Journalism can be a dangerous profession, especially when one is working in high-risk or potentially dangerous areas. To reduce the risk that many journalists face in their daily work, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) last month released a security application called Reporta.
Reporta is a free and comprehensive personal safety application that is compatible with iPhones and Android devices, and is meant to make it easier for journalists to make use of security and rescue services, should the need arise.
Features of the application
IWMF created the app after consultations with journalists and global security experts. Reporta is available is six languages, namely Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Spanish and Turkish and is downloadable for free. Three main features make up the app; these are the ‘check-in’, ‘alerts’ and ‘SOS messages’. The function of all these features depends on the contacts that one includes in their circles which are grouped under private, public and social circles.
After downloading the app, one is required to create an account. In the process of creating an account, one is asked to create a private circle in which they are expected to include their closest, most trusted and probably most helpful contacts in times of danger. More contacts can be added to the public and social circles after the creation of the account.
The check-in feature creates a trail that allows one’s contacts to know the location of the phone bearer within a specified time. To activate the feature, one has to first describe their situation. This could be useful when one is meeting with sources or covering events such as protests that could quickly turn unstable. After that, one needs to select a location that shows where they are.
Below the location option is the circle selection option. Here the private circle is already selected by default, but one is at liberty to add the public and social circles. Journalists can also change the contacts in each circle depending on their location and story they are working on. Also the application requests an update of settings every 150km away from the last destination the application was used.
After selecting the circle to be notified, one then selects the ‘check-in frequency. One can select any time between 15 minutes to 24 hours; the check-in time cannot exceed 24 hours. If you miss a check-in, Reporta will send a reminder to you before notifying designated contacts and locking.
Editing alert messages, setting ending time and adding photos and videos are all additional optional facilities. Once that is done, then one can click the ‘start now’ or ‘start later’ button.
These are different from the check-in system but can also be used to send messages to selected circles. Unlike the check-ins, however, they do not have check-in times. As a result, alerts are more flexible than the SOS system. A journalist can add their location, what they are doing and record any suspicious occurrences around them in an audio or video format and immediately send an alert message.
The SOS feature allows journalists to immediately alert selected contacts with the touch of a button when they feel they are at immediate risk. The application locks as soon as the SOS has been sent to completely prevent unwanted access to the app. For this feature to work, the reporter must confirm contacts for app-unlock. These will send the journalist the verification code and password for them to unlock the app.
Limitations of Reporta
It is important to note that Reporta is not an emergency rescue system. The app can only help a journalist have quick access to the security protocols they have set up for themselves. The security of the journalist will only depend on the efficiency of the contacts and security systems they have in place.
Trust is a major contributor to the effectiveness of the app as the user can only hope that their selected contacts will act in their best interests once they receive the check-in, alerts and SOS messages. If a journalist’s circle is penetrated by a suspicious individual, then their security is compromised.
Another loophole is that the developers of the app do not guarantee the delivery of the messages in real time. This means that there is a possibility that some messages can be delayed or may not even be delivered, thus compromising the safety of the journalist.
At the moment, the app is limited to users of iOS version 8.0 or higher on iPhones or Android version 4.0.3. Internet access is a requirement or the journalist risks being disconnected. This means the app cannot be used by journalists without internet access which is the case in some risky areas.
How relevant is Reporta?
Last year IWMF published a report titled, ‘Violence and harassment against women in the news media’. The report described the types of violence and threats female journalists encounter and it considered how these incidents affect their ability to conduct their work. According to a survey carried out during the research, 66% of the respondents admitted to being victims of physical and sexual abuse, violence and security threats and intimidation at one point in their professional lives as journalists. The research covered a total of 929 professional female journalists from all over the world.
It is from these and other findings that IWMF decided to develop an application that can facilitate the security of journalists, particularly women. The application could certainly serve as a source of comfort for local journalists who may be feeling unsafe after the, as yet, unsolved disappeareance of Itai Dzamara. Furthermore, there have also been isolated cases of journalists who have been attacked, losing valuable property at the hands of security forces or unidentified criminals.
Main photograph shared from www.nydailynews.com