By Naipanoi Lepapa
The safety of journalists is increasingly becoming a major challenge facing men and women in the media the world over. Journalists have succumbed to abuse such as beatings, death threats, confiscation of equipment, cyber bullying and harassment due to the sensitivity of some of the stories covered. Suffice it to say, women journalists are easy targets because of their public presence as public figures. In Kenya, women journalists have faced both physical and online abuse due to their voice in certain issues in the media. Many female journalists have had to withdraw/lay low from the online space due to vicious attacks on them through their social media pages and physical abuse against them.
This background gave a platform for the partnership between AMWIK and IREX to thrive through an intensive training on safety for women journalists in Kenya ahead of the general elections. The four day training saw journalists from the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) taught how to address safety through the lenses of digital identity, physical awareness, and psychosocial care thus equipping them with requisite skills in safety and protection management required while in the line of duty.
Recent cases of attacks to journalists in Kenya have been on the rise. In September 2016, journalists from across the country took to the streets to protest against stalking, online trolling, intimidation and harassment, confiscation of equipment, physical assault, and disappearance, attempted and mysterious killings of journalists in the line of duty.
Joseph Masha, a Standard Group journalist a day after meeting with a politician in a hotel collapsed and died. It was claimed he was poisoned at the meeting and had earlier been threatened via text messages. In August, a Kitale photojournalist was shot three times at his home by police in a bid to recover compromising footage he had taken. Additionally, Nation Media Group Grace Gitau and Standard journalists were in same month assaulted by MCAs for taking photographs of their colleagues fighting.
The affront by security agents, political activists on journalists comes at a time when the general election is just few months away.
The training that covered physical, psycho-social and online security of female journalists gave participants practical ways on how to be safe.
Erratic, IREX Digital Security Awareness trainer took trainees through a practical and informative session on online security risks facing female journalists. He advised them to protect themselves more than ever because the 21st century is the age of surveillance. The women journalists were taught privacy and security tools for mobile phone, computer and internet usage. He also highlighted encryption and data security with strategies on how to be safer and smarter when communicating, sharing and storing digital information. Whilst sharing of information is vital in a journalist’s duty, Erratic warned journalists against sharing sensitive or too much of their personal information online. To avoid hacking, he advised them to use strong passwords where they combine special characters, letters and words.
Women journalists are also susceptible to physical attacks during public rallies, political press conferences and even random unwarranted attacks. Addressing physical security, Fearless, an experienced security expert said journalists should always be alert. Journalists should also be conscious of their surroundings so as not to fall into the traps of spies or enemies. Among strategies he gave for protection was anti-surveillance, counter-surveillance, first aid steps and basic physical defense mechanisms.
Other than physical and online violence, journalists’ psychosocial state is also at risk during assignments. D, the psychologist, said, “many journalists experience trauma in their work but most of them run to alcohol or are overcrowded with depression because the work place hasn’t created an avenue for them to talk about their experiences.’ She advised that journalists should seek support from friends, workmates or psychologists to help them through their traumatic experiences and never be ashamed of seeking help.
The training also saw veteran female journalists share experiencesof working in media. During her candid session with the participants, Kenyan veteran journalist Catherine Gicheru said, “As female journalists, we are looked down upon and it’s easier for us to be attacked. But no one is as strong and hard as a woman. Go out there and uncover what they don’t want us to know. Don’t give up the fight, we are here to stay, we shall not be held back on our reporting.”
Former K24 reporter, Purity Mwambia reiterated the same saying, “A journalist should always be driven by their passion to tell the story as it is and intimidation and threats should not stop them. Stand by your values and principles. Report what is right. As long as you are doing the right thing, don’t be scared what they will do to you. But always be careful.”
AMWIK members were challenged not only to use the knowledge and skills gained in the training for themselves, but take time to educate other female journalists on security even as they prepare to cover the general elections in August.
The training took place from 23rd to 26th January 2017 at the Convent International Guest House.
*The names of the trainers have been changed to protect their identity due to the risk involved in their work of training journalists worldwide who are under threats.