World Association of News Publishers

Protecting Journalists’ Mental Health, One Safety Training at a Time

Protecting Journalists’ Mental Health, One Safety Training at a Time

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In their quest for information and truth, journalists often take substantial risks on the job. In Kenya, threats and attacks on journalists are a continuing problem and yet media professionals don’t always have the tools to protect themselves. The Kenya Media Freedom Committee recently partnered with non-profit IREX to organize a training for 12 participants from June 10-13 in Lukenya, Kenya on not only digital and physical safety but on psychosocial safety.

By Colette Davidson

There has been a steady erosion of media freedom in Kenya over recent years. The presence of terrorist group Al-Shabaab has restricted freedom of information, and recent laws – such as the Security Laws Amendment Act of 2014 – have criminalized the media. Although there have only been two deaths of journalists recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists since 1992, harassment, threats and assault continue to affect journalists’ ability to report news fairly.

“One of the big issues on media freedom was identified to be threats and attacks on journalists,” says Churchill Otieno, the Editor of Online and New Content at Kenya’s Nation Media Group and Chair of the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee in Kenya. “However, it was felt that journalists do no always take sufficient steps on their safety, hence making them more vulnerable to attacks.”

While physical and online safety is a commonly discussed issue among media professionals, psychosocial safety is an oft forgotten issue. As part of the training, participants discussed journalists’ emotional well-being, stress management and signs of trauma. It also gave pointers about how to regulate one’s behavior, where to seek help and how to create solidarity with others to reduce vulnerability in the field.

Dinah Kituyi, the Acting Center Manager of the SAFE Program at IREX in Nairobi, says the emotional life of any human being is key to a balanced lifestyle and paramount for journalists. That’s why the training was an integrated system, looking at how one’s digital, physical and psychosocial safety play off one another.

“Journalism is a very demanding career and requires a lot of emotional stamina to enable one to manage the tough terrain,” says Kituyi, a specialist in safety training. “Further, the job easily exposes one to traumatic and very stressful material. Having the knowledge would empower journalists to remain healthy and also seek support when the need arises.”

But before journalists can address their emotional well-being on the job, media houses and editors must face the issue head on. Otieno says that the profession as a whole needs more awareness about the psychosocial safety of journalists, which is often brushed aside in newsrooms.

“The traditional approach has been to act strong and steel through,” says Otieno. “But many newsrooms are beginning to recognise that they need to take care of their mental health better.”

Several media houses, as well as the Media Council of Kenya, have begun offering counseling sessions for journalists covering traumatic stories. But despite the push in awareness, the focus on journalists’ mental health remains a low priority, especially for newsrooms struggling with few resources. That’s why organisations like IREX are focusing on changing behaviour in addition to providing tools, says Kituyi.

“Safety is a lifestyle and a process, which we hope journalists can appreciate and slowly adopt for sustainability,” says Kituyi.


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2017-07-31 09:43

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