Are Tech Companies Skirting their Responsibilities to Journalists’ Safety?

By CIPESA Writer |

The proliferation of technology has created new opportunities but also threats to journalists and journalism in Africa. Online harassment, criminalisation of aspects of journalism, disinformation and misinformation, surveillance, and trolling, are among the common threats. Often, these threats translate into physical violence, and they are undermining the safety and independence of journalists, and  are leading to the erosion of freedom of expression.

A report by the International Press Institute (IPI) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) on safety of journalists in Africa reveals that media freedom is under assault amidst an increase in attempts to stifle independent media and spiralling attacks on journalists. According to this report, “in a bid to control the public narrative and maintain their hold on power, authoritarian regimes and, in some cases, even democratically elected governments, have been brazenly silencing critical voices and undermining freedom of expression.”

In the lead up to the 10th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, the UNESCO Section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) organised a dialogue on tech platform responsibilities for safety of journalists in Africa. The last 10 years have witnessed various social, economic and technological processes that have introduced new dimensions to democracy, governance and human rights. The exponential growth of digital technologies, for example, has given rise to new concerns about the use and misuse of digital platforms, as well as the role of internet companies in mediating freedom of expression.

In his address at the dialogue, which was held as part of the ninth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica22), Guilherme Canela, Chief, Section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists at UNESCO, said the evolving digital ecosystem not only offers enormous opportunities for fostering human rights but also increases risks that compromise fundamental rights like freedom of expression. “Journalists are also part of this equation, benefitting a lot from these opportunities but also suffering from the problems of the digital ecosystem including the viability of the news media sector and the online violence against journalism, journalists, and in particular women journalists,” he said. “Our job therefore is to enhance the opportunities to mitigate the risks and to prosecute the harms.” , Zoe Titus, Director at Namibia Media Trust, stated that authoritarian governments  are closing democratic space and targeting journalists, especially their personal integrity, through laws and policies that are against international norms.

But it is not only governments stifling journalists, as politicians and their supporters are unleashing targeted disinformation to undermine the credibility of independent media. For instance, the August 2022 general election in Kenya saw a spike in coordinated attacks against the media and its credibility. “There were fake news websites, and a continuous tug of war between different media and journalists depending on which candidate they supported. They would attack what the journalists were reporting, then attack their media house and finally the individual journalists and link them to a specific candidate,” said Catherine Muya, Programme Officer- Digital, ARTICLE19.

According to Anriette Esterhuysen, of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), with increased use of social media, many journalists are vulnerable “but the attacks take a special streak when directed [at] or targeting women”. The various violations were being compounded because tech companies were not being held sufficiently responsible for the harm perpetrated on their platforms. As a result, the tech companies were not taking swift and adequate measures to tackle content that undermines journalists’ safety.

On the other hand, there are concerns that, in pandering to state expectations and demands, some tech companies are targeting innocent and genuine content under the guise of offending guidelines that govern content on their platforms. “Legitimate content has been rejected on these flimsy grounds,” said Muya, citing results of research conducted by ARTICLE 19 in Kenya as part of the Social media for peace project.

Muya added that content or accounts flagged for alleged offensive messages are temporarily or permanently blocked without notification or due process: “They just summarily do this and escalation or reactivation is hard.” Such account holders need to go through intermediaries like The Oversight Board to seek redress, and reporting to platforms and receiving a response from  them is  tedious, Muya said.

In the circumstances, the role of technology companies in regulating content, protecting journalists and enabling the prosecution of the perpetrators of violations against journalists came under focus at the dialogue. Speakers called for more transparency and consistency in the moderation of content online by tech companies, arguing that the companies could do a lot more in sanitising the internet and in  protecting the safety of journalists.

Tech companies can do more, especially on transparency and in anticipating and mitigating risks to journalists. Accordingly, UNESCO and its partners are developing a risk assessment framework for the safety of journalists, which could have two major components. The first would be identification of the principal risks faced by journalists by type and consequence. The second component could be a risk management strategy which would articulate the appropriate risk controls and mitigations, means of monitoring and methods of reporting such risks.

Further, platforms would need to document these attacks and be more transparent with data about the attacks, and how they were handled. “Documenting and sharing data is crucial, for instance on incidents of harmful content, including attacks on journalists such as by direct abuse and threats or disinformation campaigns, and actions taken,” said Wairagala Wakabi, CIPESA’s Executive Director. He added that it was essential to properly research safety concerns such as  sexualised attacks against journalists, including the extent of the problem and its effects, in order to devise effective remedial measures.

