Sarafina: It’s our responsibility to protect female journalists online

In his theory ‘the cultural logic of media convergence’, Henry Jenkins opines that media convergence is more than simply a technological shift.

And this perhaps is evident in how it has affected the media industry socially, culturally, economically, and politically. Since their emergence, social networks and digital platforms have become important channels to share information and receive feedback. Everyone can argue this is good, and I agree, but the dark side remains.

Take female journalists, for instance, the need for online safety perhaps ranks top in the course of their work today. That women journalists and female media workers face offline and online attacks putting their safety at risk has become a common phenomenon. This is what I have observed since I started practicing journalism and I doubt anyone would have a contrary view.

To get a better and clearer perspective on the current state of affairs, I reached out to a number of fellow women journalists in Kenya. Specifically, I undertook to know from them their exact feelings about digital or online spaces as they are today and whether this has an effect on their safety.

“I think there’s no online safety for media women. There aren’t stringent measures put in place to protect them. The major concern has always been body shaming – their looks and sizes. We expect women in media to be some sort of perfect creatures and this does a number on their esteem, the strong ones will retaliate but again if they do they are called names.” Digital writer and Aspiring Author Sally Namuye tells me

Namuye is also concerned about the stalking of female journalists. She recalls a story narrated by a news anchor on how she used to receive numerous texts from an unknown party and yet people actually kept telling her to ‘pipe down’ because it was ‘just a demonstration of love from a fan.’

A similar view is shared by BBC Journalist Dorcas Wangira who says “one of the worst things I have seen happen to female journalists online is people usurping their identity, impersonating them then soliciting money or portraying them as undignified.”

Her KBC TV counterpart Nancy Okware is adamant that women have a right to express themselves freely on whatever platform devoid of victimization. As such she wants society to play an even more active role in protecting female journalists especially on digital platforms just as it does during in-person interactions.

Even though at a personal level, she hasn’t experienced any form of online abuse, Star Newspaper journalist Susan Muhindi was quick to note that “the same laws created to protect us should apply equally on the online platforms.” She holds the view female journalists ought to come out and report online attacks in a bid to bring them under control.

While narrating her experience, IFTIN FM Radio Host Muna Harji tells me discrimination remains a great concern to her. On her to day to day engagements, she says she occasionally receives malicious comments that are malicious.

“They even expect your voice to match your image and also the audience has a belief that radio hosts are ugly that’s why they are behind the scenes.” She says

To curb this trend KBC’s Nancy Onyancha tells me female journalists, particularly those who cover politics and other hard news stories have been forced to endure so much abuse especially given the kind of people they interact with. She suggests training on online violence against female journalists to help curb the trend.

On her part, Multimedia Citizen TV journalist Dzuya Walter is of the opinion that the challenges faced by her female colleagues in digital space are a result of a competitive online platform where everyone is fighting for space.

From their views, it is evident that a lot needs to be done to protect female journalists. Society has a role in this. It is therefore encouraging to see that as the country heads into another election in August, both state and non-state institutions have taken up the initiative to fight this menace. The training provided to female journalists on digital security by organizations such as the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) is a move in the right direction.

Knowledge on aspects such as protecting personal information with strong passwords, keeping personal information private, making sure all digital devices are secure, paying attention to software updates, being careful about the use of wi-fi, setting up two-factor authentication, as well as backing up your personal data is indeed key in this regard.

I note with much cheer that Kenya has taken positive steps to ensure digital safety, especially for children through the launch of Child Online Protection (COP) Phase II of 2021 by the Communications Authority.

Even as we celebrate these milestones, we hope to see better policies put in place to ensure all journalists operate in an open, free, and safe internet environment.

Sarafina Robi is a TV Journalist and Swahili News Anchor at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.


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