“I didn’t wear the bulletproof jacket and helmet that Reuters gave me,” explained veteran Somali journalist Sahal Abdulle to a packed crowd at Nairobi’s Serena Hotel for CPJ’s launch of Attacks on the Press. “It didn’t seem right when my colleagues, local journalists, were risking their lives trying to cover the same event.” Abdulle, like all Somali journalists, faces immense challenges in covering the story in his war-ravaged country. According to this year’s findings in Attacks, nearly all the journalists killed in the line of duty in 2009 were local journalists—and nine of them were killed in Somalia.
More and more media outlets rely on local journalists for international coverage as they try to cut costs, CPJ has found. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in the preface to Attacks: “In this new environment, local journalists are going to assume added importance—and they will take on greater risks.” The East African journalists at the Nairobi launch exemplified this trend, with many representing both local and foreign media outlets.
“In the past, when I attended media events at this hotel, the room was packed with foreign faces,” said Member of Parliament Gitobu Imanyara, a stalwart defender of press freedom in Kenya. “I’m pleased to see many of our own in the crowd representing the media.”
I agree with Imanyara. But often freelancers or stringers hired by major media outlets do not receive the same kind of protection and support as foreign correspondents. As I mentioned in my remarks, “freelancer” does not mean media outlets are free from responsibility to defend their journalists.
David Makali, director of the Nairobi-based East African Media Institute, and Tervil Okoko from the East African Journalists Association pointed out today that six out of nine East African nations will hold elections soon. It is a critical time for the region as tensions will invariably rise and political interest groups will target unfavorable election coverage. With more local journalists than ever carrying the weight for news organizations around the world, CPJ will be playing close attention.