Zambia Ministry of Technology and Science Partners with CIPESA on FIFAfrica22

FIFAfrica 22 |

The Zambia Ministry of Technology and Science has partnered with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to co-host the 2022 edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica22). The partnership is premised on the Ministry’s mandate to collaborate with industry and the wider private sector actors towards accelerating digital transformation.

“We are delighted to welcome you to Lusaka for the ninth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica22) from 26th to 29th September 2022. Zambia has embarked on an ambitious journey to transform its economy by leveraging on the benefits of technology, and innovation among others”, said Honourable Felix C. Mutati, MP, Minister of Technology and Science in a statement.

 Honourable Mutati added that the Ministry was working to create an enabling policy and legal environment for multi-stakeholder participation in the process which is buoyed by government’s commitment to:

  1. The implementation of the digital economic transformation agenda which aims to position the republic of Zambia as key for partnerships and investments;
  2. Enhancing the role of science, technology and innovation by, among other things, strengthening partnerships in research, innovation and technology development and adoption such as nuclear and space sciences; and
  3. Enhancing the development of skills for the actualisation of the above.

“You will be amazed at the vast potential that this country possesses. From the energy and enthusiasm of the young innovators to a government that is keen to support multi-stakeholder engagements. At FIFAfrica22, my team and I will be ready to meet with you, deliberate with you and guide you towards opportunities for collaboration and investment in the areas of innovation and internet freedom,” stated the Minister.

Indeed, the decision to host FIFAfrica22 in Zambia was in recognition of the country’s progress in digitalisation and democracy.

“We are honoured to be co-hosting FIFAfrica with the Ministry of Technology and Science. The partnership speaks to the Forum’s success in attracting the support of governments that are keen to understand and engage on their countries’ positions and actions on technology, the digital economy, rights and governance,” said CIPESA’s Executive Director, Dr. Wairagala Wakabi.

FIFAfrica22 will be the third edition of the annual Forum to be hosted in partnership with a government entity. In 2019, the Forum was hosted alongside the Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Technology while in 2021, CIPESA partnered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, Presidency of the Council of European Union 2021 towards promoting Europe-Africa cooperation on digital rights.

Previous editions of the Forum have been co-hosted in various countries and in partnership with global and pan-African digital rights organisations. In 2017 the Forum was co-hosted with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in South Africa, and in 2018 FIFAfrica was hosted alongside the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Ghana. In 2020, a hybrid edition was hosted in partnership with Nigeria-based Paradigm Initiative.

Événement en ligne: Échange Régional sur les Indicateurs d’Universalité d’Internet (IUI)

Événement en ligne |

Le 16 Mars 2022, la Collaboration sur la Politique Internationale des TIC pour l’Afrique Orientale et Australe (CIPESA), en partenariat avec l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’éducation, la science et la culture (UNESCO), accueillera un dialogue régional sur les Indicateurs d’Universalité d’Internet (IUI). L’événement mettra en évidence les leçons tirées des évaluations de l’IUI menées au Bénin, en Éthiopie, au Ghana, au Kenya, au Niger et au Sénégal en 2021 dans le but de recueillir les meilleures pratiques en matière d’évaluations nationales des médias et des écosystèmes Internet.

L’événement s’appuie sur les efforts de la CIPESA et de l’UNESCO pour sensibiliser à l’intersection de l’accès à l’information et de l’application de l’IUI initiées lors des célébrations de la Journée Mondiale de la Liberté de la Presse en 2018 et du Forum sur la liberté de l’internet en Afrique de la même année dans le cadre des célébrations de la Journée Internationale de l’Accès Universel à l’Information (IDUAI) qui se tiennent chaque 28 Septembre.

Évolution des Indicateurs d’Universalité d’Internet (IUI)

En 2015, la 38e Conférence générale de l’UNESCO a approuvé une nouvelle définition de l’université de l’internet basée sur quatre principes – droits, ouverture, accessibilité à tous et participation multipartite – les principes ROAM. Les quatre principes, sur lesquels repose l’IUI, définissent un cadre d’évaluation des paysages numériques nationaux en vue de promouvoir la croissance et l’évolution de l’internet et la réalisation des objectifs de développement durable.

L’ajout d’indicateurs transversaux en 2018 a abouti au cadre d’indicateurs ROAM-X comprenant 303 indicateurs qui évaluent la mesure dans laquelle les parties prenantes nationales, y compris les gouvernements, les entreprises et la société civile, se conforment aux principes ROAM.

