It was unexpected; It was a deafening sound and blinding light.”
This is what Anush Mkrtchyan, a journalist from “Hetq” media factory, remembers covering the September 19 rally in front of the government building in Yerevan after the war in Artsakh.
The young journalist had no experience covering demonstrations, rallies, and civil unrests. She was not at the Republic Square on the instructions of the “Hetk” media factory. Anush was walking through Republic Square with her sister when they heard the first flash grenade explode. Anush quickly started filming the events, thinking it might be necessary. However, a second flash grenade exploded nearby.
Anush recalls feeling scared and covering her ears as she attempted to leave the rally area. She initially thought she had lost her hearing but soon realized it was intact. However, she felt pain in the side of her stomach and noticed her right hand, which she had used to film the rally, was hurt. She admits that she did not realize that she had sustained injuries at that moment.
After leaving the scene, Anush noticed that she was injured. An ambulance was called because the nearest medical center was closed. According to the doctors, the young journalist was injured by shrapnel, resulting in a superficial burn.
Unlike Anush, 24 news.am journalist Mary Manukyan is highly experienced in covering demonstrations and rallies and working under pressure.
Mary prefers to work closer to tense and hot spots during demonstrations to provide more detailed coverage for the viewers and readers.However, she often finds herself in physical altercations and sustains injuries. Her coverage of the recent government demonstrations was no exception; she found herself in physical altercations, resulting in injuries.
“On the first day of the protests in front of the government, Andranik Tevanyan and the police chief were negotiating the placement of tents. The area was packed with journalists, and it was difficult even to breathe. Suddenly, a commotion began among the citizens standing behind us. Although one of the red berets tried to help me and get me out of that tense situation, I felt unwell and fainted.” tells the journalist
On the following day of the rally, when the protesters and the police started throwing bottles, stones, and eggs at each other, the first bottle hit the journalist’s head.
One of the responsibilities of the police is to ensure the safety of journalists while they cover demonstrations and gatherings. However, this duty is not always carried out properly. Ashot Melikyan, the chairman of the Committee for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, believes this to be the case. He considers recent events to be carelessly inflicted damage on journalists, which does not absolve the police of blame.
“There are different methods of how the police can create a favorable environment for journalists. Safe spaces should be designated from where journalists can work. Instances of confusion between journalists and protesters are not uncommon in our country, leading to a messy situation.” According to the president of the CPFE, journalists are often detained along with protesters but are later released when it is discovered that they are not part of the protest.
Melikyan emphasizes that journalists must strictly follow safety rules in extreme situations.
“Journalists who cover extreme conditions like demonstrations or military operations require appropriate preparation and thematic training. Not every journalist is capable of this type of work. Newsrooms should provide journalists with the necessary equipment to ensure they are well-protected while working under such conditions. Being a journalist is considered one of the most perilous professions, and despite due precautions, accidents can still occur. Therefore, it is imperative for everyone, including the police, editorial staff, and the journalists themselves, to prioritize the safety of journalists,” asserts Ashot Melikyan.
In order to help journalists work more safely in extreme conditions, the Media Initiatives Center recently organized a safety and first aid course.