A successful regional conference on Strengthening National Mechanisms for Safety of Journalists paves the way for national dialogues in East African Member States

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Mr Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication

Mr Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication

© UNESCO
20 November 2017

More than 120 journalists, representatives from government ministries, non-government organisations, human rights defenders and media development partners met in Nairobi, Kenya this week, to discuss creation and strengthening national mechanisms for the safety of journalists.

The conference was held within the framework of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, commemorated each year on 2 November. The international day highlights the importance of addressing impunity as it damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, crime and weakening judicial systems.

Delegates from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda were brought together, along with international actors, to discuss building and strengthening national mechanisms on the safety of journalists. They learnt good practices from international actors such as The Committee to Protect Journalists, Free Press Unlimited and International Media Support on the different initiatives around the world that are assisting Member States to ensure journalists can practice their craft in safety.

Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, made opening remarks during the conference, reminding delegates that there are many reasons why the safety of journalists was a challenge in East Africa. Ms Ndong-Jatta named the lack of coordination among media stakeholders, weak or lack of progressive media regulatory frameworks, weak journalism training and associations and a high level of normative frameworks that have not been translated into tangible interventions that address safety of journalists as issues, which create the conditions of impunity against journalists.

“This conference has brought together a range of stakeholders to learn how these challenges can be addressed and to determine which mechanisms would work well based on each country’s context”, Ms Ndong Jatta said.

She encouraged delegates and representatives from Member States to aspire to having an improved environment for press freedom in Eastern Africa and a decrease in the rates of crimes committed against journalists to ensure their role as agents of change in society was not hindered. “Through dialogue, we can find an end to impunity against journalists, which leaves nine out of ten cases unresolved and the perpetrators not brought to justice”, she told delegates.

Mr Joe Mucheru, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies in his speech welcoming delegates gave a commitment from the Kenyan government, saying that the “Safety of journalists is the primary responsibility of the State and the media as key and important partner in building an inclusive society is undisputed”. He added that he will “nominate a focal person for the Safety of Journalists in Kenya, who will also be part of the Kenya Media Sector Working Group and support the national mechanism for Safety of Journalists that we expect the media stakeholders to roll out after this conference”.

Managing director of Women in the Media Platform in Rwanda, Ms Regine Akalikumathua, expressed her gratitude for the conference, saying, “We learnt so much from other countries’ experiences and it was great to be able to share our ideas with colleagues from South Sudan and Somalia. For me, the fact that we had government representatives, journalists and NGOs from Rwanda in attendance meant that we can now work together to make policies that protect journalists in our home country”.

Delegates, who committed to strengthen national mechanisms in their home countries through the networks and experiences learned throughout the conference, unanimously passed the Nairobi Declaration on National Mechanisms for Safety of Journalists, which calls for Member States to develop national multi-stakeholder coordination systems and dedicated units for preventing crimes against journalists. The Declaration has at its heart the three Ps of ending impunity against journalists: Preventing crimes against journalists, Protecting their rights, and Prosecuting their perpetrators,

The delegates also agreed to form an inclusive Eastern Africa stakeholders Committee, which would examine existing mechanisms at the regional and national levels with the aim of strengthening mechanisms and sharing best practices.

The Media Council of Kenya Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo, welcomed this initiative, saying, "The role of the committee will be to coordinate, mobilise resources, share best practices and support and monitor the progress of the National Safety Mechanisms".

To find out more on the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity, click here.

To read the Nairobi Declaration, click here.

Additional reporting, Maureen Mudi, The Star, Kenya.