Conceptualising journalists' safety around the world
published in 2023
This journal article provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary framework for the study of journalists’ safety, summarized in a conceptual model. The aim is to advance the study of journalists’ safety and improve safety practices, journalism education, advocacy, and policy making - vital as press freedom and fundamental human rights face multi-faceted challenges, compromising journalists’ ability to serve their societies. We define journalists’ occupational safety as comprising personal (physical, psychological) and infrastructural (digital, financial) dimensions. The model captures the societal, organisational and individual risk factors posing threats to journalists’ occupational safety as well as coping strategies for dealing with them and potential responses and outcomes.
The conceptual model will be applied in the third study of the Worlds of Journalism Study (2021-2023), which includes representative surveys with journalists in 120 countries. The article itself is of a theoretical nature and does not present any empirical findings. Instead it offers a holistic way for studying journalists' safety.
Our conceptual framework explicates the roots, risks, consequences, and requirements to advance the safety of journalists, culminating in an integrative model that conceptualizes pathways for studying journalists’ safety. In brief, the various aspects of journalists’ safety outlined in the model are ensconced within the dynamics of power. Occupational safety comprises physical, psychological, digital, and financial threats. These threats are moderated by societal, institutional or organizational, and individual risk factors (macro, meso, and micro levels), influencing how safe journalists are/feel (material and perceptional levels). The threats, in turn, may lead to work-related stress, creating a need for coping. If successful, coping builds resilience and allows the journalists to prevail in a threatening situation, even if their perceived safety is continuously compromised. Depending upon whether coping strategies protect or reduce editorial autonomy, coping may allow journalists to continue performing their roles and serving their societies.
1. We need to move away from a focus on killings to a more holistic understanding of safety.
2. Safety has four key dimensions: physical, psychological, digital and financial.
3. Risk factors operate on macro (systemic), meso (organisational/institutional) and micro (individual) levels, rooted in power dynamics, which define boundaries for journalists' work. If journalists break these boundaries, they face threats and risks. Understanding the root causes for the threats and working to address them is of crucial importance.
4. Coping and resilience are of utmost importance. In order to be able to cope with the threats they face and to continue performing their roles, policy makers and organisations need to ensure that they have provided the resources journalists need.