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Protecting Journalists and their stories

Being a journalist is never easy: digging your way through a pile of information, tracking down sources and composing a compelling story is one thing. Staying safe at the job and getting your story out uncensored is another. Only 15% of the world population lives in a country that has freedom of the press and of expression, and this number keeps declining.

In bringing the stories that matter, journalists have to be able to protect themselves and the information they gather, as well as deal with different forms of censorship. In this toolkit, Climate Tracker offers you tools and resources that will help you to stay safe.

Press Freedom Around the World

Reporters Without Borders created the World Press Freedom Index, in which the media freedom of countries get’s ranked. In 2016, the countries with the least freedom of the press were:

To find your own country in the list, check out the Index here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking/2017

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Freedom House are authorities in the protection of the rights of journalists. To find out the stories of reporters who got harassed, jailed or killed, you should check out their websites. Here you can also find great analyses on the media landscape of countries where the media is being suppressed:



CPJ also created Safety Guidebooks for Journalists in English, Spanish and Arabic.

Soft Pressures Vs. Hard Pressures

There are many different ways in which journalists can be obstructed or prevented from reporting on certain issues.

Hard censorship or hard pressure refers to when journalists are silenced through draconian laws, direct harassment, jailing or even death. Soft censorship or soft pressure refers to when information is restricted in other ways, eg. journalists may lack resources to carry out their work or their media outlet bows to political or corporate pressure and refuses to publish their story.

If you want to learn more on the topic of pressures in the media, you should read the first chapter of Joel Simon’s book The New Censorship: Inside the Global Battle for Media Freedom (Columbia University Press 2014).

Digital security Tools for Journalists

There are many great online tools out there already that will help reporters to asses their environment, protect their sources and to stay safe, here are a few:

Risk Assessment

  • Salama. A risk assessment tool for Journalists.

Safe storage

  • Bitlocker (Encryption of computers with Windows operating system).  This is a built-in tool only available in Windows Vista, 8.0, 8.1 Pro, 10  and Enterprise editions, and Windows Servers 2012 R2.
  • FileVault (Encryption of computers with OS (it requires OS Lyon or or a more recent OS operating system).
  • Truecrypt (Encryption of computers with Windows or OS operating systems that do not support Bitlocker or FileVault.)  Although the tool has not been updated, some journalists can rely on it depending on their threat model.
  • Veracrypt. (Encryption of computers with Windows or OS operating systems that do not support Bitlocker or FileVault.) A recent tool created by French developers and recommended by the organization Tactical Technology Collective and Frontline Defenders.

Antivirus protection

  • Privacy Badger a plug-in tool that prevents websites from placing spying ads, trackers and cookies on your PC
  • Avira. A free-for personal-use tool well known for its good score in blocking malware and detecting viruses.
  • ClamAV/Immunet.  It is a free and open source antivirus engine for detecting trojans, viruses, malware & other malicious threats.
  • Avast. A free antivirus tool to protect computers and mobile phones (for both Android and iOS operating systems)
  • Symantec Endpoint protection. A commercial antivirus and firewall service offering layered protection and intelligence security at the endpoint. It may be a fit for media organizations with a centrally managed corporate security for servers and workstations.
  • AVG. A free antivirus and antispyware protection tool. Journalists may pay an advance antivirus license and an internet security license.

Antimalware software

  • Spybot. A free antimalware and antispyware tool. A paid version includes antivirus protection and a boot CD creator.

Anonymous navigation on the Internet

  • TOR. Anonymous navigation on the internet. It is a free tool to defend users against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens privacy. It disguises user identity, and bypass internet filters.
  • Anonymox. Anonymous navigation on the internet. It is a free plugin for Firefox and Chrome web browsers to disguise user identity, mask the IP and protect you internet navigation.
  •  RiseUp VPN. Protected navigation on the internet. A free tool to protect the user navigation on the internet through the encrypted Riseup.net servers,to prevent censorship, corporate surveillance and monitoring of IPs.

Anonymous search engines

  • DuckDuckGo. It is an encrypted web searching engine to protect the privacy of your investigations on the internet. It works as a addon on the Firefox browser.
  • StartPage. It is an encrypted web searching engine to protect the privacy of your investigations on the internet.

Secure messaging

Encrypted Videoconference

Mobile device protection

Safe internet navigation

Anonymous navigation

  • Orfox (Replaces Orbot and Orweb for Android
  • Onion Browser for iOS

Secure mobile chatting

  • Chat Secure (for Android and iOS)
  • Secure SMS
  • Signal.

Encrypted phone calls

  • Signal. Strong encryption for iPhone and Android
  • Whatsapp. Encrypted communication via instant messages and voice calls.

Mobile encrypted email

  • APG+K9. Free and open source application to encrypt, decrypt and sign files in Android devices.
  • iPGMail. An iOS application for sending and decrypting OpenPGP encoded messages.

Do you have any other tips for safe journalism or that help freedom of expression? Let us know and share this tool with others too.

Arthur Wyns

About Arthur Wyns

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist and science journalist who writes about climate change, environment and migration. He manages Programs and Partnerships for Climate Tracker since 2017.