Brazilian Army Trains Journalists to Work in Conflict Zones

Thirty-eight media professionals from across Brazil were given theoretical and practical instruction on how to protect themselves while working in areas of armed conflict.
Nelza Oliveira/Diálogo | 14 July 2017

Capacity Building

At the Special Instruction School, trainees learned from professionals how to act in mined areas or in areas with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents. (Photo: CCOPAB)

The Brazilian Army hosted a training session at the Joint Peacekeeping Operations Center of Brazil (CCOPAB, per its Portuguese acronym) from June 19th-23rd, in Deodoro, Rio de Janeiro, to prepare journalists to work in conflict zones. The course brought together 38 media professionals from across Brazil, including reporters, photographers, cameramen, producers, and editors from radio, television, newspapers, and websites, including a member of Diálogo.

“The course was organized to provide journalists with the knowledge they need to work in armed conflict zones where there are United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces. Members of the press will undoubtedly end up using much of the information provided in their life, in their daily routine,” explained Brazilian Army Major Anderson Félix Geraldo, the training coordinator. “The course is divided into lectures and practical training. The training’s objective is to provide press professionals with information and the precautions they need to take to report safely in those operational environments,” Maj. Félix added.

The course, titled Preparation Phase for Journalists and Press Officers in Conflict Zones, is offered every year at CCOPAB. It was created in 2010 with the mission of preparing service members, police officers, and civilians from Brazil and partner nations to work in UN peacekeeping missions. The site is also called the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Center, in honor of the Brazilian diplomat in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees killed in a 2003 attack in Baghdad. Journalists are selected based on an analysis of their application, or at the Brazilian Army’s invitation.

Among the topics addressed in lectures by civilian and military personnel, most of whom have experience in UN peacekeeping missions, are: Analysis and Mitigation of Risk in Journalistic Coverage, taught by Captain Jorge Smith, a guest instructor from the Chilean Army; Communication and Negotiations, with Brazilian Army Sergeant Major Ádamo Adriano de Paulo, covering kidnapping and hostage crises, negotiation, and survival in captivity; and Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, taught by military prosecutor Najla Palma.

“Unfortunately, we have seen that being a journalist is one of the most dangerous professions in the world. Furthering the protection of these professionals is now on the international agenda, especially combatting the impunity for crimes committed against them,” Palma said. “It’s through journalists’ work that we are often able to prevent new international rights violations from happening, and we can bring them to light or scream to the world that violations are happening,” he said.

Overcoming fear

The journalists’ limits were tested on the outside activity field. At the Firefighters Special Instruction Center, trainees not only learned basic firefighting techniques, how to move around in a collapsed structure, first aid, and prehospital care in remote environments, but they also underwent a panic-control test. Groups of four students entered a warehouse with a dark, maze-like internal structure full of smoke and obstacles, simulating a place on fire with sounds inherent to these types of situations, like screams and sirens, from which they had to find a way out.

At the Special Instruction School, trainees learned safety procedures followed at places with mines or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents. They also experienced what it is like inside a room with tear gas. The journalists first entered with masks, then took off the protective equipment to learn what the gas felt like, and to control the panic. Next came the second part of the exercise – entering without a mask and putting on the equipment inside the gas-filled room.

“Terrible, terrible, terrible! I’m feeling it on my skin, in my eyes,” said Gabriela Pavão, a journalist with the news site G1 in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, while running with open arms against the wind to reduce the gas’s effects. “I think the importance of this training is that we really learn that there is equipment like this [protective masks], that allows us to do our job in a conflict zone, in an area with gas, for example, with the safety that we need. At the time we get desperate but then see that the equipment really keeps us safe,” she added after recovering from the exercise’s effects.

Journalists wearing special vests and helmets undergo training on an obstacle course in a built-up area simulating an advance on an urban area under crossfire. Their helmets are equipped with sensors that detect when and where they are shot. (Photo: Nelza Oliveira, Dialogo)

During instruction on an obstacle course in a built-up area at the Army’s Training Assessment Center, journalists simulated an advance in an armed conflict zone accompanied by UN service members. Using vests and helmets with sensors that detect when and where they were hit by bullets, the trainees crossed an urban area under crossfire.

Visiting Carana

Course organizers even created a fictional country to make the training more realistic. They called it Carana, a former French colony experiencing an armed conflict, with different ethnic groups fighting for control of a territory and power. The social and political developments of Carana’s history were shared with the students through the newspaper Carana’s News. On the penultimate day of training, journalists were thrust into the midst of a humanitarian crisis, with a UN mission attempting to enforce a peace agreement signed between the country’s government and rebel forces.

Before beginning the mission to reach the Team Site where the UN observers are, and conducting an interview, the journalists also learned from Brazilian Army Captain Lucas Barros de Souza about types of weapons and their effects, and from Brazilian Army First Sergeant Allan Barbosa Alves how to prepare field rations consumed by service members on the mission, promptly served as the meal of the day. All this was done while wearing a nearly 15-kilogram bulletproof vest and a 2-kilogram protective helmet.

Journalists arrived exhausted at Carana. According to Brazilian Army Colonel Carlos Augusto Ramirez Teixeira, the commander of CCOPAB, that’s the idea, so that trainees learn to respond well to risky situations under stress, in addition to making them aware of the conditions in which service members operate on missions.

In a 2-kilometer square area, organizers set up four highly realistic scenarios of Carana, where journalists would have to put into practice everything they had learned over the previous few days. The exercise even included the soundtrack of what Carana’s urban area might sound like. Service members acted convincingly, wearing carefully applied makeup. The movie-like simulation involved 60 service members, 75 percent of CCOPAB’s staff, generators, military tents, trucks, ambulances, armored vehicles, and medical supplies.

Trainees pass through an obstacle course in the midst of a shootout and provide first aid to victims of a car accident and mine explosion until they reach the Team Site. There are other surprises on the road to Carana, but the Brazilian Army prefers to keep them secret in order to not interfere with future courses. Suffice it to say that they involve a lot of shock, blood, adrenaline, and realism.

“One of the really cool things about this course is it puts us in a practical situation, a reality that we’d otherwise unlikely experience without already being in a real-world situation. So, you get that feeling, a preliminary experience, in case you ever face a situation like that someday, it’s really important,” explained Tiago Eltz, a journalist from TV Globo.

According to Lieutenant General Otávio Santana do Rêgo Barros, the head of the Army’s Public Relations Office, this interaction between service members and journalists, resulting from the training, is beneficial to both sides. “We equip the journalists to conduct themselves properly in conflict environments, whether that is one here in our country or another one outside of our country. And the best way for us to get our message across, whether the news is good or bad, and if it is bad to refute it, is through this transparent interaction with the journalists,” summed up Lt. Gen. Rêgo Barros.

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