World Association of News Publishers

MFC Talks Digital Security in Johannesburg

MFC Talks Digital Security in Johannesburg

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As technology holds an increasing importance in media houses around the world, the threats that accompany the digital revolution have become paramount. Journalists in South Africa are working to tackle these threats, with the WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Committee recently hosting a two-day digital security training and panel discussion at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg, South Africa.

By Colette Davidson

In mid-February, members of South Africa’s Media Freedom Committee hosted the event, which brought in trainers Kody Leonard from the ISC Project and Natasha Msonza from the Digital Society of Zimbabwe. Their goals? To discuss the threat of surveillance in newsrooms and methods to counteract it. The training included sessions on creating better passwords and mobile security as well as securing file storage and cyber harassment.

“The training was very interactive and participatory,” said Media Freedom Committee member and organizer of the training Karabo Rajuili, the advocacy coordinator at the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. “Newsrooms are waiting for something to happen before acting so we were looking at how to be proactive and protect sources – to react before something happens.”

Speaking to the 10 MFC participants were Jane Duncan, Professor of Journalism at the University of Johannesburg; Deshnee Subramany, News Editor at the Huffington Post South Africa; Michael Power, an attorney at the Legal Resources Centre; and Tom Nkosi, Editor of Ziwaphi. Nkosi says that the media can’t take press freedom for granted.

“Despite the guarantees of press freedom, there will always be political manoeuvring to shut us up,” says Nkosi. “We do not have the kind of intelligence services that other people have, therefore we have to secure all our communication and devices in case they are lost.”

According to Nkosi, the biggest digital threat facing South Africa’s journalists today is the threat of surveillance and information gathering. The National Communication Centre currently has access to citizens’ mobile communications without having established the appropriate legislation to do so, says Nkosi.

“The fact that there is no accountability and report mechanisms for the public to know that their communication is being accessed, possibly illegally, is extremely worrying,” he says.

To discuss the legal framework around such surveillance issues, a panel discussion was organized for the second day of the training to take the issues of digital security further.

“The media in South Africa need to take this seriously,” says Rajuili. “We almost need a new way of doing journalism.”

While the second day of training – which was open to the public – didn’t get as much support as the MFC had hoped, the feedback from participants on the training as a whole was phenomenal. According to a survey taken following the two-day event, 70 percent of participants described the training as “excellent,” while 90 percent said it was “very relevant” to their job. One participant described the training as “the best WAN-IFRA seminar” to date, with detailed, hands-on training.

That’s great news for organizer Rajuili, who says one of her primary goals was simply to bring the issue of digital security to the forefront of South African journalists’ minds. While all of the journalists in the group had experienced digital threats, none had previously spoken out about the issue. Learning that it was not just an individual experience was incredibly valuable, says Rajuili.

“We started with three participants being knowledgeable about this issue and we finished with all of them having knowledge and wanting similar trainings in their newsrooms,” she says.

The training has also given South Africa’s MFC some ideas for future events. In the works is a webinar hosted by safety specialist Colin Pereira on the physical safety and wellness of journalists, as well as plans to look into pay discrepancies between regional and national newspapers, in addition to the country’s gender pay gap.


WAN-IFRA’s Strengthening Media and Society programme is a two-year initiative supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark. The Media Freedom Committee is a strategic element in the delivery of this programme, guiding and informing WAN-IFRA’s advocacy work in each country of intervention. More details can be found at


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2017-04-27 09:37

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...