No story is worth dying for, women journalists told over poll chaos

A female journalist at work. Seventy-nine per cent of the female journalists and HRDs have experienced some form of violence in their line of duty according to a recent study by Article 19.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Journalist for Human Rights, under its Voice for Women and Girls Rights project, last week held a Media Roundtable on Safety and Security of Journalists.
  • JHR is currently implementing a four-year Canada World: Voice for Women and media development project targeting, among others, the media and civil society.

Female journalists have been sensitised to evade violence during next Tuesday’s general election and thereafter.

The Journalist for Human Rights (JHR), under its Voice for Women and Girls Rights project, last week held a media roundtable on safety and security of journalists in the electioneering period, in Nairobi.

The event’s objective was to discuss safety shortcomings that female journalists experience and interventions different players are taking up to address the issue ahead of the polls.

Project coordinator Bernard Ogoi said female journalists are more vulnerable to attacks during electioneering.

“Safety and protection of female journalists are very paramount during the electioneering period. Of late, we have seen remarks by politicians that tend to put journalists in a tight corner that can at times lead to attacks,” said Mr Ogoi.

The meeting brought together journalists, editors and key media players such as the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and the Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik).

Vulnerable

Dinah Ondari, the head of Press Freedom, Safety and Advocacy at the MCK, said female journalists are more vulnerable and face a bigger risk of attacks in times of elections.

She said the MCK has since January recorded 60 attacks against journalists, some of whom are female. She added that the language being used by some politicians on the campaign trail against the media has heightened threats.

“Some of the attacks against journalists may be political profiling, physical attacks and being denied access to polling centres and polling stations,” she said, adding journalists have a right to decide on assignments to cover, especially when they feel they fear for their lives.

“No story is worth dying for. Safety begins with you and you should always assess the risks involved in all political activities.”

Ms Ondari advised journalists to always find out about all possible escape routes, which they can use in case violence breaks out, saying they must weigh the atmosphere before showing their identification as it can at times work against them.

Ms Ondari told the journalists to always identify themselves clearly to the police and travel with their colleagues.

Psychosocial support

Media houses, she said, also need to give journalists psychosocial support and provide special protection for women journalists, including giving them personal protective equipment.

“In case you face any attacks, it is always good to report the matter to the police and ensure you have an OB number. Also, always ensure you have crucial contact with the area police whom you can call in case of an attack. You can also call 0702222111, which is the MCK hotline.”

Judie Kaberia, Amwik’s executive director, noted that female journalists face more risks than their male counterparts in the line of duty. Citing research, she said 70 per cent of women in the media have experienced more than one type of harassment, threat or attack.

“According to a global study by International Women’s Foundation, about 40 per cent of women journalists have avoided reporting on politics so as to avoid harassment. The violence nature of our politics normally makes women journalists shy away from covering politics.”

She added that women journalists are more likely to be targeted for offline and online sexual harassment on the basis of their work. She enumerated violence, stigmatisation, sexist hate speech, trolling, physical assault and rape as some of the ordeals women journalists face in the line of duty, more so while covering elections.

Objectivity

Ms Kaberia reminded journalists to remain objective and professional, particularly when covering elections. She called on media houses to put security measures in place to ensure their journalists are safe.

“Journalists need to remain professional both online and offline. They should always take individual responsibility and work professionally. Female journalists should always support each other more so when they are violated.”

According to the MCK, 60 per cent of journalists covering the upcoming general election have never covered an election before.

JHR is currently implementing a four-year Canada World: Voice for Women and media development project targeting the media, civil society, women’s rights organisations, academic institutions, decision-makers, and other key stakeholders advocating human rights in four target countries in the Middle East and Africa.

The project aims at developing the media sector and fostering sustainable and productive partnerships between key allies towards enhancing the rights of women and girls through media development in Jordan, the Democratic of Congo (DRC), Kenya and the diaspora of Syrian journalists in the Middle East.

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