East African Editors trained on Safety and Security of Journalists during COVID-19

The safety and security are key concerns among many journalists in Eastern African countries especially now with the COVID-19 crisis. Journalists suffer harassments and assaults, abuse and violation of their rights not only in the field but also in their work places or stations. The source of the threats include state and non-state actors, including governments, security apparatuses, politicians, criminal elements, vigilante groups, and even colleagues and managers, among others.

In response to this, the East Africa Editors Forum has organized a series of training for editors seeking to create awareness on the important issues of safety and security in and outside their workplaces. This is with support from UNESCO's Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP), and the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). This capacity building initiaitve is part of a comprehensive action that includes the publication of an Eastern Africa Review Journal, in celebration of the 2020 World Press Freedom Day focusing on the independence of media during the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of digital, physical, psychological and psychosocial safety and security for journalists in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

“The first step in the defence of media freedom is the protection of journalists and training them to watch their backs is key,” says Daniel Kalinaki, chairman of Uganda Editors Guild.

Echoing these words, Deodatus Balile, Chairman of the Tanzania Editors’ Forum says that: “training enhances our competence, which in turn shields our profession because incompetence is a target for criticism”

The training also comes at a time when journalists are facing threats of being jailed by intolerant regimes for speaking truth to power despite guarantees of freedom of expression and media in the countries' laws. Besides, the COVID-19 crisis brings out three safety dimensions: physical, psychological and digital, which journalists face during finding, verifying, processing and publishing information. 

The Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) in coordination with the Editors Forums in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania are hosting regional virtual training sessions customised for key cohorts to address the three safety areas. They are hosting expert-led weekly webinars on newsroom safety and newsroom innovation for specially selected media cohorts for East Africa. These activities, carried out since early May, are part of the World Press Freedom Day awareness raising and capacity building activities on the pertinent issues related to journalists' safety in covering COVID-19.

Speaking at the training held on May 26, 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Representative for Eastern and Southern Africa, Muthoki Mumo, urged the East African Editors Forum to create solidarity among the countries. She stressed that this will give a voice to the plight of other journalists under attacks as well as create well-coordinated regional structure as a safe haven for journalists who require physical protection from perpetrators.

The use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to enhance digital safety and security of journalists where Internet Service providers, in collaboration with governments, block usage was discussed. Lydia Gachungi, the UNESCO Addis Liaison Office Regional Adviser on Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists, informed the journalists that UNESCO does support the right of individuals to seek and receive information through protocols and tools of their own choice. Furthermore, the UNESCO Internet Universality Indicators contain an indicator on VPNs under the “Open Content”. She further provided reference to other UNESCO publications, which among the digital risks identified, included illegal or arbitrary surveillance and location tracking, among other challenges.

This digital security training enabled the East African Editors Forum to assess the digital threats and offer pathways to the defeat of fake news and fake platforms, disinformation and misinformation, and propaganda. Furthermore, the editors were provided with information on how to put in place mitigation plans that include new safety planning, managing fear and anxiety which is also vital in the current COVID-19 pandemic and crises context.

Editors from the Eastern African Editors Forum are seeking for ways of circumventing these challenges, that impact on their productivity and well-being, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Recommendations from the ongoing webinar training sessions will be shared at the end of the last training scheduled on June 8, 2020. It is expected that concrete recommendations from these trainings will spur media houses and policy makers to action towards putting in place mechanisms that promote the safety and security of journalists and freedom of media in Eastern African region.


About the Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists

The Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP) serves to further strengthen UNESCO’s work at a global, regional, and national levels, by channeling funds towards emerging priorities and the most pressing needs to achieve its mandate on freedom of expression. It enables UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector to address complex issues through the design and implementation of holistic medium and long-term interventions at national, regional and global levels. The clear advantage of this mechanism is that it allows UNESCO and its partners to achieve greater impact and sustainability, whilst reducing fragmentation of activities in the same field.

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For more information, contact: Lydia Gachungi