Safety in the line of duty: Ensuring women are safe as they get the story

Press freedom - journalists at work/JOSEPH NDUNDA
Press freedom - journalists at work/JOSEPH NDUNDA

The year was 2011. The Egyptian Revolution was in high gear and Lara Logan, then a correspondent with US broadcaster CBS, and a crew, went to cover the story.

The crew was covering celebrations at Tahrir Square in Cairo after President Hosni Mubarak resigned, when the cameraman’s battery failed.

An Egyptian CBS correspondent told Logan and her crew they needed to leave after hearing the sexually inappropriate remarks the crowd was making.

The next 25 minutes must have been the worst of Logan’s life.

Breaking her silence during CBS TV show ’60 minutes’ in May 2011, Logan said the men in the crowd tore her clothes off and sexually assaulted her with their hands. They also physically assaulted her – they pulled her limbs and tried to remove the hair off her scalp.

The assaulters were not identified and no one was prosecuted.

In Kenya, former Imenti Central MP Gideon Mwiti was charged with raping a former journalist in March 2015. He denied the charges and filed an application seeking for the case to be dropped over a “defective charge sheet”.

The application was dropped and the case will proceed.

Many women journalists have also experienced physical violence in the line of duty.

Star newspaper correspondent Corazon Wafula was in August roughed up by Trans Nzoia county officials as she tried to take photos and videos of a confrontation before the swearing-in of Governor Patrick Khaemba.

Her phone was confiscated and officers tried to delete the photos. When they were unsuccessful, they threw the phone on the ground.

Granted, there have also been many cases of attacks on men journalists, especially during the election period.

However, research conducted by the International Women’s Media Foundation shows women are more vulnerable.

FORMS OF ASSAUT

The 2014 report, ‘Violence and Harassment against Women in the News Media: A Global Picture’, interviewed 1,000 women from around the world and found that about two-thirds of respondents had experienced some form of intimidation, threats or abuse in relation to their work.

“It takes a strong woman to last in the journalism profession because there are many occupational hazards,” Kenya Union of Journalists chairman Juma Kwayera says.

He spoke during a workshop on safety of women journalists last Thursday. The workshop was organised by the KUJ with support from the International Federation of Journalists.

Kwayera recounted how he and his female colleague were caught in the thick of al Shabaab blasts during an assignment in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2012.

“We were attending a meeting with newly elected Somali President Hassan Mohamud at a hotel in Mogadishu, and the next thing we knew, there was a blast. I was able to help my female colleague move to another floor, but soon after, there was another blast. Everyone lay on the floor and in the mayhem, we were separated, but I still kept my eye on her.”

Kwayera continued, “I could see a Somali man grabbing her hand tightly and she was trying to let go. She was finally successful. When we returned to Kenya, I asked what happened and she said the man was asking her to marry him so he could come to Kenya. It is still a traumatising

memory for her. We have seen the situation with the Chibok girls and she was fortunate not to have been abducted, because you can only imagine what might have happened to her.”

He said women journalists are soft targets during violence and assaults, and many suffer trauma in the line of duty and opt to leave the profession.

The IWMF report states most incidents of harassment and violence are never reported, even though most women who experienced them said they were psychologically affected.

Respondents were drawn from Africa ( 11.2 per cent), Arab states (.84 per cent), Asia and Pacific ( 26.5 per cent), Europe ( 18.5 per cent), Latin and South America ( 10.6 per cent), North America ( 27.8 per cent) and Commonwealth of Independent States ( 1.6 per cent)

The journalists were drawn from different sections: reporters ( 81.2 per cent), editors ( 22.7 per cent), producers ( 12.9 per cent), photographers ( 10.7 per cent), presenters ( 6.4 per cent), media support workers ( 5.4 per cent) and camera people ( 3.7 per cent)

Most respondents were between 25 and 34 years old ( 402 ), followed by 35-44 ( 231 ), 18-24 ( 125 ) and 50-54 ( 133 ).

The IWMF report found the most frequent forms of physical violence are pushing, shoving and assault with an object or weapon.

The main perpetrators include strangers in a crowd or public place, politicians, police and interviewees.

News editor Mary Daraja says women are easily overpowered and intimidated, especially when covering political events, riots and demonstrations.

She recounts her days as a reporter during former President Daniel Moi’s era. “Some security officials and fellow men reporters would step on my small toe so I could recede. You have to be tough. After some time, I decided to defend myself. Whenever someone tried to step on me to make me move, I would hit them with my microphone and proceed with my interview.”

Media consultant Kwamboka Oyaro says many cases of sexual harassment and violence go unreported because women fear being victimised.

Oyaro said some women opt to leave the journalism profession altogether.

CYBER BULLYING

Association of Media Women in Kenya executive director Marceline Nyambala says, “Women face all manner of threats to their profession, from physical attacks, telephone threats, summons by police, defamation and libel.”

Last year, Amwik published a report on cyber violence against women titled ‘Women journalists’ digital security’.

It found women journalists are more vulnerable to online bullying, threats and abuse than their men counterparts. Technology-assisted violence against women is on the rise and includes cyber bullying, trolling, cyber stalking, defamation, hate speech, online harassment, public shaming, identity theft and hacking.

The report said, “The bolder, louder and more visible a women journalist is, the more the probability of facing technology-assisted violence.”

The report found 75 per cent of the journalists interviewed have experienced online harassment in the course of their work.

Amwik is partnering with organisations to enhance the capacity of women journalists. “We are also working on collaborations in gender-sensitive approaches to develop measures to address violence against women journalists,” she said.

Women are encouraged not to give up their professions but to speak up and speak out against ills.

Despite the large number of attacks against journalist, both male and female, there is help in the form of unions and some government agencies.

KUJ secretary general Erick Oduor says journalists have gotten used to highlighting other workers’ plight and forgotten they, too, have rights that should be fought for.

“Journalists have covered the nurses’ strike, highlighted the teachers’ strike when it was there, and many others, but what about them? Many are assaulted and feel they have nowhere to run to,” he said.

KUJ has sought justice for a number of journalists whose equipment was destroyed and who were attacked in the line of duty.

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