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CNN International




On trying to work safely in harm's way

By Patricia Kelly
CNN Brussels Bureau Chief

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.

In this story:

From makeshift bandages to malaria

Trying not to make news in covering it


BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Television correspondent Stefan Borg and cameraman Bengt Stenvall were dispatched by Sweden's channel TV4 to cover the exodus of Rwandan refugees in 1996 from Goma in the country then known as Zaire.

The refugees, initially displaced from Rwanda, were on the move again during that year's armed rebellion against the Zaire government of Mobuto Sese Seko.

On November 2, their reporting took them along with several other journalists across the border from Rwanda into Zaire. About a half-mile (a kilometer) after the crossing, the group was forced to scatter for cover when a grenade exploded nearby.

Bengt was shot. A bullet went in his thigh and out the other side. Bengt began to bleed profusely. Stefan saved his life.

Stefan was able to do this because he recognized that a major artery in Bengt's leg was bleeding. He knew how to apply a makeshift tourniquet above the wound to stem the flow. He knew how long it was safe to leave the tourniquet in place. He knew how important it was to stay calm.

He and Bengt -- still conscious -- were able to discuss, rationally, how Stefan would treat the wound and what they needed to do to get themselves out of danger and Bengt to a medical facility that could treat him.

Bengt left his camera running and recorded their ordeal. They gave the video to Ake Ltd., a British-based security company that had taught them how to survive such a scenario.

"Without Ake's training, I'm convinced Bengt wouldn't be alive today," Stefan says.

From makeshift bandages to malaria

The video has been incorporated into the survival course Ake has developed specifically with journalists in mind.

Five days of intensive training emphasize safety first and self-preservation in trouble spots. Ake instructor Andrew Kain suggests that conducting advance planning and research before entering a hostile region can do more to enhance personal safety than anything else.

"Keep it simple and make your motto, 'No surprises,'" Kain says.

That might sound like common sense, but at times people in the news business are required to rush off to cover events they don't fully understand.

From January 1990 through late September 2000, 685 journalists and their staff died worldwide during the course of their work, or were killed because of their opinions, according to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists.

Kain insists that journalists working in war zones should have a general understanding of arms and their effects. He proceeds during the course to take the mystery out of weapons in a manner that could make all the difference between being a reporter and becoming a victim.

Emergency first aid covers eventualities ranging from how to fashion a makeshift butterfly valve to keep someone breathing if they have been shot in the lung, to how to diagnose fractures, snake bites, scorpion stings, a variety of burns, heat stroke, heat exposure, hypothermia. You name it, the course covers it.

Not all journalists who take the survivor course intend to head into what the Ake instructors refer to as the "organized chaos of war."

Blisters, worms, upset stomachs and diarrhea are just a few of the ailments journalists have been known to carry back from various assignments. Then there are disease prospects such as malaria, the world's most prevalent serious infectious disease. The course covers prevention as well as cure.

Trying not to make news in covering it

Stefan and Bengt had persuaded their employer to send them on the course prior to leaving for Africa.

"Bengt would almost certainly have died if Stefan had not known what to do," says medical instructor Paul Brown. "He lost two liters [quarts] of blood in the short time Stefan took to get to him. He was lucky the leg wasn't fractured -- it would have made evacuation a lot more difficult."

Brown points out Stefan was able to "treat and lead" -- treat the wound while making decisions. He had to instruct the rest of the group, one of whom was suffering from shock, in what was necessary to get everybody to safety.

A number of news organizations, including CNN, frequently have personnel take the course before sending them in the direction of potentially dangerous places.

As Stefan points out: "Even a peaceful demonstration can quickly turn into a violent riot. I think training like this should be mandatory for all journalists, whatever they are covering."

That appears to be a common sentiment among journalists who have attended the course. The roster includes some well-known names working for top news organizations. Many express the wish something similar had been available when they started their careers.

And they claim to have carried away something new in terms of knowledge that may, one day, enhance their safety -- and therefore their ability to cover the story.

Editor's note: Patricia Kelly attended an Ake Ltd. course for journalists in September.

  • World Regions: Africa In-Depth
  • Counting the dead in Congo

Ake Ltd.
International Federation of Journalists
Sweden's TV4

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