Reporting terror in Africa

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This article was written by Kemantha Govender and originally published at the University of the Witwatersrand website on 7th July 2015. Republished with permission.

Journalists are no longer professionals who can freely do their jobs but are now targets for kidnapping, said Radio France International’s (RFI) Sophie Marsaudon at the Wits Radio Academy’s annual conference, Radio Days Africa.

The conference ran from 1 to 3 July 2015 and attracted participants mainly from a number of African and European countries.

Marsaudon was speaking about journalists’ experiences reporting terror and conflict in Africa. In a session with Tunde Akpeji,  a journalism Knight Fellow, the duo gave accounts of losing their colleagues and suggestions on how journalists could better protect themselves.

“Journalists are no longer considered as natural witnesses or professionals. The number of journalists being taken as hostages in Syria and Libya are incredibly high because it is a good source of income and publicity for these movements. If you take a journalist as a hostage all media across the world will talk about it and that is exactly what these organisations want,” said Marsaudon.

She said when she started her job 13 years ago, she really thought that the fact she was a journalist protected her from everything.

“My job was to speak to everybody. I was not supposed to (be/play) part in the conflict. We have been extremely naïve in our way of working ,” she said.

Protection

Marsaudon said she doesn’t believe that journalists should stop doing their jobs, especially in conflict areas but stressed the importance of knowing how to protect themselves.

Following the death of two RFI employees, the organisation designed training courses for journalists who work in dangerous zones. The training covers everything from physically protecting one’s self to how much information to share on social media and how smart phones can be used against journalists. The courses also cover the emotional health of journalists and looks at things such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Akpeji spoke about ethical considerations when covering conflict, arguing that there must be a balance between providing information and not acting as a propaganda machine by increasing attention of organisation that participate in terror activities.

He also noted that in radio, the choice of words and language used can also be challenging.

“We take our stories directly from newspapers… There is no agreement on what terms to call organisations like Boko Haram. Do we refer to them as insurgents or extreme terrorists?” he said.

Other speakers at the conference included Eric Chinje of the African Media Initiative, Radio 702’s Pheladi Gwangwa, Kevin Fine of Jacaranda FM, Gareth Cliff of CliffCentral, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Deputy Minister of Communications and Jonathan Wall from the BBC. Read Minister Ndabeni-Abraham’s speech here.

Professor Franz Kruger, one of the conference organisers, said among the key themes were the podcasting revolution. Nick van der Kolk of US podcast Love Radio and Gareth Cliff of CliffCentral were among the speakers who discussed the reasons why this new form of media is taking off in the way that it has.

“We were also very pleased with the sessions focusing on radio sales and marketing, and delegates enjoyed hearing some ground-breaking examples of creativity in radio advertising.  The conference also focused on the prospects for digital audio broadcasting, with a demonstration of this new technology – the radio version of TV’s digital terrestrial television,” said Kruger.