Election coverage: Why Safety of journalists is a shared responsibility

The charter also requires media houses to set up security desks dedicated to the safety of their staff

In Summary

•While some of the risks, threats and attacks are spontaneous, actors are expected to conduct a risk analysis of each assignment, set aside resources for response and prepare for any eventuality.

•Both individual journalists and their employers must invest in initiatives like safety training and addressing both the physical, digital and psychosocial aspects.

Journalists at work.
Journalists at work.
Image: FILE

The electioneering period comes with many risks and safety threats for the media. Whether premeditated or not, the level of consciousness, preparedness and response among media and other critical stakeholders involved in the election activities affects the frequency and gravity of violations against freedom of the media.

For starters, safety is a personal responsibility, journalists must always be conscious of the inherent risks in their work, which every profession has.

For journalists, that risk becomes more imminent during such a period when there are many competing interests with various expectations of the media, some of which are not practical.

Beyond observing professional ethics, individual journalists and employers mindful of their safety and those of their staff should be aware of these interests, accompanying risks and be prepared to mitigate against them.

While some of the risks, threats and attacks are spontaneous, actors are expected to conduct a risk analysis of each assignment, set aside resources for response and prepare for any eventuality.

Therefore, both individual journalists and their employers must invest in initiatives like safety training and addressing both the physical, digital and psychosocial aspects.

In May 2022, as the World marked World Press Freedom Day, the industry witnessed the unveiling of a safety charter for media workers.

The charter was developed by a team of senior editorial managers representing local, international, mainstream and community media as a way of creating unity of purpose and consciousness on the role of each player in the media environment in minding either their own safety or that of their colleagues .

The charter was a result of the realization that while individual media houses have their our policies on safety, there was a missing link in terms of how individual media workers, media houses, employers regulators and newsroom managers were coordinating in ensuring that there is safety for one and for all.

A threat to one is a threat to all

The charter for instance was a self-commitment by media houses to look out for the safety of their colleagues beyond corporate identities; if a journalist in media House A is targeted in a rally, staff from media house B can employ available resources to ensure that the victim is safe.

The charter also requires media houses to set up security desks dedicated to the safety of their staff with security managers working with other actors like the Media Council of Kenya, editors and newsroom managers.

Another aspect of the charter is to ensure briefing and debriefing of journalists pre and post-assignment.

The pre-assignment briefing has been proven to be effective in mapping our risks while post -assignment briefing allows the newsroom manager to assess the well-being of their staff in the wake of work pressure, impact of threats, and challenges experienced in the field with the potential to inform interventions for trauma support for instance.

More efforts include provisions of protective gear and continued capacity building on issues of safety.

History has shown that collaboration among media actors in addressing incidences of impunity against journalists is more effective and impactful as compared to actions by single actors.

A journalist who is under threat will require the support of the editor/employer as much he/she will require that of the police in investigating offences against the journalist.

Institutions like MCK work closely with newsroom managers and media associations, human rights organizations and security agencies in the prevention, verification of reported incidences and response.

The Council has set up a hotline for journalists in distress to report and access help-0702222111 and an email – [email protected]

The National Mechanism for the Safety and protection of journalists established in 2019 appreciates the role of both state and non-state actors in ensuring that media is accorded a conducive working environment.

However, the implementation and actualization of the mechanism have been affected by many challenges.

Outside the media, political parties are required by law to provide a conducive working environment for the media .

The IEBC electoral Code of Conduct requires every registered political party to respect the role of the media before, during and after an election.

It guarantees access by members of the media to public activities while ensuring that they take all reasonable steps to ensure that journalists are not subjected to harassment, intimidation, hazard, threat or physical assault by any of their representatives or persons who supports the candidate or political party.

Non-interference in news gathering and editorial policies of media houses is the responsibility of the news sources/subjects, advertiser and media owners.

Ondari is Manager, Press Freedom, Safety and Advocacy

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