En 2008, le Programme international pour le développement de la communication (PIDC) de l’UNESCO a approuvé les Indicateurs de Développement des Médias (IDM) qui servent à évaluer l’environnement global du développement des médias dans un pays. Un autre cadre d’évaluation du PIDC est les Indicateurs de Sécurité des Journalistes (JSI), qui servent à identifier les mesures prises par les différentes parties prenantes concernées pour promouvoir la sécurité des journalistes et lutter contre l’impunité au niveau national.

Ensemble, l’IUI, le MDI et le JSI sont d’importants outils pour examiner les écosystèmes d’Internet et des médias, mais pour favoriser les collaborations numériques et stratégiques aux niveaux national, régional et international.

Pourquoi les Indicateurs sont Pertinents pour la Communauté de la Gouvernance de l’Internet et les Acteurs en Afrique.

Malgré la diversité croissante des médias et du paysage numérique en Afrique, la pluralité, la neutralité, la sécurité et la liberté d’expression font face à des affronts continus. Le secteur est également aux prises avec des préoccupations concernant la confidentialité des données, l’abordabilité de l’accès à Internet, la modération du contenu et la surveillance, entre autres.

Ces facteurs font en sorte que les médias de plusieurs pays ne sont pas à la hauteur des IMD et des JSI, tandis que les changements régressifs croissants dans l’accès et l’utilisation d’Internet par les citoyens et les médias affectent également la performance des États sur les IUI. Cependant, une évaluation approfondie et structurée peut mieux révéler la mesure dans laquelle les États fonctionnent réellement et permettre de parvenir à une réforme des politiques et des pratiques fondées sur des données probantes.

Voie à Suivre

En accueillant l’échange régional, on espère que davantage d’acteurs susciteront l’intérêt en utilisant les indicateurs pour éclairer le plaidoyer en faveur de la liberté des médias et des droits numériques

Inscrivez-vous au webinaire ici.

Prochains pays d’Intérêt

À la suite du webinaire, des sessions de formation nationales sur les indicateurs seront organisées au Cameroun, en Somalie, en Namibie, au Malawi et en Ouganda. Pour vous impliquer, envoyez un courriel à [email protected]

Online Event: Regional Exchange on The Internet Universality Indicators (IUIs)

Online Event |

On March 16, 2022, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) will host a regional dialogue on the Internet Universality Indicators (IUI). The event will highlight lessons from IUI assessments conducted in Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Niger and Senegal during  2021 in a bid to garner best practices in national assessments of media and internet ecosystems.

The event builds on CIPESA and UNESCO efforts on raising awareness about the intersection of access to information and application of the IUI initiated at World Press Freedom Day celebrations in 2018 and the same year’s Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa as part of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI)  celebrations held every September 28.

Evolution of the Internet Universality Indicators (IUIs)

In 2015, the 38th General Conference of UNESCO endorsed a new definition on the university of the internet based upon four principles – Rights, Openness, Accessibility to all and Multi-stakeholder participation- the ROAM principles. The four principles, against which the IUI are based outline a framework for assessment of national digital landscapes towards promoting the growth and evolution of the internet, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The addition of cross-cutting indicators in 2018 resulted in the ROAM-X Indicator framework comprising of 303 indicators that assess the extent to which national stakeholders, including governments, businesses and civil society, comply with the ROAM principles.

Back in 2008 the UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) endorsed the Media Development Indicators (MDI) which serve to assess the overall environment for media development in a country. Another IPDC assessment framework is the Journalist Safety Indicators (JSI) which serve to identify the actions that are taken by the various relevant stakeholders in promoting journalists’ safety and fighting impunity at national level.

Together, the IUI, MDI and JSI are important tools for reviewing internet and media ecosystems but fostering digital and strategic collaborations at national, regional and international levels.

Why the Indicators Are Relevant To The Internet Governance Community and Actors in Africa

Despite growing diversity in Africa’s media and digital landscape, plurality, neutrality, safety, and freedom of expression face continued affronts. The sector is also grappling with concerns around data privacy, internet access affordability, content moderation and surveillance, among others.

These factors are causing the media in several countries to fall short of the MDIs and the JSIs, while increasing regressive shifts in internet access and use by citizens and the media alike are also affecting the performance of states on the  IUIs. However, indepth, structured assessment can better reveal the extent to which states are actually performing and allow for achieving evidence-based policy and practice reform.

Way Forward

Through hosting of the regional exchange, it is hoped that more actors will pick interest utilising the indicators to inform advocacy for media freedom and digital rights

Register for the webinar here.

