UNESCO calls for journalists’ safety during elections

UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa, Prof. Hubert Gijzen has called for the strengthening of safety of journalists in Zambia as the country heads to the polls. He said this during a workshop held in the context of the “Strengthening freedom of expression and safety of journalists during 2021 Zambia elections’ project aimed at raising awareness on misinformation and disinformation, hate speech as well as media safety.

In a speech read on his behalf by UNESCO Zambia Antenna Office Team Leader, Alice Saili, Prof. Gijzen said the media plays a watchdog role in ensuring accountability of political parties, candidates and elections management bodies, hence their safety becomes paramount during the electoral processes.

He said journalists play a pivotal role to a free and fair election as they facilitate free flow of information for voters to make informed voting decisions. 

Prof. Gijzen said journalists call attention to minority groups like women, youth, the elderly, and people living with disabilities and others during the electoral processes bringing to light their issues and ensuring their participation through different media platforms.  

Speaking at the same workshop, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia National Director Austin Kayanda said journalists’ safety ensures that they play their critical role of informing and educating the electorate without fear or favour. He acknowledged several challenges journalists face during electoral periods. 

In times of elections, the media is very vulnerable to attacks, harassments and intimidation from various political stakeholders including political party cadres, political party sympathizers, and at times even members of the public.
Austin Kayanda, MISA Zambia National Director

In the last general elections in Zambia, citizens experienced political violence and riots, which led to hundreds of arrests. As the country is preparing for its next elections in August 2021, there are fears that the disturbing events of the previous election may resurface. 

In order to address the evolving challenges and build on previous electoral interventions, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), UNESCO ROSA and UNDP initiated the “Democracy Strengthening in Zambia” (DSZ) project. UNESCO proposed a number of activities for the project; these include strengthening of self-regulatory mechanisms among media professionals, training of media professionals on the revised code of conduct and other issues of concern related to ethical, objective and conflict sensitive reporting and engage media professionals to commit to abiding to the code of conduct. A sum of five hundred and forty one (541) participants countrywide are to receive training.