Supporting journalists to access protective equipment while reporting on conflict in Ukraine

by Adriano Mancinelli, Senior Programme Manager, EMENA
Tuesday, 9 May 2023 15:05 GMT

Volunteers assemble flak jackets in a warehouse in Prague in March 2022. REUTERS/Eva Korinkova

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This impact story is part of a new series to celebrate the extraordinary pro bono projects undertaken by legal teams to support NGOs and social enterprises with the support of TrustLaw. All projects mentioned in this series are nominated for this year’s TrustLaw Awards. Find out more. 

A conversation with Kerry Paterson, Deputy Emergencies Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), where she helps guide CPJ’s emergency assistance and journalist safety work worldwide, and to shape CPJ’s response to crises.

Could you briefly explain the objectives of the project you worked on?

From the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was hearing frequently from journalists about the incredibly dangerous situation in which they immediately found themselves. From concerns about safe evacuation routes, to the implications of martial law, to access to humanitarian aid, to severe challenges related to personal protective equipment (PPE). Journalists found themselves navigating a complex, often rapidly changing, legal labyrinth governing the movement of PPE across borders.

Working alongside the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) and legal experts, we were able to create a resource outlining the rules around PPE movement – from limits on quantities to necessary documentation. This practical guide for those covering the war in Ukraine ensured that journalists entering the country via the most common routes would have clarity on how best to move their life-saving gear.

Why was legal support necessary to helping journalists access personal protective equipment?

For journalists trying to safely cover the war in Ukraine, meaningful access to personal protective equipment was among the most pressing challenges – especially in the early months of the invasion. While many journalists were confronted with shortages and supply chain challenges, even those who had or had successfully obtained the appropriate safety gear often struggled moving it into the country, in part due to confusion or misunderstanding of the laws governing the movement of this type of equipment. Having access to legal expertise ensured that CPJ could provide up-to-date, accurate information to journalists on the frontlines in the form of a clear and concise guide.

What were the benefits of having several law firms collaborate on the project?

Being able to work with experts from several law firms simultaneously (Hogan Lovells International LLP in Hungary, Allen & Overy LLP in Poland and Slovakia, Turcan Cazac in Moldova) on this guide was incredibly helpful - both because it allowed us to draw on a wide range of region-specific knowledge and expertise but also because sharing the workload ensured that we could get the resource pulled together quickly for journalists in need.

Now that the guide is published, what impact is it having?

The guide has been shared widely among the journalist and freelance communities, has been accessed by hundreds of journalists, and shared widely in signal and WhatsApp journalist groups and among media outlets, at times being accessed as frequently as 200+ times a day. It has been instrumental in ensuring that journalists know what equipment they can travel with, in what quantities, and that they can better prepare for what is already a high-risk assignment. We plan to continue updating the guide as needed, in the hopes of ensuring that no journalist is stopped or has their equipment confiscated while crossing the border.

What advice would you pass on to other NGOs and social enterprises receiving pro bono support?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! One of the main benefits of working so closely with TRF and with the law firms who are so generously sharing their time is that you can lean on their expertise to better understand not only the scope or scale of the issues at-hand, but also the broader legal context, the ways in which a law is likely to be applied, or the key aspects of a law likely to do the most harm. NGOs benefiting from this type of support should take full advantage of the opportunity to deepen their understanding, which can in turn, inform their policies or strategies.


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