The everyday life of Moldovan journalists can be perilous: Media workers are targeted at home while the war in Ukraine continues next door. In addition to physical protection, journalists need psychological resilience.
War reporters wear bulletproof vests with thick press inscriptions stamped on the back. They report in front of bombed-out houses, as sounds of artillery fire ring out. This is a cliché image of journalists facing the obvious dangers of their profession, yet more recently, the threats to media professionals have become much more complex. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for attacks against journalists to be carried out online, so instead of protective vests, many journalists need digital skills and psychological resilience training.
Media professionals in Moldova are affected by many conflicts simultaneously. The small Eastern European country is directly feeling the effects of the war in Ukraine. Missiles have repeatedly reached Moldova, and the fighting in the neighboring country has caused repeated power outages. Transnistria, a separatist region supported by Russia, lies in Moldovan territory and the social networks are full of disinformation and threats against independent journalists.
Together with its local partner API (Association of Independent Press), DW Akademie is increasingly focusing on the safety of media professionals in Moldova. As part of an initial event on the topic, media workers were selected to participate in a three-day training course on physical safety and medical first aid for journalists. Above all, however, the event focused on issues of mental health and resilience. 15 media professionals who are confronted with very different threats in their daily work traveled from all over the country to attend the training.
The training module on mental health for journalists was led by expert Gavin Rees. The Briton has been working on the subject of mental health consequences of journalistic reporting for more than 15 years and is a senior advisor for the DART Center for Journalism and Trauma. For him, it's clear that psychological safety is at least as important as physical protection for media professionals.
"The more we understand about psychological processes, the more resilient we become - especially when exposed to violence and traumatic situations. And the better we can also do our work as journalists," Rees said.
Many participants confirmed that in Moldova, insults and threats in the digital space are on the rise and, conspicuously, they are more often directed at female media professionals. This trend is far from being unique to Moldova. According to a recent survey, female journalists are three times more likely to be targeted by online threats.
According to Rees, one of the most important strategies for counteracting the psychological stresses that such attacks bring is cohesion within the journalistic community. "Resilience is not just a personal matter," Rees explained.
Social connections and collegial solidarity play an essential role, he added, "It is also important that we are always clear about why we are doing all this: Because we stand up for our values. We want the public to have the information they need to make important decisions."
The Moldovan journalists fighting for those very values are currently facing a host of challenges. "We have to apply a lot of new knowledge all at the same time," says Viorica Tataru, a journalist at the nonprofit television network TV8. "The trainings give us important tools for this."
And the toolbox is about to get even fuller. "In the coming weeks, our focus will be on digital security," explained API Director Petru Macovei.
In-house training sessions are already being organized. The trainings cover how to protect sensitive data and defending against espionage attacks. With these trainings, the journalists are learning to shield themselves from threats that cannot be warded off by a bulletproof vest.