Friday, March 18, 2016

Journalists and Security; How Secured are your Digital Tools?

By Precious Ankomah, Penplusbytes| @naadomnkoa
As a young journalist in one of the thriving newsrooms in the country, I had to cover a demolition exercise in a part of Accra that was expected to erupt into some form of conflict between authorities carrying out the exercise and tenants on the land.

I arrived at the scene with my crew carrying all the equipment we needed to capture the event. A violent fist fight broke out between the two conflicting sides and security personnel were called to restore calm.

We captured the action and left for the newsroom to deliver the “ground breaking, scintillating” news item (as my news editor will describe such stories).

Back in the newsroom, the cameraman had to load the visuals onto the system and give me the name to the folder in which they were when I wanted to edit the film footage. But he came back with the rather “exciting” story that his memory card had suddenly developed a virus which had cleared it of all its content. I had lost it all…….my “ground breaking, sky rocketing” news item had been lost to one “tiny” virus (or perhaps not so tiny after all).

I hadn’t thought to secure my content, talk less save it by using all the new digital tools that are now available.

This is but one of the many risks journalists face each day out there in their quest to gather, produce and deliver the news. For the media man, digital tools have made lighter the burden of transporting news items from remote locations to the newsroom.

Smartphones have particularly enhanced journalism. On a smartphone, one can send instant local and international messages (Whatsapp), post updates online (Twitter & Facebook), send voice messages, record audiovisual materials and send them via Youtube and many others.

Journalists have often secured themselves through a variety of means against physical risks during assignments. But in the wake of technological advancements, being physically protected is not enough to secure your story, your job or hard earned reputation.

Government, security agencies and criminal organisations are being more and more aggressive on data protection against hackers particularly but journalists all over the world are yet to catch on.

Between August and September 2015, an online survey on how journalists are using digital tools to protect communications, securely store and share files, encrypt their devices among others was conducted by the Center for International Media Assistance. No journalist from Africa reported using any digital tool to protect online communication (email, chat or voice).

The survey also reported that 45 percent of respondents said they have had a security experience that could have been improved by a digital tool. But when they recounted the experiences, it turned out that the tools most of them felt they needed already existed.

Journalists from other continents such as Europe and the Americas who protect their communications mentioned tools such as the encrypted web based services, Riseup and Hushmail. And there appear to be many more. This brings to light the fact that most media people have no or little knowledge about online resources available for their physical and digital security.

The report finally concluded that “the digital world has made journalism a riskier profession. But it can also make it safer. Digital technology can offer tools to minimize the dangers, whether physical, digital, or psychological, that reporters and editors face on the job.”
This should issue a clarion call to all Ghanaian media practitioners and managers.

Newsrooms must, as a matter of urgency, invest in security plans and technology can help improve any security plan a journalist or newsroom can design.

There is also the need to develop pre-warning digital tools that will provide journalists with risk assessment information before going on any assignment. This will, in turn, inform research into possible risk zones for media persons.

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