The last decade has seen journalists becoming more often victims of targeted attacks in urban and conflict zones. Terrorist attacks, industrial incidents, traffic fatalities and violent protests are very common nowadays and reporters frequently travel to these sites to bring the news to the world.
Body armour has steadily found its way into the standard gear of journalists. With insurgency, rioting, wars and terrorist attacks growing at an alarming rate, members of the media, who frequently report from points of conflict, are in dire need to find ways to stay safe. While tactical vests have always been a standard part of the equipment of law enforcement and military operatives, it is only in the past decade that they become mainstream for journalists as well.
Bullet proof vests are graded by the National Institute of Justice. Armour at Levels I through IIIA is known as soft armour, and is very lightweight, which makes it best suited for urban settings, where large, bulky carriers are too much of a hassle.
Soft body armour protects against most commonly available handguns. It is available in both overt and covert styles to cover different scenarios. An overt vest is useful in time when a journalist would have to quickly put it on or take it off while a covert vest fits discreetly underneath clothes, providing protection without drawing attention.
It is important to base the choice of protection on the most likely threats journalists are expecting to face. The different types of body armour available to them cover all possible scenarios they are expected to face in their line of work.
Body Armour Levels and Threats
Body armour comes in different levels that range from soft level IIa (ideal for low level handguns such as a 9mm, which are commonly used in urban attacks) to soft level IIIa (ideal for high powered handguns such as a .44MAG).
Higher calibre weapons, such as rife rounds or armour piercing bullets can only be stopped by hard armour plates manufactured from ceramic. These can be rated at level III (standard AK47, 7.62 NATO round) and level IV (armour piercing rounds such as the .3006 AP) and are not a popular choice in urban areas as they are bulky and heavy. Ballistic resistant helmets are also available but they are easily visible by attackers.
It is difficult for journalists to predict the type of threats they are likely to encounter on the job, but recent events have made it clear that any type of gathering can turn violent quickly as altercations between protesters and the police escalate.
Mass shooting incidents are also now relatively common, so a vest that protects against bullets as well as knives and sharp objects is the best choice for urban reporters.
Reporting from the scene of industrial or traffic accidents and high-crime areas is part of a journalist's work and can pose a serious health and safety risk. All of these reasons are making more journalists turn to covert vests to guarantee their personal safety. These vests are light and comfortable, and can be worn underneath clothes without drawing unnecessary attention. They don't restrict movement and provide discreet protection against a variety of threats.
When reporting from protests and places that have been targeted by extremists - journalists can always supplement their body armour with additional ballistic plates to increase the level of protection. Additional coverage for the shoulders and groin can be fitted, offering more comprehensive protection. Journalists may find these offer greater flexibility as they allow them to carry the items they need in the additional pouches, and customise what they have with them at a given time. While covert (concealable) body carriers are more commonly used when reporting from urban areas and protests, overt vests are the better choice for high-risk environments.
They are worn over clothing and are more durable than covert body armour. They have extremely high protective, qualities and can even be upgraded to protect the upper arms, throat, neck, and groin area. Even though this type of armour is heavier and bulkier - it is unmatched in the level of protection if offers and will surely hold up in the direst of circumstances, making it the choice of gear of military personnel and security operatives in warzones.
There are many types of ballistic resistant vests available to journalists today. It is best to do some research and compare the different options on body armour. Make sure you understand the vest's protective capabilities and the threats you are likely to face before selecting a vest online. This way you can be sure you receive maximum protection while doing your job.
The IFJ worked with Safeguard Armour to produce this article. The company have donated 3 protective vests to the IFJ to enable us to make them available to journalists in the field.