Urgent measures needed to combat violence against journalists


Journalists covering a function.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya is a country with a shockingly high tolerance for violence against journalists, and female journalists get the brunt of it.

It’s increasingly clear that the work of journalists is critical to the functioning of a democratic society, and research has shown that female journalists often face unique challenges in carrying out their work. In Kenya, the safety of female journalists is a growing concern that needs urgent attention.

In a recent capacity-building trip to Geneva, Switzerland, courtesy of the Universal Rights Group, I learnt that the United Nations Human Rights Council recognises the vital role that journalists play in promoting and protecting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The council has emphasised that the safety and security of journalists, both male and female, are essential for the exercise of freedom of expression and the protection of human rights.

Range of challenges

However, in Kenya, female journalists face a range of challenges that threaten their safety and their ability to work effectively. These challenges include sexual harassment, intimidation, physical violence, and even death threats. Female journalists often experience gender-based discrimination and violence, which is compounded by the fact that many work in male-dominated environments.

Women are particularly hard-hit by online violence. A 2020 UNESCO/International Center for Journalists survey finding that 73 percent of the 635 women journalists interviewed reported experiencing some form of online violence.

The situation is particularly dire for female journalists covering sensitive issues such as corruption, politics, and human rights abuses. Female journalists who report on these issues often face threats and attacks from those who seek to silence them. In some cases, female journalists have been abducted, tortured, and even killed for their work.

The UN Human Rights Council recognises that attacks against journalists, including female journalists, have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the press. The council has called on states to take measures to prevent attacks against journalists and to ensure that those responsible for such attacks are held accountable.

Kenya has made some progress in recent years in recognising the importance of protecting journalists and ensuring their safety. The country has enacted laws aimed at protecting journalists, including the Media Council Act, which provides for the establishment of a Media Council to regulate the media and protect journalists' rights.

Specialised mechanisms

On an international scale, the UN Human Rights Council, with their specialised mechanisms, anyone from individuals to national human rights bodies can submit communications to their special procedures, alerting them to any violations of human rights against journalists. But, be warned, the submissions should be based on factual information and not be politically motivated. The information should also be detailed and credible, avoiding any abusive language or reliance solely on mass media reports.

Once the experts from the Council receive the communication, they can take action by requesting concerned authorities to prevent or stop any further violations.

Even with these international mechanisms in place, much more needs to be done to ensure the safety of female journalists in Kenya. The government and media organisations must work together to create an environment in which female journalists can work without fear of harassment, intimidation, or violence. This includes providing training on gender-based violence, creating policies and procedures to address sexual harassment and assault, and ensuring that those who perpetrate such acts are held accountable.

The safety of female journalists in Kenya is a pressing human rights issue that requires urgent attention. The UN Human Rights Council has recognised the importance of protecting journalists, including female journalists, and Kenya must take steps to implement these provisions.