Nataša Kovačev is a reporter with the Balkans based 24 hour news channel N1. She is the instructor for our online learning course, Staying safe: Covering protests for journalists
As a journalist in the Balkans, I can say "What a year!" A pandemic, political turmoil, protests, violence and, just as we couldn't wait for it to be over, 2020 gave us one last shock, earthquakes that killed seven people in Croatia, including a 12-year-old.
Can you ever be ready for a year like that?
My colleagues demonstrated high levels of professionalism while reporting on the events of 2020 but some were badly affected.
Twenty one journalists were hurt during the unrest in July 2020 in Serbia which is why I was asked to prepare an online course that could help reporters in the Western Balkans stay safe while covering events such as protests.
Knowing how to prepare, what to carry with you, how to protect yourself from teargas or a stampede, how to keep your devices and equipment safe and who to turn to for legal or psychological help are essential skills to learn.
As a reporter who has covered protests, refugee crises, natural disasters, coup attempts and armed confrontations between police and demonstrators, I have plenty of experience to share.
At one of the last demonstrations I covered, the July protests in Novi Sad, a group of demonstrators started throwing rocks, trash cans and Molotov cocktails at the City hall.
We were due to broadcast live at any moment and our position was not safe as rocks flew over our heads. We had a difficult decision to make should we step aside and put our safety first or continue to broadcast?
We chose to keep filming and avoided getting hurt. However understanding the risks and being able to make difficult decisions were key reasons for preparing the online course
Our position was not safe as rocks flew over our heads.
I have been joined in producing the course by my colleagues from Al Jazeera Balkans Milka Smilevska who is based in Skopje, N1 television journalist Jelena Zoric based in Belgrade and Isa Myzyraj a photo journalist from Tirana.
I have been able to draw also on the knowledge of a strong team of experts who provided essential information about legal rights, digital safety and mental health. They include; Ivan Breshkovski, a lawyer from Northern Macedonia, Andrej Petrovski, a director at SHARE foundation in Belgrade and Judith Matloff, an experienced war correspondent and expert on safety for journalists.
These are people worth listening to when it comes to learning how to stay safe.