Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Journalists struggle to overcome authoritarianism
It’s been a rough week for journalists here and abroad. 

In the U.S., White House attacks against the press, including nasty comments directed at individual reporters, continue unabated. From a peace journalism perspective, journalists are best served when they avoid falling into the partisan narrative trap laid by the president, and instead stick to the facts as much as possible. Good journalism, and especially reporting that rejects “us vs. them” narratives, is the best weapon against our critics. 

A state newspaper in Tanzania claiming that
the arrested CPJ representatives were spies
In Africa, two recent incidents reflect the precarious nature of press freedom. In Tanzania, Committee to Protect Journalists Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal and CPJ Representative Muthoki Mumo were arrested, harassed, threatened, and interrogated by authorities. Their electronic devices were confiscated. “They repeatedly accused us of lying,” Quintal wrote. “We were alone at the mercy of a posse of men, some of whom were very abusive and hostile. The only woman agent had long gone home. We were taken back downstairs into a shabby sitting room and asked gendered questions. An intelligence agent was particularly abusive towards Muthoki. He even slapped and shoved her. I tried to intervene and was told to back off. I was terrified that Muthoki would be sexually assaulted (she was not) and I would be powerless to stop them.“ ( https://tinyurl.com/y9uen8ep )

Fortunately, Quintal and Mumo were released, thanks in large part to international pressure on the government.

Across the continent in Cameroon, authorities unlawfully detained TV reporter/anchor Mimi Mefo as part of a false news and cybercrime investigation. She was later charged with a state security offense of publishing false information about clashes between the army and separatists in Anglophone Cameroon. After a storm of protest, led by an online #FreeMimiMefo campaign, the government relented and released her. However, at least six other journalists have been arrested since Oct. 7, and two remain in prison. (http://www.africanews.com/2018/11/10/cameroon-journalist-mimi-mefo-released/ )  

In Cameroon, where I’ve spent the last two Julys, reporters surveyed in July, 2018 said that they believe they are safer (not safe) from arrest, kidnapping, and violence if they practice peace journalism. More details on this survey can be found in the latest Peace Journalist magazine (https://tinyurl.com/y7pb2cnb) , which also features stories about reporters under fire in Nigeria and Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Practicing responsible peace journalism doesn’t make us bulletproof, but it does make it more difficult for authoritarian regimes to justify the harassment, arrest, and abuse of journalists.

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