Next Countries of Interest

Following on from the webinar, in-country training sessions on the indicators will be conducted in Cameroon, Somalia, Namibia, Malawi and Uganda. To get involved send an email to [email protected]

Online Event: Combating Online Violence Against Women and Girls Towards a Digital Equal World (March 8, 2022)

Online Event |

Sustainable Development Goal five aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Target 5B calls for enhancing the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women. However, women in eastern Africa face various challenges that undermine their use of digital technologies, with these challenges tending to mirror the impediments that they face in the offline world, such as in access to education and economic opportunities, or participation in civic processes. There is also a wide gender digital divide in the region. For instance, in Uganda men are 43% more likely to be online than women. In Kenya, a study found that in the slums of the capital Nairobi, only 20% of women were connected to the internet, compared to 57% of men.

Despite a large gender disparity in digital access, more women face various forms of online violence than their male counterparts. The absence of laws designed to specifically address the various forms of digital violence (such as “revenge pornography”, trolling, and threats) and the lack of sufficient in-country reporting mechanisms, exacerbate these being forced to go offline or resorting to self-censorship. Research by CIPESA has found that cyberstalking, online sexual harassment, blackmail through non-consensual sharing of personal information, promotes and normalises violence against women and girls who use the internet in Uganda.

However, these digital threats and attacks remain difficult to quantify due to several inhibitions including the culture of silence and the absence of structured reporting mechanisms. Nonetheless, there have been various documented cases of online harassment and abuse. In a study conducted in Kenya, more than one in five women reported having experienced online harassment. Meanwhile, redress mechanisms were insufficient, as the national legal framework safeguarding security online is broad, “and does not pay special attention to women and girls.”

The true extent of online violence against women (OVAW) remains unknown, partly due to cultural inhibitions, lack of data and lower levels of internet access among women. However, as more women go online, the cases are increasing, yet there are insufficient safeguards to enable victims to protect and enhance their personal security, including the absence of laws prohibiting online violence against women. Moreover, such cases continue to go unreported, leaving victims with limited legal recourse or resources to seek justice. Further, many women are uninformed of their rights online and are not aware of the tools available to secure themselves online.

According to a 2020 UN Women report, women in politics and the media are at higher risk of online and ICT-facilitated violence due to their public personas.  Indeed, research related to Uganda’s 2021 elections found that men and women politicians experienced online violence differently: women, especially candidates in elections, were more likely to experience trolling, sexual remarks, and body shaming, while men were more likely to experience hate speech and satirical comments. This mirrored Previous findings in the region that also found that women who are more prominent online and in society appeared to be targeted more, with the women who advocated for gender equality, feminism, and sexual minority rights facing heightened levels of  OVAW. This undermines the ability of women to embrace and meaningfully use digital technologies.

The UN Women report also cites evidence  suggesting  that  women  with  multiple identities (such as the LBTQI community, ethnic minority, indigenous) are often targeted online through  discrimination and hate speech, which often forces them to  self-censor  and  withdraw  from  debates and online discussions. Similarly, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, has stated that some  groups  of  women,  including human  rights  defenders,  women  in  politics, journalists, bloggers, women belonging to ethnic minorities, indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and women with disabilities are particularly targeted by ICT-facilitated violence.

The extent to which cyber harassment affects women in marginalised communities in the region is not well known. However, interviews conducted in 2019 as part of digital literacy and security training for refugee rights defenders, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, South Sudan and Sudan, who are living in Uganda, showed that three in four of the respondents had experienced some form of cyber harassment including abuse, stalking, unwarranted sexual advances and hacking of social media accounts. The perpetrators included anonymous individuals, security agents in their home countries, known friends and ex-partners. These online affronts against the women refugees run in parallel to gender-based violence in refugee camps, at border crossings and resettlement communities. Urban refugees in the country face heightened gender-based violence risks due to unmet multiple and complex social, economic and medical needs as well as intersecting oppressions based on race, ethnicity, nationality, language, sexual orientation and gender identity.

On the occasion to mark the International Women’s Day, 2022 the Collaboration in International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has organised a webinar to foster multi-stakeholder dialogue on OVAW towards promoting women’s ability to meaningfully participate in the information society, democratic and decision making processes. The webinar will also serve as an opportunity to promote engagement between platforms operator Meta, user communities and stakeholders, and to collect feedback and strategize on how to mitigate harm online.


  • Nashilongo Gervasius, Researcher
  • Suzan Elsayed, Meta (Facebook)
  • Hon. Neema Lugangira, Member of Parliament Representing NGOs – Tanzania National Assembly
  • Hon. Sarah Opendi, Chairperson Uganda Women Parliamentary Association (UWOPA)
  • Justice David Batema, High Court of Uganda

Join the Conversation

  • Date: Tuesday March 8, 2022
  • Time: 15:00 – 16:45 East African Time EAT
  • Where: Online via Zoom. Register here