Creation of a fund to support investigative journalism in the eastern Africa region was one of the key recommendations from a Webinar training series hosted by editors.
Others were updating of media laws to meet international standards, support for community media and establishment of country media centres of excellence.
The webinar series on safety and security for journalists was hosted by members of the Eastern Africa Editors Forum, drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. They noted that community media and investigative journalism had been worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic yet they played a critical role in the society.
Many community media firms had closed shop while investigative journalists had been retrenched even in the mainstream companies meaning less checks on governments.
The recommendations will also promote sustainability in journalism and initiate programmes to sensitise journalists on the legal framework that governs the profession.
The trainings were attended by editors’ associations leaders in the four countries. These are Bruh Mengistu Yihunbelay (vice chairman, Editors’ Guild of Ethiopia), Deodatus Balile (chairman, Tanzania Editors’ Forum), Daniel Kalinaki (chairman, Uganda Editors’ Guild and Churchill Otieno (president, Kenya Editors’ Guild). They resolved to steer the creation of centres of excellence in journalism, strengthen community media that have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and capacity building for journalists. Building the capacity of journalists will entail strengthening journalism training institutions to conduct in-service training.
“This conversation that we’re having and the initiatives that we’ve undertaken allow us to have some optimism that the journalism that will emerge and the media houses that survive this crisis, will have stronger underlying business models, will refocus on journalism as the main purpose for being, both as a product and as a business,” said Kalinaki , chairman of Uganda Editors’ Guild.
The Eastern African Editors Forum is also working towards producing the premier edition of the Eastern African Journalism Review. The inaugural edition will publish topics presented in the webinar series.
The webinars were funded by Open Society Initiative in East Africa (OSIEA) and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Launched on World Press Freedom Day, the series recommended funding for media, which is necessary to ensure survival and viability during and post-Covid-19 environment. The team acknowledged that Covid-19 had exacerbated the levels of threats facing media houses and survival of journalists, leading to permanent or temporary termination of employment. Investigative journalism is one of the most affected genres of the profession.
The series was aimed at addressing issues brought about by Covid-19. Many journalists, who have been forced to work from home, had their pay cut or lost their jobs, are facing a lot of pressure hence the need for the trainings.
UNESCO acknowledged the important role media play in keeping citizens informed and governments to account and promised support in programmes in line with its mandate.
Ms Ana Elisa Satana Afonso, the Director of the (UNESCO) Liaison Office to the African Union, underscored the importance of media in the context of Covid-19.
“Free and independent media serve as a key source of credible and lifesaving information,” she said.
She commended the solidarity in support of the news industry and the ‘’Ubuntu spirit’’ running through the Eastern Africa Editors’ Forum. Supporting journalists to do their work, she added, would go a long way in promoting excellence in journalism.
She urged the forum to document the lessons learnt and the good practices that can be considered for replication on the African continent.
The series also included the webinar on digital safety held on May 26. It offered insights on how to handle attacks ranging from phishing, spoofing, malware (ransomware) and misinformation, which target the emotional state of journalists. It also covered physical safety, involving planning, risk assessment and contingency planning.
The last webinar on June 8th, on psychosocial safety, offered practical advice on how to overcome anxiety and pressures that come with Covid-19 and the new normal of working from home.
Ms Cheryl Odhiambo, OSIEA Programme Officer, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information expressed the organisation’s commitment towards mitigating misinformation during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. OSIEA was open to more partnerships aimed at strengthening press freedom, access to information and digital rights, she added.
Bruh Mengistu, vice chairman of the Editors’ Guild of Ethiopia, welcomed the proposals, saying Ethiopian journalists stand to benefit a great deal.
“Specialised training programs would really help media outlets in Ethiopia,” he told the meeting.
Chairman of the Tanzania Editors’ Forum, Deodatus Balile was in agreement, adding that it is the opportunity for Eastern Africa to seize the moment and push for better working conditions as a bloc
“Covid 19 has ignited our thinking,” he said, adding that “ We are going to take steps ahead which can be emulated by other parts of the continent and even the globe.”
Ms Lydia Gachungi, UNESCO’s Regional Adviser on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, urged the editors forum to deliver concrete actions including outlines and budgets for the Global Media Defence Fund.
Mr. Otieno, President of Kenya Editors’ Guild, said it was important to update the media laws to meet international standards.
“The training has to take cognizant that the security of journalists is paramount,” he added. Similar sentiments were echoed by the editors’ leaders from Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.