UNESCO and MISA contribute to safety of journalists in Southern Africa
Attacks on media workers tend to surge during national elections, raising the need for interventions that strengthen mechanisms and promote the safety of journalists
In the past decade, Southern Africa improved in protecting the safety and security of journalists, however, in recent times there has been an upsurge in attacks on media workers.
The surge in attacks on media workers is particularly prevalent towards elections. In 2021, Zambia held elections and this saw the number of attacks on journalists increasing rapidly.
Following the polls in Zambia, it is imperative to take pre-emptive action to prevent an escalation of attacks on journalists in Lesotho, whose elections are due in October 2022.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia has trained 30 journalists from selected media houses on the importance of freedom of expression, access to information (ATI) and safety of journalists (SOJ) in Zambia. Additionally, two conferences were held for journalists from Ndola on the Copperbelt and Solwezi in North-western provinces as part of its activities to raise awareness on the freedom of expression and safety of journalists in Zambia. The conferences from the two provinces were conducted between in July 2022.
During the World Press Freedom Day information, session held on 21 July 2022 MISA Zambia National Director Mr. Austin Kayanda noted that, “Journalism is under siege because of the developments in the media sector including the new laws that seek to prevent online crimes which have been enacted and their impact extends to the practice of journalism or media work.”
The search and seizure in the Zambian Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act makes journalism susceptible to exposing even sources journalists have pledged anonymity to. MISA Zambia has called on the revision of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act to enable the media play its watchdog role and facilitate for good governance.
Speaking at the Regional World Press Freedom Day commemoration organized by MISA and UNESCO in Zimbabwe, MISA Regional chairperson, Golden Maunganidze urged “[governments], political parties and other responsible authorities such as the police and the security forces, to ensure the safety of journalists as they conduct their lawful professional duties”.
Towards the end of 2021, there was a sudden increase in the number of attacks on journalists in Lesotho, necessitating an intervention that emphasized the importance of the safety of media workers.
The MISA Regional Secretariat, with the support of the UNESCO Regional Office of Southern Africa (ROSA) responded with a project that is responsive to the safety needs of journalists in that country. UNESCO supports MISA’s interventions under the Multi-Donor Project (MDP) on Enhancing Journalists’ Safety and Press Freedom in Africa.
MISA initially held a needs assessment for the media in Lesotho in terms of their safety needs and this was followed by a capacity building training. Using lessons learned from Zambia, MISA commissioned the compilation of an elections reporting handbook, which will be distributed to journalists in Lesotho. In terms of sustainability, MISA hopes to use the handbook in countries that will be holding elections, such as Zimbabwe in 2023.
In July, MISA held a capacity building training workshop for Lesotho journalists, with another one being planned before elections are held in October this year. Prior to this, journalists in Lesotho signed a pledge to uphold ethical principles of journalism during elections, with the hope that if media workers operate ethically, attacks on them will be reduced drastically.
MISA will also hold similar initiatives in Mozambique, where the safety of journalists remains fragile, particularly in the north of the country, where there is some instability.
With support from UNESCO and other partners, MISA publishes the annual State of Press Freedom in Southern Africa Report, which documents violations against journalists in the region. The report, that is guided Sustainable Development Goal 16 Target 10, is a key tool for advocating for the safety and freedom of journalists in Southern Africa.