Journalism in Ethiopia is becoming obsolete following the government’s lock-down on press freedom, according to Ethiopian journalists attending the Power Reporting journalism conference. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to some of the Ethiopian delegates who all asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions when they return to their home.
“There is no such thing as journalism in Ethiopia,” said the Ethiopian delegate, drawing on the frustrations experienced by many practising journalists in the country. Ethiopia is one of the most repressive nations in Africa for journalists and is the second worst jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), after neighbouring Eritrea.
“We are expecting one day we have a media like yours,” said the delegate who expressed envy of the South African media system, citing it as a “beacon of freedom”.
“With each journalist sentenced to prison, Ethiopia takes another step further from freedom of the press and democratic society,” said CPJ East Africa representative Tom Rhodes in the statement. Earlier this year, Ethiopian authorities staged a crack-down on independent journalists and bloggers, causing many to flee the country. The CPJ said 17 journalists are presently imprisoned in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian writers and journalists who were at the conference spoke out about their government’s role as democracy’s locksmith.According to one of the delegates, many of their colleagues have been arrested and beaten for expressing their opinions. As a result many abandon journalism.“We are expecting one day we have a media like yours,” said the delegate who expressed envy of the South African media system, citing it as a “beacon of freedom”.
The Guardian’s Africa correspondent David Smith said Africa’s image of media freedom is varied, saying “there is a very mixed picture of [media censorship]” in different countries in Africa.Smith has reported in Ethiopia and described the government’s hostility towards independent journalists as “terrifying”.Despite the lack of media freedom, the Ethiopian delegates remain optimistic on the state of media independence in Africa, but reiterate that, in Ethiopia, “the condition is not conducive for any journalist”.
SAFE AND SOUND?: At the Internews station, Power Reporting delegates got the chance to have their software and anti-virus checked for safety. Photo: Lameez Omarjee
Hackers pose the threat of defacing media organisations or putting news sources at risk. Besides surveillance by mobile companies and internet service providers, digital safety is most threatened by using pirated software, followed by spam.
Pirated software creates “weaknesses or vulnerabilities” and create an “open window” for hackers, said Dylan Jones from international non-profit organisation Internews. Surveillance technology poses a greater threat to journalists than regular citizens because journalists collect and work with information.
“Surveillance technology can track your physical location, the calls you make and messages you send and to whom.”
Pirated software is most well-known as programmes for which the users download and do not pay for. However, some journalists may be using pirated software without even realising it if their devices are set up by others. This puts them, their sources and their work at risk.
Surveillance technology can track your physical location, the calls you make and messages you send and to whom. It can cause financial loss and theft to individuals, companies and government and journalists can lose years of work, said Jones.
Zimbabwean journalist Winstone Antonio said he was aware of telephone hacking, but he was not sure about the extent to which it happened, or how he could become a victim or the measures to protect himself.Antonio says as a journalist he is most concerned about “protecting his sources.”
Antonio said he knows using pirated software poses a threat to his work and tries to get a specialist to check his devices regularly. For journalists and delegates at the Power Reporting Conference, Internews set up a work station to check if their mobile devices and laptops have genuine software. The station offers the free service of updating software with genuine programmes. Additionally the anti-virus software is checked.
“You can’t trust a pirated anti-virus to protect against malware,” said Jones.
Previously Antonio relied on using strong passwords to protect the different accounts on his devices. Since attending the session on how to be digitally secure, he learnt that “encryption of data” could be useful in helping him protect his sources. This works by encoding the data before it is sent to a cloud archive like Google Drive.
“You need to have a secure foundation before you do anything else,”said Jones. Encrypting data on devices is among the most important protection measures.
Apple products and Android devices come with encryption settings to protect data. However, a lot of countries have laws against using encryption, said Jones.
Jones also suggests practical ways to keep your digital accounts and movements secure. These include using “real” software and anti-virus applications, updated programmes and two-step verification to protect accounts.
Unnecessary information or messages, photos and videos should be cleared from your device. Using a password is more effective than a four-digit pin or a swipe-pattern and fingerprint technology.
Although, these solutions are not perfect, they are better than not having any safety measures at all.
PRESS POWER: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
Standing in solidarity with imprisoned Ethiopian journalists, Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation from fellow journalists and other guests, at the Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture held this evening at Wits University.
Human rights activist and journalist, de Morais delivered the address for Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. He stressed the importance of investigative journalism in advancing democracy and defending the freedom of expression in the face of opposition and fear incited by government authorities.
Driven by “national and civic conscience”, de Morais says he is proud of his work in defending the rights of fellow Angolan citizens through the exposure of conflict diamonds and corruption. “Journalists should defend constitutional rights”, he said to a packed auditorium.
SOLIDARITY BROTHERS: Human rights ‘defender’ and journalist Rafael Marques de Morais received a standing ovation for his moving address at Power Reporting’s third Carlos Cardoso memorial lecture. Photo: Zelmarie Goosen
De Morais criticized the Ethiopian government as an enemy to journalism for arresting and imprisoning journalists. “Journalists and human rights campaigners must be embarrassed for doing little to support our peers in Ethiopia.”
He also called for a campaign to move the African Union, currently based in Ethiopia, to a country that respects human rights.
Although the challenges of investigative journalists have not changed since de Morais started practicing, he says the Internet has proven to be an advantage in publishing content and reaching wider audiences. De Morais has started his own watchdog website Maka Angola which exposes corruption through his investigations.
De Morais told Wits Vuvuzela that as the values in society have deteriorated, so has the quality of investigative journalism. He says investigative journalists can combat opposition if they realise “government officials are men and women like us”. He says we can limit their abuse of power because “the power comes from the people”.
De Morais said he corresponded with but never met Carlos Cardoso, in whose name the lecture was given. Cardoso, a journalist and a Witsie, was murdered in Maputo in 2000 while working on a investigation into fraud at a major bank.