World Association of News Publishers

Safety training in Mexico offers vital tips for journalists – and editors

Safety training in Mexico offers vital tips for journalists – and editors

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In early December, editors and reporters from across Mexico met in the country’s capital for a specialized safety training. There, trainers offered tools on how journalists can handle reporting from hostile environments and how editors can work to keep them safe.

By Colette Davidson

“Life is more important than a headline.”

Maria Teresa Ortega has almost learned this the hard way many times. As the editor of local news at AM de Leon in Guanajuato, Mexico she has been attacked twice on her way home from work and seen the daily rise in crime due to drug trafficking and violent crime.

“I usually leave work just before midnight and I only have a ten-minute drive home, but I’m always afraid,” says Ortega, “especially because of my position as the editor of a newspaper section on police activity.”

Ortega was one of ten editors and 11 journalists who participated in a safety training in Mexico City from 4-7 December, organized in partnership by WAN-IFRA and the ACOS Alliance, with support from Article 19.

Safety trainings often centre around how to protect journalists out in the field – as this session did as well – but leave out an important component: editors. As the commissioners of assignments and the contact persons for journalists reporting from hostile environments, editors are just as much in need of tools for keeping journalists safe, and staying safe themselves.

“You can train as many journalists as you want, and that’s great,” says Elisabet Cantenys, Executive Director of the ACOS Alliance, “but the editor is the person who measures the risks you should be taking and ultimately is the person who could save your life.”

Cantenys says maintaining cultural sensitivity was essential in setting up the training, which is why her organization worked with local members of WAN-IFRA’s Strengthening Media and Society (SMS) Programme to make sure trainers addressed appropriate safety measures.

“Sometimes the neutrality of being an outsider can have its advantages,” says Cantenys. “But in order to do something relevant as an international organization, you really do need to have a local connection.” That’s why editors were asked for their input ahead of the training, which trainers Keith Garbett and Brian Lynn used to tailor their syllabus.

The group learned basic safety training techniques like first aid, self-defense, situational awareness, counter-surveillance, civil disturbance, trauma and self-care. Editors received a special training on how to raise awareness of the importance of safety protocols for newsrooms and how to incorporate security measures for specific coverage.

The training also stressed protocol and safety tips when covering political campaigns and elections - especially useful as Mexico looks towards presidential elections in 2018, where journalists will face increased pressure and security challenges. Already, Mexico has seen the most journalists killed in 2017 compared to any other country, according to Reporters without Borders, with 11 media workers losing their lives this year. The organization ranks Mexico 149th on their World Press Freedom Index.

For participants, the training was useful both personally and professionally – often in Mexico, these aspects of life overlap when it comes to personal safety. Ortega says she now feels more prepared for whatever comes her way.

“Now I’m more aware that I need to take action to prevent risks,” she says. “I got advice about how to react to attacks or other violent situations and the importance of communication between members of the editorial team to keep everyone safe.”


The SMS Programme is a two-year initiative to strengthen digital strategies, empower women editorial leaders, and combat media freedom challenges. It includes 160 media professionals from more than 80 media companies from 12 countries, and is financed by Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2017-12-18 09:22

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