Sailu Bah reporting
George Christenson, a media consultant made the following presentation
at a symposium held at Kairaba Beach Hotel in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day:
I have been asked to give my thoughts on the topic, “Safety and Security of Journalists in the Digital Age”.I will take it that the main thrust of the discussion will be online
security, but as a victim of a still unresolved physical attack, it is
only fair to reflect on this aspect of safety and security.
Whether we are Citizen Journalists, Journalists reporting on Politics
or in Conflict situations, we stand a great deal of risk of physical
attack resulting in injury and sometime death. Last Year according to
Al Jazeera about 120 media staff were killed on assignment. I don’t
think we have to discuss the obscenity of such a horrific number at
this gathering but suffice to say that it is very serious. Numbers
injured ?? running into the hundreds.
As far as I know there is no one piece of International Legislation, I
stand to be corrected, that sets out to protect Journalists. However
ALL Human Rights Conventions cover the protection of journalists
fully. Articles 4, 5, 6 and 9 of the African Charter on Human and
Peoples’ Rights [protect journalists].
Perhaps the perception that there is inadequate security and safety
can be ascribed to:
1. The interpretation and understanding of the various articles and
charters. We need constant “refresher” courses on these charters and
the protections and obligations they afford us.
2. The patently slow and unsatisfactory manner the states and courts
take to interpret the Articles. As a non legal luminary I leave it to
persons more equipped than my self to dilate on that particular topic.
All I know is something has to change and it better changes soon and
Now then in this age where the internet dominates so much of our
lives, online safety is itself a new critical factor in the digital
age. For journalists this has emerged into a dangerous game.
Undemocratic regimes, and intolerant corporations all want to know
what we are doing, with who and how. They want to know what we write,
who gives us confidential information and what we record.
Be warned! Everything we say will be used to track us down and our
contacts. With this comes an incredible and sustained violent assault
against us the journalists. Let’s not think it’s only Repressive
regimes that are out to get us. Edward Snowdon and Glen Greenwald have
given us a great insight into the murky world of spying where state
security is being hired out to Corporations who have their own
particular agenda. With the click of a keyboard one can be put on a
NO-FLY list, or a PERSON OF INTEREST list.
So what protection are we afforded by the internet? Well there are
several ways and means that one can take to keep oneself safe on the
Effectively we want to:
1. Minimise our footprints—Be seen by only those we want to see us.
2. Secure our communications—Exactly what it says, to be seen ,heard
and read by only those we give permissions to.
3. Keep the identity and location of our correspondents private and
undetectable as far as possible. There is no such thing as 100%
Knowing how to protect yourself online is just as important as knowing
your law or how to operate in a hostile environment.
Using freely downloadable programs and apps, you can block intruders,
mask your identity online, set up secure communications, and transfer
and store any amount of data without anyone being the wiser.
This is not the forum to discuss the best or efficacy of certain
software applications best suited for journalism security.
One thing is for sure is that far more research and development is
needed to produce a sustainable and reasonable level of safety for
A cursory glance at the curricula of various journalist institutions
shows that online safety and security is haphazardly programmed for a
couple of days in which some well meaning amateur like yours truly is
asked to give a talk. This is a subject that needs far more resources
and attention than it is being presently given. We look forward to the
department of Cyber security at the GPU school of Journalism, or at
least have Cyber security as a core subject in the next year’s
offering to prospective journalists. Only then can we begin to feel
the Messenger has some protection afforded to him or her.
Hope it makes some sense!!