists and editors in the Middle East and North Africa, ARIJ’s 2018 forum attracted 494 participants around the topic ‘The Future of Investigative Reporting: Trends, Tools and Technologies’.