WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY: Protect journalists from spyware and other threats says KCA

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Journalists attending the Africa Media Convention in Arusha, Tanzania marked the World Press Freedom Day with calls for more protection for journalists. PHOTO/COURTESY

By OUR REPORTER

Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) has called for greater awareness and protection of journalists from digital surveillance and other forms of threats to their safety and security in their work.

KCA chairman William Oloo Janak, said safety and protection of journalists was especially important ahead of the General Elections in Kenya due on August 9,2022.

Mr Janak, urged media stakeholders, government agencies, political and other actors within the electoral environment to commit to promoting press freedom and creating a facilitative environment for journalists to offer effective and fair coverage of the electioneering process and during the election day.

“While we urge journalists to demonstrate courage, renewed commitment and ethical conduct in their work, we wish to emphasize that media managers and owners have a duty to offer journalists and other media workers the needed support, including improved remuneration, especially to the correspondents who work in difficult environments that expose them to various vulnerabilities,” he said.

Mr Janak in a statement to mark the World Press Freedom Day also called on media stakeholders to cultivate greater solidarity ahead of the elections through consultation and consensus on policy, legislative and regulatory issues within the industry.

World Press Freedom Day that is marked every year, on 3 May, a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

UNESCO and the Republic of Uruguay will host the annual World Press Freedom Day Global Conference in a hybrid format in Punta Del Este, Uruguay between 2-5 May, 2022. Under the theme “Journalism under Digital Siege”, the digital era’s impact on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, access to information and privacy will be discussed.

Mr Janak also asked media regulatory bodies to exercise their mandate more judiciously within the challenging and sensitive electoral environment as any overzealous approach on their part may easily undermine press freedom.

“As media stakeholders, journalists and media outlets, we have the important duty of serving Kenyans through critical and robust coverage of the electoral processes to hold leaders and the governments at both levels, and other duty bearers accountable,” he stated.

This year, KCA, through its regional networks and other county based journalists’ associations marked the World Press Freedom Day in more than 20 locations throughout Kenya.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme “Journalism under Digital Siege” comes at a time when studies have revealed that repressive regimes have resorted to using digital surveillance tools to spy on human rights defenders, environmental conservationists, lawyers, journalists and opposition leaders.

According to a report by Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), Spyware: An Unregulated and Escalating Threat to Independent Media says the digital surveillance industry is a broad and largely opaque network of companies that produce technology to monitor and track individuals.

From tools that surveil citizens’ social media profiles to devices that indiscriminately monitor the activity of nearby mobile phones, the range and sophistication of technologies available has never been greater.

The Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) revelations that at least 180 journalists were targets of Pegasus spyware, produced by the Israeli company NSO Group, reaffirms calls for immediate action by governments and companies around the world to stem abuse of powerful technology that can be used to spy on the press.

The Pegasus Project was a special investigation that revealed human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world have been targeted by authoritarian governments using hacking software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group.

The investigation by Forbidden Stories and 16 other media organisations suggests widespread and continuing abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware, Pegasus, which the company insists is only intended for use against criminals and terrorists.

Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) marked the World Press Freedom Day in more than 20 counties in the country. PHOTO/KCA

Pegasus is a malware that infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators of the tool to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.

As journalists in Kenya mark the World Press Freedom Day, a new report, the 2021 Country Reports on Human rights Practices released by the US Department of State Secretary Antony J. Blinken says there is arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media in Kenya, including violence or threats of violence against journalists and censorship.

The report says the government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict freedom of expression for members of the press, and officials occasionally accused international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence.

It says two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines.

“The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners,” the report notes.

It says 16 other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of expression for members of the press adding that as of last year, the government had not issued regulations required to implement fully the 2016 Access to Information Act, which promotes government transparency, as civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.

The report says journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated or assaulted them.

It adds the government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of media or failed to provide victims access to information about their cases.

The NGO Article 19 Eastern Africa reported there were 51 attacks against journalists between May 2020 and April, including nine female journalists, compared with 59 such incidents during the prior year.

Attacks included threats, intimidation, online and offline harassment, invasion of media houses, and physical assaults resulting in some journalists seeking self-exile or engaging in self-censorship.

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