The International News Safety Institute (INSI) is preparing to hold a training course in Cairo for female journalists.
The two-day course, which will provide a mix of practical and theoretical safety training and first aid, will take place in early September – although the organisation is hoping to bring the date forward in response to recent events in the country.
Advice on basic first aid, equipment and communications, risk awareness and crisis management are among the topics included in the training paid for by the organisation, its members and backing organisations such as the BBC and Al-Jazeera.
"It's all based on what we find is relevant," said Hannah Storm, director of INSI, speaking to Journalism.co.uk. "We work very closely with the journalists we are training to provide customised training for their needs."
While the course is intended for women, Storm said this does not disregard the experiences of male journalists who have been attacked in the country. The organisation has continued to provide information throughout the current protests, and published a book on safety for journalists last year, but Storm said she felt the course would provide invaluable training to female journalists that they might not otherwise receive.
"In certain areas of the world, in certain cultures, it is much more helpful for women to be trained together without a male presence," she said. "So if we're doing first aid training and you ask someone to practice CPR, you can get much closer to a realistic situation because you can practice on each other."
Storm said female trainers were used to ascertain specific risks that women may face in certain situations and make sure they are doubly prepared.
"We did training last year in Cairo with female journalists," she said, "very much aware of the fact that there has been an awful lot of talk and discussion around Tahrir Square and lots of reports recently about sexual assaults. That's on women in general, not just journalists, not just foreigners. That happens to Egyptian women, it happens to men as well but there seems to have been a rise recently."
The most high profile incidents have been of western female journalists reporting from Tahrir Square being sexually assaulted. In February 2011, CBS war correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and beaten while reporting on the Arab Spring, France 24 journalist Sonia Dridi was attacked while reporting to camera in 2012 and last Friday, 29 June, a 22-year-old Dutch reporter suffered a horrific attack by a group of men that left her needing surgery. Cases of Egyptian women and journalists being attacked are less reported in the Western media but still occur with jarring regularity.Tahrir Square is a very dangerous place at night for female journalists to beHannah Storm, director, INSI
"There's been a reported rise in attacks and sexual attacks around Tahrir Square and that becomes a really big focus because of the horrible nature of what we're talking about," said Storm, "but that's not the only thing that's happening to people and to journalists in Egypt. Tahrir Square is clearly a hotspot but there are an awful lot of things going on in Egypt that affect journalists negatively."
Reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists describe how, in the last week, an Egyptian journalist was killed by a bomb at a protest in Port Said, Molotov cocktails have been thrown at reporters in the Suez region while other journalists and media workers have been shot at and had their equipment destroyed.
"We've seen members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Morsi attack the media, call them biased, accuse them of inciting violence, surrounding the media and then intimidate them to impact coverage," said Sherif Mansour, project co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at the CPJ, speaking to Journalism.co.uk.
"We've seen cases of outright assaults, physical assaults against journalists who are assigned to cover demonstrations. That happened in December around the presidential palace, it happened in May around the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters and it continues to happen as we see the last wave of demonstrations."
Sometimes there is nothing that can be done to prevent such attacks but the ultimate purpose of the training, said Storm, "is to make journalists stop and think – before, during and after their news gathering – on how to be safer."There is almost no change in the legal system that supports and guarantees press freedomSherif Mansour, MENA project co-ordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
"Tahrir Square is a very dangerous place at night for female journalists to be," she said. "Anyone going into a story like this has to ask themselves 'how much value am I going to get out of going to this place? Does my story really merit me going here?'"
While many journalists take risks to produce incredible work, she said, there are dangers and precautions that all reporters need to be mindful of when covering potentially dangerous situations, highlighting the example of Jeremy Bowen's coverage for the BBC in reporting from a balcony looking over Tahrir Square.
"I would argue that most of the time you probably don't need to be somewhere [dangerous]," she said. "Because, can you give an idea of the scale? No. Can you give an idea of the context? No. Do you have an escape route? Probably not. And if it all goes completely pear-shaped how are you going to get your story to the feed point or how are you going to get your story filed quickly if you can't get out of the situation?"
Both Storm and Mansour agreed that the sense of lawlessness in Tahrir Square is a rotten offshoot of the wider unrest in Egypt caused by discontent with the Morsi government.
Mansour, who was born in Egypt, said that the high hopes for Egyptian journalism that resulted form Mubarak's departure and the explosion of private media outlets had not been met by the military council or President Morsi.
"There is politicised regulation," he said. "There is now almost no change in the legal system that supports and guarantees press freedom. There was even an escalation in the number of criminal investigations into journalists and a spread of use of rhetorical and physical intimidation of journalists."
There are, however, some positive signs for press freedom emerging in the country, said Mansour, as journalists organise to oppose restrictions on press freedom.
"We have seen over the last year, and even more recently in the process, [journalists] have received all sorts of threats," he said. "They were threatened legally, verbally and even intimidated with violence. Some of them have been put under criminal investigation and spent hours being charged of obscene charges but they came out and continued their work and even became more critical than before."
The CPJ will continue to monitor and report on issues of press safety in Egypt. At INSI, Storm encouraged anyone who has information related to the safety of journalists to get in touch with the organisation.
Free daily newsletter
- A beginner's guide to moving from written journalism to audio storytelling
- Six tips for getting hired during the pandemic
- Sponsored content: Why study journalism at Marjon?
- The future of travel writing in the post-pandemic world
- Four journalists experiment with kid-friendly podcast to inform under-12s about the news