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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Global Toolbox

Preparing journalists for war reporting

By Bruce C. Swaffield

Journalists from around the world have been going to Collioure, France, twice each year since 1993.

They do not go to see where Matisse and Picasso painted, nor to visit the historic sites that span the past 13 centuries.

This picturesque town, on the Mediterranean Sea a little north of the Spanish border, attracts writers and reporters who have just one thing in mind: to learn how to cover assignments in a high-risk zone such as a war.

Collioure is the home of the National Commando Training Center for the French National Army. If you came here as a journalist rather than a tourist, you would be spending almost all of your time in Fort Miradou or in nearby Mont-Louis.

You would receive first-hand instruction on administering first aid, identifying different types of weapons, managing stress, shooting, rappelling, defending yourself, moving around under fire, wearing protective gear and walking a rope bridge.

The Defence Department, Delegation for Defence Information and Communication, conducts two annual five-day sessions for groups of about 20 journalists. The women and men who attend represent various regional, national and international media.

In a recent story about the training, Reporters Without Borders said the goal is three-fold:

• To train participants in the risks of urban environment battlefields, including the effects of light infantry weapons, shelling and explosives, and the danger of mines and booby-traps.

• To teach techniques to limit the effects of these risks, including reaction to open fire, being vigilant about the danger of mines and booby-traps.

• To train journalists in the basic procedures of an infantry combat group in order to gather information without bothering the mission underway.

“Grenades exploding all around us,” Quentin Michaud wrote in Journal du Dimanche, describing his intense experience in December at the National Commando Training Center. “Returning fire from (the) French military who protect us. The Taliban are hiding on the roof. We have no other choice than to leave the light armored vehicle behind (and to seek shelter) in a house.”

See Michaud’s video of the experienceor watch a short clip from the French Ministry of Defence.

“Training is offered to media professionals and is intended to make trainees aware of the dangers inherent in conflict zone reporting,” the Ministry of Defence website says. “In over twenty years, several hundred French and European journalists have participated.

“Endurance walks, introduction to and demonstration of arms and explosive devices, self-defence in hostile environments, daredevil courses ... and roughing it: from workshops to field exercises, this training offers journalists practical preparation which is both physical and mental.”

If you are interested in participating in the training for journalists, contact the Delegation for Defence Information and Communication, Press Service, at +33 (0)1 44 42 54 02 or presse@dicod.defense.gouv.fr.

In addition to these sessions, journalists who are planning to work overseas will find useful information from Reporters Without Borders about safety, insurance, equipment such as bulletproof vests and helmets, and contact phone numbers.

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