Shireen Abu Akleh: The Journalist Martyr
Saying that the brutal killing of Shireen Abu Akleh has shocked the world would be an understatement. Talking to fellow journalists within my circle and in numerous East African journalists’ WhatsApp groups, I could feel grief, anger, confusion and in some, I could even sense fear.
No Story Is Worth Dying For
In most Kenyan media schools, the phrase “No Story Is Worth Dying For” is quite a common saying. However, what happens when you fall in love with your work?
Describing herself as a “product of Jerusalem,” with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shaping much of her life, Shireen Abu Akleh has shown the world what it means to be a journalist and what it means to tell stories that affect you as a journalist and your community. In her own words, her only mission was to be close to her people, and within her people she was killed.
“I chose to become a journalist to be close to people. It may not be easy to change reality, but I was at least able to bring their voice to the world,” Abu Akleh said in a video taped for the Qatari channel’s 25th anniversary.
Journalism in Africa Has Become a Travesty
When I was growing up, I listened to Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Taifa and watched KBC Channel 1 — that’s what we had at that time and I must say that the type of journalism exhibited was mind-blowing. A type of journalism that can only be compared to Abu Akleh’s.
Today, African journalists have turned their craft into a very ordinary career reserved for cool kids, who spent most of their time in big cities or overseas. After spending time overseas, these cool kids return to their homeland and land jobs in major newsrooms, thanks to their polished English. Sadly, most of them have zero journalism skills or storytelling abilities.
While journalists like Ahmed Hussein-Suale,a renowned investigative journalist from Ghana, was killed in 2019 for his role in exposing the corruption in his country,and Jamal Farah Adan of Somalia, Betty Mtekhele Barasa of Kenya, and dozens were killed in Ethiopia covering the Tigray conflict, it is very unfortunate that some journalists still find it right to use journalism for fame, power, and build future political careers.
Today, some Kenyan journalists engage in uncalled-for social media wars with critics who point out their lack of skills and unreasonable theatrics for clout chasing.
We have lost the basics of journalism such as good storytelling. Instead, journalists are thirsty for social media numbers, likes, and retweets. We don’t verify anymore. As long as it helps increase the number of followers, it goes for publishing. Right now, distinguishing a professionally trained journalist from a socialite is becoming an uphill task.
African Governments Must Learn from Palestine
Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces just eight days after the world marked the World Press Freedom Day on May 3. With such events, African governments need to step up and steer clear of Israeli-like behaviors of gagging the media, and instead, just like Palestine gave Abu Akleh the freedom to tell her people’s story, they should also give the same freedom to their journalists.
In March, Ugandan authorities raided the offices of Digitalk, an online tv station known for airing critical views of President Yoweri Museveni and his family. Other than confiscating the TV’s production and broadcasting equipment, they also arrested and charged its reporters with cyberstalking and offensive communication. The charges could see them facing up to seven years in prison.
The killing of this brave journalist who dared to tell the stories of the oppressive Israeli should not kill the spirits of journalists worldwide. Instead, this should be an inspiration to every reporter to work even harder, to help give voice to the voiceless, uphold justice and make the world a better place for every person whether in Gaza, Tigray, Libya, Syria or Afghanistan among other countries and regions experiencing instability.
(Senior Editor Francesca Julia Zucchelli edited this article.)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.