Head of Media Studies at Winsconson University, Professor Kwame Karikari is calling of political parties to make an open pledge to protect journalists who would be covering this year’s election.
He was speaking to journalists attending a two-day workshop on journalists safety during the elections, organized by the Media Foundation for West Africa.
The two-day workshop, sponsored by Star-Ghana, was to equipment journalists with knowledge on how to be safe, protect valuable information, sources and equipment, and how to work according to law and with law enforcement while covering the elections.
One of the key issues that came up at the workshop was the tendency for political party supporters to attack journalists who report issues that they deem unfavorable to their partisan interest.
Prof. Karikari noted that whereas the individual journalist has a duty to ensure his or her own safety, the participating political parties also need to assure the journalists that their supporters will not target and attack journalists in the line of duty.
“We must insist on the political party leadership making an open pledge to advise their supporters to uphold the safety of journalists during this election,” he said.
He said the political parties must commit to a code which says that journalists should boycott them and their activities if their supporters attack any journalist.
On that score, Prof. Karikari suggested that the political parties must be committed to openly condemning their own members and supporters who attack journalists.
GJA and GIBA
The professor is therefore calling on the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), and the Ghana Independent Broadcasters Association (GIBA) to demand a published pledge from the parties to uphold the safety of journalists and persons working for media houses during this elections.
“GIBA and GJA must insist that if the parties do not make that pledge then you can’t risk sending your members to cover them and their events,” he said.
Some participants at the workshop pointed out that because there are some media houses who are clearly aligned and or perceived to be aligned with some political parties, it will be difficult to get such a pledge from the parties, much less, enforcing any sanctions.
But Prof. Karikari is confident that “this will work because this is the season political parties need the media the most and so they should be willing to make that open pledge.”
Meanwhile, lead resource person for the workshop, Michelle Betz, who is Advisor at International Media Support urged journalists to position themselves strategically at rallies, not just for the news, but also with their safety in mind.
She provided safety tips like wearing flat protective jackets, not mingling with the crowd at rallies, screaming “fire” when under attack, working as a team to ensure each journalists has backup, and cooperating with security officers to avoid confrontation.
“For female journalists in particular, you should avoid wearing earrings, and other ornaments that people can easily pull and hurt you in the process – and wear stuff that can make it easy for you to run,” she said.
Betz also said one of the best ways to stay safe is to stick to the facts and issues, and stay away from opinions while covering the elections.
Director of Communications at the Electoral Commission, Eric Kofi Dzakpasu told journalists their role, by law is to observe and report but not to interfere with the process, adding that they would be required to apply the ethics of their profession in covering the elections.
Jerry Sam from PenPlusByte told the journalists about the need to protect information on their gadgets such as phones, laptops and tablets.
He said the very applications and software programs that facilitate the use of gadgets, could also pose a threat to the journalist in several ways.
Jerry Sam therefore urged journalists to use encryption, complex passwords, repeated changed of passwords, and software that allow them to remotely control their equipment to protect valuable data and contacts on their gadgets.
“The use of pseudo names for family, team members and important sources is also a good way to protect information on your gadgets. And it is also important to put of your phone for a while after sending reports, to make it difficult for anyone to remotely geo-locate you,” he said.
About 30 participants drawn from media houses across the country attended the workshop.