Press freedom in Africa

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As World Press Freedom Day is marked around the globe, the performances of African nations still vary.

The Chronicle & The Sunday News office in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (Picture: David Brewer)

May 3rd marked the twentieth anniversary of UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day.  The Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference.

Reporters Without Borders has released its annual report on world press freedom in 2013, which documents overall trends and has a region-by-region breakdown of key issues and developments. This year already, nineteen journalists have been killed, 174 imprisoned, and 9 netizens and citizen journalists have been killed and 162 imprisoned.

The Press Freedom Index “reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations and netizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.”

According to Reporters Without Borders, following the Arab uprisings and “other protest movements that prompted many rises and falls in last year’s index [the] ranking of most countries is no longer attributable to dramatic political developments. This year’s index is a better reflection of the attitudes and intentions of governments towards media freedom in the medium or long term.”

Although many criteria are considered, ranging from legislation to violence against journalists, democratic countries occupy the top of the index while dictatorial countries occupy the last three positions. Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, and Andorra are ranked as the countries that most respect media freedom, while Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, and Somalia are the countries that least respect it.

Coinciding with the release of its 2013 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders is for the first time publishing an annual global “indicator” of worldwide media freedom. This new analytic tool measures the overall level of freedom of information in the world and the performance of the world’s governments in their entirety as regards this key freedom. In view of the emergence of new technologies and the interdependence of governments and peoples, the freedom to produce and circulate news and information needs to be evaluated at the planetary as well as national level. Today, in 2013, the media freedom “indicator” stands at 3395, a point of reference for the years to come.

The indicator can also be broken down by region and, by means of weighting based on the population of each region, can be used to produce a score from zero to 100 in which zero represents total respect for media freedom. This produces a score of 17.5 for Europe, 30.0 for the Americas, 34.3 for Africa, 42.2 for Asia-Pacific and 45.3 for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Despite the Arab springs, the Middle East and North Africa region comes last with 48.5.

The high number of journalists and netizens killed in the course of their work in 2012 (the deadliest year ever registered by Reporters Without Borders in its annual roundup), naturally had an a significant impact on the ranking of the countries where these murders took place, above all Somalia (175th, -11)

Eritrea (179th, 0), which was recently shaken by a brief mutiny by soldiers at the information ministry, continues to be a vast open prison for its people and lets journalists die in detention. Sudan (170th, 0) was also on the list of the ten countries that respect media freedom least.

Big rises…

Malawi(75th, +71) registered the biggest leap in the index, almost returning to the position it held before the excesses at the end of the Mutharika administration. Côte d’Ivoire (96th, +63), which is emerging from the post-electoral crisis between the supporters of Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara, has also soared, attaining its best position since 2003.

…and big falls

Mali (99th, -74) registered the biggest fall in the index as a result of all the turmoil in 2012. The military coup in Bamako on March 22nd and the north’s takeover by armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists exposed the media in the north to censorship and violence. Many journalists were physically attacked in the capital and the army now controls the state-owned media. Tanzania (70th, -36) sank more than 30 places because, in the space of four months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered.

Varied impact of major protest movements

The 2012 index was marked by the Arab spring’s major news developments and the heavy price paid by those covering the protest movements. A range of scenarios has been seen in 2012, including countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where regime change has taken place, and countries such as Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where the authorities have used promises and compromise to defuse calls for political and/or social and economic change.

Some of the new governments spawned by these protest movements have turned on the journalists and netizens who covered these movements’ demands and aspirations for more freedom. What with legal voids, arbitrary appointments of state media chiefs, physical attacks, trials and a lack of transparency, Tunisia (138th, -4) and Egypt (158th, +8) have remained at a deplorable level in the index and have highlighted the stumbling blocks that Libya (131st, +23) should avoid in order to maintain its transition to a free press.

Uganda (104th, +35) has recovered a more appropriate position although it has not gone back to where it was before cracking down on protests in 2011.

