Attacks against media workers and impunity for such crimes remain one of the most persistent and depressing characteristic in many countries across the world. Every year, organizations monitoring global human rights trends have reached the same conclusion: media workers and especially journalists are targeted because of their public role in generating demand for accountability through reporting, and those responsible for these attacks, including murders and disappearances, are rarely, if ever brought to justice.
While this phenomenon is more acute in other countries like Syria and Mexico, which are considered as the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to global press freedom monitors, countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, South Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania can easily pass nations with repressive and risk in the Eastern Africa for journalists. Journalists in these countries face threats from authorities, armed private individuals, terrorists’ groups as well as political fanatics of various political groupings.
In fact, the future of African journalism in 21 countries is under threat, with those who produce news and information working in most difficult conditions, aaccording to RSF 2020 World Press Freedom Index. East Africa has consistently ranked poorly in the index. In this year’s raking, Kenya is at position 103 out of 180 countries; Ethiopia is at 99, Tanzania is at 124, Uganda at 125, South Sudan at 138, Rwanda at 155, Djibouti at 176, Somalia 163, Comoros at 75, Madagascar at 54 and Eritrea at lowest 178. In this Index, rankings closer to 1 indicate a highly free press, whereas rankings closer to 180 are countries with more restrictive and oppressive press freedoms.
Most of these countries (except Eritrea) have liberalised the media sector ushering in media plurality as opposed to the early post-independence years where all media was state controlled. Thus most countries can boast a plurality and diversity of media as they have many newspapers (private and state-owned), radio stations (private, state and community) and television stations (private and state-owned). However, in spite of the tremendous milestones and the progressive freedom of expression and press freedom guarantees by various national laws, some of these countries nonetheless have maintained repressive media laws and abetted attacks on journalists and media workers
Aggressions against journalists hinder severely the free flow of information and freedom of expression. Murders, disappearances, repeated attacks and threats create an environment that stifles free speech and encourage self-censorship. While overall numbers of journalists killed fell 2019, according global media freedom monitors, the rate of impunity for killings, where States have failed to hold to account those responsible for murders, remain largely undented.
The rise of fake news and disinformation have added another layer of pressure on journalists. This phenomenon continues to have negative consequences on both news consumers and on individual journalists. In some cases, journalists are being attacked by citizens due to this trust deficit brought about by fake news and disinformation that will take long to reverse.
But the hostile environment for journalists is even worsened by the disjointed and fragmented existing protection mechanisms, efforts and approaches for safety of journalists in the region. The existing initiatives are wrought with challenges as most organisations and journalists operate in competition with each other, thereby losing opportunities to build coordinated mechanisms and professional solidarity movements as the first line of defense against attacks and press freedom. There is also no strategy on the protection of journalists within government institutions, the media industry or civil society. Various organisations continue to work in silos while documentation and reporting these attacks. The data on attacks in Eastern Africa Countries is scattered all over, making protection efforts difficult. The available data also fall short of addressing gender-specific threats.
It is in this very difficult environment that Eastern Africa Journalists Network (EAJN) – a membership-led group of journalists was formed to coordinate journalists driven monitoring and reporting of attacks against its members on one hand, and on other building a single, independent and verifiable repository platform for publicly searchable records modelled around access to information laws to enhance credible and professionalism amongst its membership. This idea is informed by both their personal experiences when faced by safety challenges and accessing information. This project builds around journalists led solidarity movements as the first line of defense against their right to gather and disseminate information to public. The database is run and managed by individual journalists or through press club representation in the 11 countries as envisioned under the UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) which calls for increased efforts to strengthen journalists’ safety and security.
Eastern Africa Journalists Network recognizes that the definition of security and that of protection need to be multi-dimensional, in recognition of the variety of threats faced by journalists and media workers. With the above understanding, EAJN underscores the fact that professionalism of journalism is exhibited in the observance of standards such as research, verification of news content, confidentiality of sources, fairness, and public interest.
EAJN endeavors to develop a multi-layered and holistic online monitoring tool, targeting various facets of vulnerability, including personal and physical, digital, psychosocial as well legal and professional. EAJN will constantly engage in research to develop areas of need to improve the capacity of journalists with self-protection tools as well as develop a robust online resources for professionalism to deal with fake news and disinformation. EAJN is also engaged in advocacy work around safety of journalists by bringing the national, regional and international community’s attention to violations in the targeted countries through engagement with national, regional and international mechanisms, and training journalists to effectively engage with UN and AU bodies.
To achieve EAJN mission and vision, we welcome support and donations from to facilitate in developing a robust online monitoring and reporting platform for real time reporting on attacks against journalists on one hand and on the other build automated searchable public records tool for journalists. The searchable public records tool will heavily use the Right to Information laws as part of the innovation for sustainability and professionalism of journalism for development in the region