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Information for journalists
Bearing witness and speaking out about the humanitarian situation in the places where our medical teams work is core to MSF’s charter and principles. The media is a very powerful tool through which we can talk about the plight of the people we help and advocate for change.
Although MSF does not normally finance journalists’ trips, we are always more than happy to help journalists who are travelling to the areas where we work and help arrange visits to our projects wherever possible.
MSF and journalists
MSF works with journalists in a variety of different ways and each situation and context will be different.
With most requests, we can provide information before travelling, give you a briefing and put you in direct contact with our teams on the ground.
With more formal arrangements, we can organise for journalists to visit our projects for a few days.
Often journalists will be able to travel with the MSF teams in whatever mode of transport they are using.
However, our priority is to get medical equipment and personnel to the place of need, so this may not always be possible. In some cases you will need to make your own arrangements.
Before you go
For any journalist travelling to the field, there are a few things to take into account before you go (if you are taking photographs, please click here to see Photographer Guidelines).
As doctors and nurses, we have a privileged relationship with the patients we treat. They put themselves in our care and trust us to try and heal them. It is our responsibility to ensure that they come to no harm in our care. MSF staff on the ground have been told to intervene if they witness a journalist acting in a way which may harm the interests of the patient.
Be aware that an interviewee (especially if they are also photographed) may be harmed in different ways: stigmatisation, security, dignity, privacy/confidentiality.
MSF is not generally the “owner” of the medical facilities in which we work – often the structure belongs to the Ministry of Health or local community authority. It is vital that a journalist gets permission from the necessary authorities running the facility before starting to work.
Journalists must be sure to obtain full, informed consent from any patients or staff interviewed in MSF health facilities. Consent should be discussed in the exact context with the Head of Mission.
Consent negotiations must be carried out in the subject’s native language. National medical staff, (unarmed) guards or logistics staff may well be the best people to translate for you, but please be very clear with them that the patient is perfectly entitled to say no.
Please be aware that the MSF teams will hope to stay in a location long after you leave. We often have to maintain a relationship with the authorities and other political/military actors in the region. Ideally, before you start working in the field, a member of the MSF field team will brief you about local security rules. MSF staff on the ground will be concerned about the implications that your behaviour might have on their security. Please be understanding about their concern and try and cooperate. On occasion, we may ask to have a visible arms-length relationship with you.
You will have a more comfortable time working with MSF field teams if you can agree a few practical matters with them in advance. For example, will you be expected to follow the same security rules as expatriates, such as respecting curfews?
Special information for photographers
Pictures are important to MSF. They can educate people around the world about the situations our teams are witnessing and they can help MSF to raise money, recruit vital staff and inspire people. MSF works closely with photographers to get these important images.
The priority for teams on the ground, however, is always to provide professional and timely medical care to people in need.
Visiting MSF projects
There is some scope for welcoming visitors (such as photographers) to MSF projects, but this is dependent on the workload of the teams, the logistics of getting to remote areas and the security implications of having another person in a tense environment.
In general, we do not dispatch photographers or finance their trips to the places where we work. We are happy to help photographers who are travelling to the areas where we work and help arrange visits to our projects wherever possible.
We get many offers from photographers who want to visit MSF projects and we are only able to accommodate some of these requests. Usually we will find it easier to justify taking up the valuable time and resources of the teams on the ground if a photographer has a clear plan of how they intend to distribute their work on their return. If a series of photos has been commissioned for a major newspaper or magazine, for example, it will be easier for us to justify the effort to accommodate a photographer if we know the details.
We prefer to work with photographers and those who have prior knowledge of the contexts they are working in – for example those who are local to the area or who have lived and worked there for some time.
We are keen to make sure that photography is always conducted sensitively in MSF projects.
To read more about what we expect from photographers, please click here to download our Photographer Guidelines.
Getting in touch
If you can demonstrate experience of taking exceptional images in difficult locations, have a clear plan for distributing your photos to the media, and would like to visit an MSF project, please get in touch with Dónal Gorman at firstname.lastname@example.org
or +353 (0)1 281 5181 to discuss how we can work together.