As the world commemorates the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, African media’s ability to operate effectively remains under threat as their safety continues to be compromised. According to a UNESCO Global Survey, online attacks against women journalists, whose representation in the sector at executive and editorial levels is already limited, are increasing exponentially. In an effort to build digital resilience in Africa’s media sector, the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) has supported work on online safety of journalists in various countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.
In Ghana and Nigeria, ADRF’s support has seen iWatch Africa engage 20 newsrooms on online safety of women journalists. Leveraging the Keeping Journalists Safe Online: A Guide for Newsrooms in West Africa and Beyond, the newsrooms were supported to set up safety protocols and response measures to safeguard women journalists against abuse.
Through a multiplier model, journalists from the supported newsrooms (10 from Ghana and 10 from Nigeria) also underwent a Training of Trainers programme on the use of filtering applications such as TRFilter which helps document and manage online harassment and abuse. Furthemore, the participants discussed strategies through which journalists, government agencies and civil society could push back more effectively against online violence. The training facilitators included practitioners from Thomson Reuters Foundation; iWatch Africa; Techpreneur Magazine; The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ); and Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII).
The trained journalists have since gone on to train an additional 100 journalists within their networks. A further offshoot from the project was the formation of a discussion forum for networking, sharing experiences and lessons learned amongst the supported newsrooms.
The ADRF, an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has previously supported iWatch Africa to track, document and analyse online abuse and harassment against journalists and rights activists covering political and societal issues in Ghana. In partnership with the Ghana Police and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), iWatch Africa developed draft guidelines for the prevention of online abuse and harassment. The organisation has continued to undertake advocacy in the field while engaging stakeholders on offering legal support for victims to seek redress.
According to Gideon Sarpong, the Executive Director of iWatch Africa, ADRF’s support has helped raise awareness about the importance of protecting journalists and contributed to a safer media environment. “The cohort of journalists trained and their newsrooms could be the catalysts to curbing digital violence against women journalists in Ghana and Nigeria,” said Sarpong.
According to the State of Media Freedom and Safety of Journalists in Africa Report for 2022, trolling and online harassment of journalists has become a serious threat to press freedom. It notes that trolls threaten and silence critical journalists and harass many, particularly women, forcing some to abandon social media. According to the report, the low levels of digital security skills; poor reporting of online abuses to law enforcement agencies; the limited skills and interest of authorities in investigating and prosecuting cyber crimes; and the inadequacy of existing laws in tackling trolling and online violence especially against women, only exacerbate the problem.
The ADRF was established in recognition that technology had become pivotal to promoting livelihoods and human rights on the continent but there was a need to strengthen local capacity in evidence-based research, skills and knowledge, collaborative advocacy and impactful policy engagements responsive to regulatory and practice developments that affect internet freedom in Africa.
The ADRF’s supporters have included the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the Ford Foundation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the German Society for International Cooperation Agency (GIZ), New Venture Fund (NVF) and the Omidyar Network.
By Ashnah Kalemera