Field Reporters Too Need Special Recognition and Should be Treated With Dignity

Pwani TV'S Bill Oteno

Field Journalist covering Westgate Mall Siege scene in Nairobi(2013)

Incidents of terror related attacks in Kenya have become so prosaic that they’ve evoked a fundamental fear of helplessness and trauma among us; the 1998 US Embassy bombing, the 2002 Paradise Hotel attack, the 2013 Westgate Mall siege, Mandera Quarry attack (2014), Mandera bus shooting (2014), Gikomba Market explosions (2014), and the most recent one being the Garrissa University College massacre which claimed 150 young lives.

Now, after a terrorist attack, a lot of people are affected either directly or indirectly. The community is imprisoned by fear of destruction and harm once they’ve received news about terror attacks. Persons who have personally witnessed or were victims of the terror attacks are always given special attention like formal psychological intervention and some are even financially compensated by the government and well-wishers which also foot their medical bills. Victims are almost treated like national heroes. Survivors are usually provided with empathetic and peer assistance.
But there is one unsung hero who is always forgotten after these terror attacks, the journalist (field reporter), this person covers conflict and terror related activities and is vulnerable to stress and trauma because he/she experiences sustained direct exposure to potentially traumatizing scenarios.
A journalist displays his destroyed camera during a mob riot

According to Stephen J. A. Ward, the most serious trauma for journalists is not everyday stress or deadline pressure but the trauma that results from disturbing, shocking, non-ordinary experiences. They are tasked with viewing, dissecting and editing the events. They do witness first-hand the tragedies and disasters they report.

Young journalists (fresh graduates) sufferer the most because they encounter non-ordinary experiences during their first field assignments and continuous exposure through new assignments not forgetting the engagements with traumatized people. Some might end up being distressed after reporting the aftermath of disastrous events; this might culminate to mental illness as some journalists might develop prolonged conditions such as depression, survivor guilt- “I should have done more to save lives than just reporting”, anxiety, acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) just to name but a few. In this case, the employer should assist the poor reporter in seeking cognitive behavioral therapy.
Field reporters interviewing a terrorism victim

Psychologists and psychiatrists recommend that field reporters should be provided shortly after the events they cover with empathetic, practical and pragmatic psychological support, with information on about possible reactions, about what they can do to help themselves and how they can get support from family and the society at large. Have a stress free weekend,won’t you!

Twitter: @OoroGeorge