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Voices at Risk: Journalist Safety during the Super-Election Year

Voices at Risk: Journalist Safety during the Super-Election Year

On February 29th, 2024, we hosted a webinar to explore the impact of elections on freedom of expression and journalist safety. We heard first-hand accounts from journalists and CSO’s who have been facing increased threats in this super-election year. We also discussed the resources and strategies they use to help improve their safety. 

English edition

Edición en español

2024: Journalism in the Super-Election Year 

A record-breaking 40+ countries, representing more than 40% of the world’s population are holding national elections in 2024. Journalists play a vital role in covering elections and keeping citizens informed, but they face serious risks in the process. In a world fraught with polarisation, mis- and disinformation, journalists covering political events are even more exposed to retaliation. UNESCO recently reported that from January 2019 to June 2022, 759 media workers in 70 countries were attacked during election reporting. Almost half of the attacks were by law enforcement agents. During this pivotal year for democracy, many journalists will undoubtedly face arbitrary arrests, delegitimising smear campaigns, legal threats, and physical assault.

Additionally, while the internet has in many ways revolutionised voter engagement, technological advances are also being used to undermine elections and disarm dissent. Internet shutdowns, online violence, digital surveillance and cyberattacks are weaponised during election cycles. This greatly impacts journalists’ ability to share vital information and jeopardises the integrity of elections. Gendered disinformation has also increasingly been wielded against women journalists, especially in election periods.

The webinar

What impact do these threats have on individual journalists and freedom of expression during election periods? What strategies and resources are there to help protect media workers and press freedom? How can we learn from different regional approaches and ideas?

We heard from an expert panel about the challenges and extant risks that journalist face when covering elections and during election cycles.

Nadine Hoffman, Deputy Executive Director of the IWMF discussed strategies that journalists can employ to protect themselves when covering protests or political unrest. From wearing PPE and pre-planning an escape route to protecting mental wellbeing Nadine provided practical advice to help media-workers covering potentially volatile political situations be as prepared as possible.
 

“It is necessary for journalists who are covering issues with the democratic process to assess risk and to asses how they could mitigate that risk. We are encouraging journalists and their editors to really focus on advanced planning.” 

 
Prasanth Sugathan, a Lawyer and Legal Director at Software Freedom Law Center, India, addressed the State’s use of social media blocking and Internet shutdowns to silence dissent. He highlighted the concerning practice of ‘pre-censorship,’ wherein journalists’ profiles are blocked or internet access is restricted in areas where protests are anticipated but haven’t occurred yet.
 

“It is pre-censorship…protests were about to happen so the government blocked the social media of reporters and citizens who they thought might be associated – this is a very worrying trend”

 
Papa Ismaila Dieng, a Journalist and Advocacy Officer at AfricTivistes, Senegal, discussed recent violence against journalists and how this violence intersects with race. He also addressed Internet shutdowns and suppression of freedom of expression following the postponement of the presidential election in February and subsequent political protests.
 

“Our colleague was beaten by police for covering a protest, later another journalist was confronted by police for the same reason – yet he was treated gently. What is the difference between them you may ask, well, our colleague is Senegalese and the second journalist is French.” 

 
Noemi Pineda, researcher for Article19 Mexico and Central America spoke about the Mexican context and its status as the most dangerous place for Journalists outside of Gaza. She spoke about the integral work of the Rompe El Miedo network, and the heightened risk to women, LGBTQ+ and Indigenous Journalists.
 
The webinar provided a platform for a cross-regional exchange on the threats journalists are facing during this super-election year. It aimed to increase awareness of the importance of journalist safety during elections and emphasise how media workers are at the forefront of the struggle for democracy.
 

Moderator 

Anoushka Schellekens, Communications Officer, Media Defence

Speakers

Nadine Hoffman, Deputy Executive Director, IWMF

Since joining the IWMF in 2010, Nadine has spearheaded the organization’s expanding safety and security work, overseeing the creation of physical and digital safety training opportunities as well as growing emergency assistance efforts. 

Prasanth Sugathan, Lawyer and Legal Director at Software Freedom law Center, India (SFLC.IN)

Outside of being the Legal Director at SLFC, Prasanth is also a guest lecturer for the Postgraduate Diploma in Cyber Law & Cyber Forensics course at the National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.

Papa Ismaila Dieng, Journalist and Advocacy Officer at AfricTivistes, Senegal.

AfricTivistes is a pan-African organisation based in Dakar, Senegal. AfricTivistes is a union of bloggers that promotes and defends democratic values, human rights and good governance through digital platforms.

Noemi Pineda, researcher for Article19 Mexico and Central America and Rompe el Miedo

Quimy De León, Historian, journalist, and researcher.

Quimy has extensive experience in human rights research and issues related to business, environment, gender, and transitional justice. She is also the Founder of Prensa Comunitaria and Ruda in Guatemala.

About the organisations

This webinar is a collaboration between Media Defence and the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Media Defence: We are the only organisation who’s core mission is to provide legal help to journalists, citizen journalists and independent media across the world. In the last 15 years we have provided legal support to 1000’s of journalists across 117 countries. We defend freedom of expression and journalist safety through our emergency legal support, strategic litigation, lawyer trainings and funding local media defence centres. If you are a journalist facing legal threats for your work, we can help.

International Women’s Media Foundation: The IWMF is the sole global organisation built to serve the holistic needs of women and non-binary journalists.

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