Male and Female Journalists should all have a safe place to work

Kampala: During the invitation to the dissemination of findings from examination of the gendered dimensions of journalists’ safety in Uganda on 22nd, August 2023 at Hotel Africana.

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), with support from The United Nations Educational, Scientific and CulturaOrganization (UNESCO), conducted regional research to examine the gendered dimensions of journalists’ safety based on UNESCO’s Journalists Safety Indicators (JSI) in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The study served to identify actions that have been taken by the various relevant stakeholders in promoting journalists’ safety, especially women.

The dissemination of this report brings to light the challenges faced by journalists particularly to females and unveils the distressing reality of gendered dimensions within journalist’s safety.

The constitution of Uganda guarantees freedom of expression, and the government has gone ahead and put in place laws and policies to protect everyone, male and female workers but the implementation is not adequate.  When it comes to individual media houses, this is not sufficiently reflected. From ownership to the management and leadership there is a particular gender structure that is not reflective of people in the newsroom and that affects the environment for ensuring safety.

In the research there have been complaints of violations against women by their bosses and colleagues, but then the protection mechanism is not sufficient. Quite often, the research finds that there is a lot of self-censorship not because women are not violated, but because they are not confident that the mechanisms that exist within the newsroom are sufficient to protect them that they fear that reporting is likely to result in worse situations yet everyone should have a safe place to work whether they are women or men.

Speaking at the dissemination of a report examining the gendered dimensions of journalists’ safety in Uganda, Mr Gilbert Sendugwa, and the Executive Director AFIC urged media owners and operators to bring policies into their workplaces to protect journalists. ‘‘It’s important that media owners and media operators bring these policies to the workplace themselves and come up with policies and guidelines within the newsroom of reporting, identifying and reporting violations, how to report and what happens, when should people who report victims expect action and what kind of action and what protection do they have.’’

There was lack of awareness that this problem exists but this research has brought evidence and voices of various stakeholders, those who are affected, know about it, have heard about it and put it on the table for the stakeholders to engage in this issue.

‘‘Due to lack of these policies and lack of awareness of these measures is part of the reason why there is no reporting in spite of the fact that you know the instances widespread from the research that we have conducted. The other issue is that awareness is very critical beyond the newsroom,’’ Sendugwa added.

There is a need for leadership across the board so that this issue is recognized that it affects society. In the research, a review of secondary data for what was existing about this problem was very shallow. Meaning that whereas people experience it is neither reported and no one talks about it while there are no discussions about it.

‘‘If it is a problem in the newsroom that media owners prioritize business over rights. Then there is need for a mechanism outside, there is need for advocacy for everyone to recognize that this is an issue of importance to protect people who are in the newsroom so that they can be safe and progress. As an institution we are going to continue engaging with various stakeholders on policy, regulation, enforcement and awareness raising so that we can have a better situation in our country,’’ he explained.

Brian Mutebi who is a gender and media consultant at Pen concepts presented the report and revealed that in general, more male journalists were exposed to physical threats, yet the female journalists were more exposed to sexual harassment and cyber-attacks ‘‘the sexual harassment manifested in various forms. For example, uncalled for sexual favors, selective languages, unwanted body touches and body shaming online. That is to say if a female journalist exposed a story and then someone was not happy about it, they would body shame her, defame her and if a journalist stood their ground, they would attack their family. All that aimed at threaten this journalist.’’

Brian Mutebi (middle) presenting the report

According to the report, there are many safety concerns and threats that journalists face but are in varying proportions.  These threats were looked at in three categories. Safety issues in the newsroom, inside the newsroom, safety issues outside the newsroom, and then online. ‘‘So in the newsroom, there are physical threats but also threats that are not necessarily physical, but what major revelation was that male journalists face more physical threats like beating or physical assault and unlawful detainment and then for the female journalists, they were more exposed to sexual harassment and cyber-attacks. So they were harassed in the newsroom by their fellow colleagues, but also male editors mainly, who sought sexual favors to promote them and give them a conducive environment which isn’t the case,’’ Mutebi explained.

That has a big impact on journalism because it was found out that once these female journalists are threatened, they tend to back off from work and then self-censor which is not a good thing for the practice of journalism.

According to the report, the other observation was found outside a newsroom when interacting with the sources was also a challenge. Journalists face threats during political rallies, events, demonstrations, and most male journalists were affected in that area because female journalists are not usually assigned to such work by the editors. And then again, that is a gender aspect because some editors feel that the female journalists are weaker and lazy which is not right. It’s just a stereotype but that has an implication on their practice.

Copying mechanism by journalists according to the report

However there are different coping mechanisms that journalists have used to sustain themselves in the journalism field where the male journalists for example, will call the people that they know, security or law enforcement officers to try to protect them. The female journalists would want to go in a group so that if they are attacked, maybe someone will even fear attacking them rather than one individual.

Another coping mechanism is that they were getting involved in digital communication training being online. This was mainly facilitated by media organizations that trained their journalists on how to communicate online and ensure their  safety when they’re doing their journalism, but also civil society organizations that were working in the media, training and building capacity of journalists so that they can cope with this stress.

It was also noted that some media organizations have counseling to address post effects of harassment for both genders. Though the other aspect found out that male journalists rarely report these issues, but again, that’s the gender issue where the male think that they are strong to talk about such an aspect happening and not to be portrayed as weak so they will not speak up rather will keep it to themselves unlike the female gender.

Some media organizations have editorial policies that really ban sexual harassment, for example some journalists were reporting to their seniors about the cases that were happening to them. But the problem is, some of the perpetrators are the senior people and editors so they can’t report while some journalists would take their stand and say no to sexual harassment. For example ‘‘Female journalists will confront the male journalists trying to harass them but then male journalists will fight back with claims that it is ok for them as men which is a toxic masculinity element,’’ Mutebi added.

The report concluded that journalists are still working under a hostile environment but AFIC has had a wide range of stakeholders, from journalists to editors, policy makers and implementers in respective government agencies and regulators. Based on this evidence that has come up and suggestions that have been made, efforts are going to be made that every stakeholder is going to play their part to ensure that  male and female journalists are safe and free to practice their profession.

AFIC is a pan-African organization which promotes access to information, transparency, and accountability across Africa.



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