'Not a good year for press'

2004-05-03 08:05
Paris - Reporters sans frontieres (RSF) said on Monday that journalists in Africa faced worsening working conditions in 2003 and warned that the continent's independent media were in the process of disappearing in several countries.

"2003 was not a very good year for press freedom in Africa," the international press freedom advocate said in its annual report.

Two journalists were killed in Ivory Coast and a third probably executed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, RSF said, adding that many others had been imprisoned.

"Independent news media are becoming scarce throughout Africa and journalists continue to flee with a heavy heart."

Kloueu Gonzreu, a journalist working for the Ivorian news agency AIP, was killed in a war zone and Jean Helene, a correspondent for Radio France Internationale, was shot dead in Abidjan.

A Franco-Canadian journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer, the subject of violent attacks in the government-supporting press because of his critical stance, has not been seen since mid-April.

Endangered species

Independent press was an "endangered species," RSF cautioned.

"Worrying examples include the closure of The Daily News in Zimbabwe, the closure of several news media in Gabon, the continuing ban on any privately-owned press in Eritrea, the harassment of the only opposition newspaper in Djibouti and the censorship that was temporarily imposed on radio stations in Burundi and Chad."

The wars and intermittent fighting in some African countries played a major role in this declining freedom and it is becoming more and more dangerous to cover a war in Africa, RSF said.

Ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa have maintained a monopoly of radio and television broadcasting.

Free expression also suffered serious setbacks in Mali, Niger and Senegal, RSF said, listing expulsions and arrests of journalists and the closure of several privately-owned radio stations in Niamey.

Significantly, for the first time since World War 2, journalists were convicted of inciting murder and violence in a high profile hate media case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Three former leading journalists with Rwandan news media received sentences ranging from 35 years to life imprisonment for "inciting genocide" in 1994, when at least 800 000 people were slaughtered.

"It was hoped these sentences would be a warning to those who continue to put out hate messages elsewhere in Africa," RSF said of the ruling by the international tribunal.

RSF highlighted Mozambique for the "exemplary" trial into the murder of journalist Carlos Cardoso, which saw six people receive long jail sentences.

"The case is worthy of note, and should serve as a model for other African countries to follow.

"It should also be a warning to the murderers of journalists who are still at large in Angola, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and elsewhere that they, too, will one day have to answer for their actions," RSF concluded.

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