Political instability puts journalists in the eye of the storm

Political instability often has a divisive effect on the media and makes it very difficult to produce independently-reported news and information. In such situations, threats and physical attacks on journalists and staff purges are common. Guinea-Bissau (92nd, -17) fell sharply because the army overthrew the government between the first and second rounds of a presidential election and imposed military censorship on the media. This index does not reflect the January 2013 turmoil in the Central African Republic (65th, -3) but its impact on media freedom is already a source of extreme concern.

There is no comparison with South Africa (52nd, -10), where freedom of information is a reality. It still has a respectable ranking but it has been slipping steadily in the index and, for the first time, is no longer in the top 50. Investigative journalism is threatened by the Protection of State Information Bill.

Predators

On May 3rdReporters Without Borders also released an updated list of 39 Predators of Freedom of Information ­– presidents, politicians, religious leaders, militias and criminal organizations that censor, imprison, kidnap, torture and kill journalists and other news providers. Powerful, dangerous and violent, these predators consider themselves above the law.

“These predators of freedom of information are responsible for the worst abuses against the news media and journalists,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “They are becoming more and more effective. In 2012, the level of violence against news providers was unprecedented and a record number of journalists were killed. World Press Freedom Day, which was established on the initiative of Reporters Without Borders, must be used to pay tribute to all journalists, professional and amateur, who have paid for their commitment with their lives, their physical integrity or their freedom, and to denounce the impunity enjoyed by these predators.”

Among the new predators added to the list are members and supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, who Reporters Without Borders maintains, have been responsible for harassing and physically attacking independent media and journalists critical of the party.

Former Somali Information and Communications Minister Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed has been dropped from the list. Also know as “Jahweyn,” this Somali politician is no longer minister of information and telecommunications. His successor does not seem to be directly responsible for harassment, intimidation or other abuses against media personnel. Journalism nonetheless continues to be very dangerous in Somalia, with a total

The list of predators has been impacted by the repercussions from the Arab Spring and uprisings in the Arab world. Members and supporters of Egyptian President Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, Physical attacks on journalists and murders of journalists usually go completely unpunished. This encourages the predators to continue their violations of human rights and freedom of information. The 34 predators who were already on the 2012 list continue to trample on freedom of information with complete disdain and to general indifference.

The leaders of dictatorships and closed countries enjoy a peaceful existence while media and news providers are silenced or eliminated. Such leaders include Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Issaias Afeworki in Eritrea and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Turkmenistan. In these countries, as in Belarus, Vietnam, Uzbekistan and other Central

Dropped from the predators list

Abdulkadir Hussein Mohamed Also know as “Jahweyn,” this Somali politician is no longer minister of information and telecommunications. His successor does not seem to be directly responsible for harassment, intimidation or other abuses against media personnel. Journalism nonetheless continues to be very dangerous in Somalia.

Nigeria

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists timed the release of its 2013 Impunity Index for World Press Freedom Day. Nigeria has joined the list of countries where journalists are routinely murdered and assaulted without any convictions for their attackers. It is the first time the country has been in the Index, following a decade or so of relative safety for the media. Amid Islamic militant activity in the north and politically inspired violence across the country, at least five journalists have been murdered due to their work since 2009. None of the cases have been solved. Many more have been attacked, The Independent, London reported (2/5).

The Independent’s owner Evgeny Lebedev has launched a campaign – Voices In Danger – to highlight the plight of reporters being silenced in such regimes, and is featuring regular interviews in the newspaper and online with the journalists themselves, their colleagues and families.

Ayode Longe, a senior officer with the Nigerian press freedom group Media Rights Agenda, said: “Investigations into the killings are usually carried out with sloppiness, and no real culprits are caught. That has emboldened others to assault journalists, believing nothing would be done to them.”

Many of the attacks are made on those covering the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram. Local TV journalist Enenche Akogwu was shot and killed in 2012 by Boko Haram members when he was interviewing witnesses of a terror attack in the city of Kano. No charges are thought to have been brought despite the incident being in front of a crowd.

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