On 10th July 2019, journalists drawn from various continents including Africa converged in London for the Global Media Conference organized by the United Kingdom and Canada governments. The theme of the conference was ‘Defend Media Freedom.’
#DefendMediaFreedom was pushed on Twitter and other social media platforms, sad stories from journalists who have been attacked while in their line of duty were narrated. Defenders of media freedom spewed their emotions and frustrations out. Those who perpetuate the impunity quietly followed or negatively commented through proxies.
The global conference revolved on how the UK and Canada governments are doing or will do to defend media freedom and improve the safety of journalists worldwide.
Speakers who took the podium noted that media freedom is still under threat. United Kingdom Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, an avid defender of media freedom, elaborated more on why all of us must stand with those who seek to report the truth and bring facts to light.
“We send a resounding message that media freedom is not a Western but a universal value. At its best, free media both protects society from the abuse of power and helps release the full potential of a nation,” said Rt.Hon. Jeremy Hunt.
DEFENDING MEDIA FREEDOM
We live in a society where politicians spew and incite hatred towards journalists, law enforcers hurl teargas at and use live bullets to disperse the messenger and un-informed citizenry throw stones and pieces of sticks to journalists covering a human interest story revolving on one of their own.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt notes, “In a world where a Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered inside a Saudi diplomatic property – and a talented young journalist, Lyra McKee, was shot dead by dissident republicans in Northern Ireland – it would be easy to succumb to fatalism.”
We must resist and say no staying put as members of the fourth estate will indeed aid in defending the media freedom. We must equally condemn those in the newsrooms who perpetuate such impunities.
14th July 2019, speaking during Siasa Za Kanda, a TV program on KTN News that majors on regional affairs as well as media freedom, Victor Bwire, Head of Media Development and Strategy at the Media Council of Kenya said that “journalists are not enemies but their own enemies.” We cannot have individuals who write for the people to fight and disrespect each other; it’s unfortunate.
“Safety of journalists is very key and critical, being a journalist is not an easy task; however, the challenge is with us, we must have a sit-down and rectify the mistakes,” he said.
Successful democracies thrive on free press, in his words; the late Nelson Mandela said: “free press is the cornerstone of any democracy.” Enhancement of media freedom brings forth a free press.
Kenya maintained a steady decline on media freedom in 2019 according to a report by Reporters without Borders. Political situations and security concerns were and have been used as grounds for restricting the freedom to inform since 2016.
In Africa, countries like Somalia, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Sudan were ranked by Reporters without Borders in the press freedom map as nations under the ‘dire situation’ category when it comes to media independence, without forgetting states like Uganda which lied under the problematic category in the index, what does that tells us?
MEDIA UNITY IN AFRICA
Africa must remain united; we must champion our independence as one. We are a continent; it’s time to segregate words like North Africa, East Africa, West Africa etcetera and stand unbowed as Africa. We are brothers and sisters, however in different states but one profession. Our journalistic spirit and resolve should remain resolute.
Hodan Nalayeh, a bold and inspiring Somali-Canadian journalist, was killed on Friday 12th July 2019 in a hotel terror attack at Kismayo, Somalia. She was back in her motherland to narrate positive stories about Somali’s natural beauty. At the time of her death, Hodan was expectant. The perpetrators of the terror-claimed attack killed Hodan but not her journalistic spirit. Her resolve to showcase Somalia as a tourist destination and business hub will still live on.
Hodan Nalayeh, who was the founder of Integration TV, used hashtags like #SomaliSuccess and #SomaliPositivity to publish positive information on YouTube and her podcast. She showcased youthful Somali entrepreneurs who had a developmental spirit that perhaps will one day save the war-torn nation.
Africa has lost an icon, a sassy journalist who against all the odds, stood strong as a woman to tell the beauty of her nation.
We must not always rely on the West to donate funds but instead establish committees that will foresee the safety of journalists when we have a lot of untapped resources.
Journalists unions in Africa must live up to their tasks; bring African journalists together just like what happens during the World press freedom day, have a sit-down, engage in the welfare of the fraternity. Network and work together.
Media owners must as well ensure that their institutions have a clear policy on the safety of journalists. Do institutions compensate their employees when attacked in the line of duty? How well our journalists are trained in handling violence-hit areas?
Are we bold enough to hear them? Are we ready to solve the challenges facing us? It will be a milestone for the fraternity if those two questions will get an answer, and the solutions get implemented.
Africa as a continent must rise to the occasion, defend media freedom, the safety of journalists, and ensure that every journalist is well equipped and protected. Strict laws must be legislated to ensure that those who attack the messenger are dealt with. Lastly, being united will help combat and deal with the enemy. You know what I mean when I talk of ‘being united’, if you don’t know, you will know.