Covering elections as a journalist can be a challenging and potentially risky endeavour. Here are some key safety tips for journalists covering the June 24 Elections in Sierra Leone.
As part of your planning, try to fully understand the Independent Media Commission (IMC) rules and regulations for print and electronic media, and the regulations on elections coverage. Also be conversant with the SLAJ Code of Ethics.
In addition, gather information about the elections process, political climate, and any potential risks or tensions in the area where you will be reporting.
Establish contact with the Police
The Sierra Leone Police is charged with the responsibility of providing security for the elections. In the last three years, SLAJ has made significant efforts to improve the relationship between the Police and the media through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to support one another in performing our roles in our democracy in a professional manner and efficiently and effectively.
So when you go to the polling centers and stations your first point of call is the security personnel. Introduce yourself and request their support and cooperation. Once you have established that understanding with the security personnel, proceed to introduce yourself to the other elections officials presiding over the centres and polling booths and conduct yourself in a responsible manner.
DO NOT AT ANY POINT BEHAVE LIKE A POLITICIAN. REEMEMBER YOU ARE A JOURNALIST ACCREDITED TO COVER THE ELECTIONS.
As a journalist, strive to remain unbiased and objective in your reporting. Avoid taking sides or openly supporting any particular political party or candidate. This can help reduce the likelihood of being targeted by hostile supporters.
Share Your Itinerary:
Inform your media house, colleagues, friends, or family members about your assignment and share your itinerary with them. Regularly update them on your whereabouts.
Maintain Situational Awareness:
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Stay updated on the news on the elections and keep an eye on any gatherings that may escalate into violence. Monitor social media and local sources for real-time information.
Use encrypted communication channels and secure email platforms to protect your communications and sources. Avoid discussing sensitive matters or sharing confidential information over insecure networks or public platforms.
Protect Reporting Equipment & Digital Assets:
Protect your cameras and digital recorders and safeguard your electronic devices and data. Use strong, unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication on your accounts. Regularly back up your data and consider using encryption tools to secure sensitive files.
Blend in with the local environment and avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Dress modestly and adapt your attire to the community you are covering.
We have received concerns from journalists and media houses about threats of attacks from political supporters. Some journalists have expressed fear of wearing their media jackets to cover the elections. If you face any threat because of your media identity, we advise that you conceal your identity and alert your colleagues covering other locations to do likewise.
Self-preservation is the first law of nature. Try as much as possible not to become the news in trying to get the news.
However, be professionally assertive in doing your job.
Maintain a Low Profile:
Avoid attracting unwanted attention. Minimize your public presence on social media and refrain from discussing your reporting plans in public spaces.
Personal Safety Measures:
Be cautious while traveling and avoid risky areas or confrontational situations. Trust your instincts and be prepared to change your plans if you sense potential danger.
Prioritize your safety and take necessary precautions to ensure a secure reporting experience.
Do NOT stay out till dark until it is very essential to do so.
If you have any issues please contact the following executive officials for prompt intervention:
Western Area Urban and Rural: