Archive for the ‘Southern Africa’ Category

Breaking the Silence, Empowering Female Journalists Worldwide

“There are two groups of people that are more vulnerable during riots and marches: female police officers and female journalists.”

Last month I was in Washington D.C. getting various forms of training. During a seminar those words were directed to me from the in-house expert. The goal was to train us, the journalists, to be safe during civil unrest, marches and riots, but what left me shocked was that the expert gave me the “it is what it is” attitude. It happens. Women are more susceptible to attacks than others in these circumstances. But what are we doing to shift that attitude and ensure the safety of not just female journalists, but all journalists?

If you are a journalist going abroad on an assignment, it is so important to be prepared and proactive in any situation that may present itself. As a woman, the rules of engagement change and the reality is you can be left completely vulnerable.

There are dangers we face that most likely our male counterparts may not experience. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists held a panel discussion with journalists on their experiences reporting on the front lines, dealing with sexualized violence, and countering gender-related threats and restrictions.

Returning from my time in the Middle East in 2014 and earlier this year interviewing refugees, there were some unfortunate obstacles I faced that left me to reassess my safety in my work.

But I’m not alone.

Just last week, I read about award-winning Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima and her struggle to gain justice after 17 years where she was abducted, tortured and raped following her report on violence at a maximum-security prison involving state officials and paramilitary groups. The painful and prolonged court system in Colombia hasn’t stopped Bedoya to fight tirelessly against and she even started a campaign in 2009, “now is not the time to remain silent”. She stands up for women and has gained strength in her fight against injustice in her case and for women in similar circumstances.

There is also Shakeela Ibrahimkhel of Afghanistan, who had to end her 10 year career at one of the country’s leading news channels to seek asylum in Germany. The continued violence, threats and harassment from the Taliban has led some 100 Afghan women to seek refuge outside of the country.

The threats don’t stop there. Just days ago the Nepal Press Freedom reported an incident of a death threat towards Sushma Paudel after  a status on Facebook. The threat against Poudel from a Canadian resident was over a story the journalist had filed.

These acts of violence, the lack of safety and the overall status of female journalists globally is alarming. Doing a simple Google search for “threats against female journalists” right now and in .51 seconds, there are about 2,820,000 results!

Although my experiences abroad do not compare to the harrowing female correspondents, freelancers and even fixers abroad, I do believe what is happening to women in our line of work should raise a red flag.

In order to understand, empower and give a voice the women around the world doing amazing work, the Society of Professional Journalists’ International Community will feature female journalists starting this month as part of a #PressFreedomMatters movement giving these women a platform to express their narrative.

Come back every Wednesday and read the stories these women have to share, the obstacles they’ve faced and how they are overcoming them.


If you know someone that should be featured in the weekly series, please fill out this form

No Surprise: Zimbabwe government restrains press freedom

Once again the Mugabe government is showing its true colors when it comes to basic freedoms, such as press freedom.

According to an IFEX posting yesterday, the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity has ordered Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and other state-controlled newspapers to stop covering ministers belonging to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

For more on this issue go to Zimbabwe media surpressed: No surprise to people willing to listen.

There is a long history here and — thanks to the lack of serious foreign affairs reporting over the past 30 years — too many Americans are unaware of how Zimbabwe got to where it is today and why it is important to know about it.

Be honest with yourself: Did you know that the warnings of a major U.S. civil rights leader about the political leanings of Robert Mugabe were ignored and even ridiculed?

Once Southern Africa gets more internet, then what?

Southern Africa will be getting higher speeds for their internet connection.  Hopefully the need for community radios, traveling troubadours, and story telling the news will be replaced with media centers and news-and-information provided on cellular telephones.  New cables have reached the African shores, but the infrastructure for Southern Africa has yet to be developed.

As of March 2009, Southern African internet usage was extremely low. The Internet Penetration and the number of actual users indicate a great potential for journalism:  Mauritius has 340,000 users with an internet penetration of 26.7%, Zimbabwe (1.4 million users and 11.9%), Zambia (1.3 million users and 11.9%), South Africa (4.6 million users and 9.4%), Botswana (100,000 users and 5.1%), Namibia (101,000 users and 4.8%), Angola (498,00 users and 4.0%), Swaziland (42,000 users and 3.7%), Lesotho (70,000 users and 3.3%), Malawi (139,500 users and 1.0%) and Mazambique (200,000 users and 0.9%).

That’s a lot of people but a small percentage of the overall population that is getting news-and-information. Most of those countries have varying degrees of state control of what news-and-information is being presented.  And 75% of the people in those countries live in the most rural villages where traditional information can’t reach.  The high level of illiteracy prevents newspapers from reaching the villages. The cost of producing television news and the cost of televisions to receive the news is outside the budgets of many village Africans.  Community radio stations are independently operated and can be shut down by the government.

Africa’s mobile sector grown has defied all predictions.  According to the Cellular-News, “Africa remains the region with the highest annual growth rate in mobile subscribers and added no less than 65 million new subscribers during 2007. At the beginning of 2008, there were over a quarter of a billion mobile subscribers on the continent.” While mobile service have come down to be accessible and affordable by Africans, the Internet access has not. “In Sub-Saharan Africa, only three per cent of the population is online. The scarcity of international Internet bandwidth and lack of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) drives up prices.”

Africa is not only the poorest region in the world, but has the most expensive Internet prices — the average monthly Internet subscription is almost $50 USD.  Based on the average income of an African, that amounts to approximately 70 percent of the average per capita income.

If news-and-information is one of the viable aspects of a healthy democracy, how can we prepare Africa for the increase of bandwidth during the next few years as the new internet cables will help bring down access costs?  African governments may not like the increase in free-press development unless they can be assured of journalism conducted in an ethical and accurate manner.   As a gathering of people interested in international journalism, what role can we play in the development of African journalism in a new era of internet journalism?

Southern Africa Media Alliance

When I was in college, my sociology professor had the class do an assignment that was called “The Utopia Project”– we broke into small groups to create a Utopian community, only using technology and expertise that was available today.  We had to create our own society and document how we based our decisions to make our “community” the most perfect society possible.  There was no limit on funding, however, we did have to show how we were going to get the money.

I’m working on trying to develop a “Utopia” means of conveying QUALITY news and information to the most rural villages in the 14-country economic development region of Southern Africa. By using technology that is available today, I’m faced with the need to develop “media centers” for internet news-and-information, cell phones for immediate information, and develop a means of having trained “village journalists” the ability to get factual information out to the rest of the world using Open-Source programs.

Much of the woeful news of what’s going on in Africa has been based upon well-meaning non-government organizations that financially benefit from the millions of dollars that go to the organization or missionary, but little ends up with the villagers themselves.  Afterall, a smiling happy African doesn’t tug at the economic heart strings like an emaciated AIDS-infected person.

If this is something that International Journalists would like to participate in, I’d be willing to have monitor progress and put it into real-life use in the country of Lesotho in Southern Africa. We are working to bring quality news-and-information to rural African Villages and present realistic and accurate information out to the urban media in Africa and the rest of the world.

Our web-site is

Alan Kania

Co-Director, SAMA (

(Former SPJ International Journalism Committee chairman)


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