GPA urges local media to safeguard against emerging cyber security threats

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Head of the Guyana Press Association Nazima Raghubir

Journalists and media entities around the world are transitioning to online-based outputs, leaving conventional methods behind. The Guyana Press Association (GPA) has recognised that this gives rise to cyber intrusions which can breach the right to freedom of speech.

Today, World Press Freedom Day is being observed under the theme “Journalism Under Digital Siege.”

The Association, in its statement, shared that this theme is appropriate with the emergence of more online-based media and the transition to or convergence of conventional media to social media platforms. However, this undoubtedly exposes these media to inherent threats to their Information Technology systems.

“We refer, here, to costly and destructive intrusions by Ransomware and Spyware. These pose the severe risk of threatening the financial and technological existence of media houses. Ultimately, this affects the public at large which the media serves and thus can affect the freedom of expression which is a fundamental human right,” the GPA penned.

Taking this into consideration, journalists and media houses have been charged to take all necessary steps to guard and insulate themselves against such threats.

“No longer do State intelligence gathering agents have to monitor journalists and media houses around the world by their physical presence. These can be done using spyware to ascertain journalists’ sources and so impose sanctions and take other actions against those sources and journalists themselves. Take note that the Cyber Crime Act criminalises the transmission of certain information by electronic means, hence our concern.”

Journalists have been advised to be wary of what they download and from which sources on their mobile phones and other electronic devices as such acts can potentially install spyware that can access their information and contacts.

“Additionally, media houses should of necessity take the requisite action to minimise the surveillance and monitoring of their work in violation of the freedom to receive and impart ideas,” said the organisation.
On the other hand, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) also shared that this year’s theme casts a global spotlight on the security of journalists in pursuit of their professional commitments.

“Often, when media workers speak of security, we refer to physical security under hostile conditions. These may include such as coups d’etat, violent protests, and terrorist activities. While not diminishing the significance of these, media workers and particularly journalists are increasingly falling prey to cybersecurity threats,” the regional entity recognised.

Threats coming from cyber breaches, can ultimately lead to physical harm of journalists, their sources, and the damage or destruction of their Information Technology (IT) devices and infrastructure.

“The environment within which journalists in the Caribbean operate is becoming increasingly perilous. Even so, many countries have already enacted legislation to intercept communication and counter what they regard as cybercrime. There is evidence to support the view that cybercrime legislation can become abused and become problematic in the context of the preservation of free expression.”

In a number of Caribbean countries, State entities have been accused of acquiring spyware that can access digital communication and undermine privacy and other rights. The ACM has asked Caribbean governments and their domestic allied institutions to take all necessary steps to ensure that journalists are not targeted with the intention of revealing the identity of confidential sources.

ACM further detailed, “With most media and journalists having an online presence, media enterprises have become acutely aware of some inherent vulnerabilities. These include exposure to hackers whose sole objective is to destroy channels that offend the public or private status quo and so inhibit the free flow of the truth to the wider public.”

The Association has pledged to treat the matter of cyber security and journalism with utmost priority in conjunction with State and non-State actors as well as international affiliates.