Marking World Press Freedom Day amid new wave of media repression in Africa

A woman sits in front of a display made up of the names of murdered journalists, at the Global Conference on Press Freedom on July 10, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
A woman sits in front of a display made up of the names of murdered journalists, at the Global Conference on Press Freedom on July 10, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
  • Ethiopian journalists face the death penalty for being critical of the government.
  • Mali is being blamed for the expelling of journalists.
  • In Zimbabwe, Angola and Somalia, "dissident journalists" are in the firing line.

To mark World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders - known in French as Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) - said that, despite press liberalisation across Africa in the 1990s, a wave of repressive laws and threats to journalism currently exist.

In a statement analysing the Press Freedom Index for 2022, the organisation noted that "there are still, too often, cases of arbitrary censorship, especially on the internet, with occasional network shutdowns in some countries, arrests of journalists, and violent attacks."

In that regard, some journalists have been detained, while others have been killed in the line of duty. No one has been brought to book for the attacks on journalists across the continent.

"These (attacks) usually go completely unpunished, as was the case with the 2016 disappearance of Malian journalist Birama Touré, who – as RSF demonstrated – was kidnapped by a Malian intelligence agency and most likely killed while secretly detained," RSF said.

Last week, Mali drove out France 24 and its radio partner, RFI, because of alleged fake news reports about Mali's military. 

This year's Press Freedom Day - on 3 May - is celebrated at a time when journalists operating in Ethiopia are experiencing some of the harshest working conditions to ever emerge in Africa.

Two Ethiopian journalists, Dessu Dulla and Bikila Amenu, were detained on 7 April. They both work for social media-based broadcaster, Oromia News Network.

They face charges under Article 238 of the country's criminal code, which bars "outrages against the Constitution". If found guilty, they face a three-year jail term or even life imprisonment; in addition, the maximum charge for their alleged crime is the death penalty.

In the Sahel region, "insecurity and political instability have sharply increased, and there have been recent major blows to journalism".

Last year, two Spanish journalists were killed in Burkina Faso. A French reporter, Olivier Dubois, was kidnapped by an armed group in Mali, while several journalists were expelled from Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso.

RSF, in a statement, said that, other than the repressive laws, journalism was now faced with new challenges from fake news and disinformation, which added to the age-old challenge of propaganda.

RSF said:

In recent years, a wave of draconian laws criminalising online journalism has dealt a new blow to the right to information. At the same time, the spread of rumours, propaganda and disinformation has contributed to the undermining of journalism and access to quality information.

While news organisations are businesses, they have not been doing well enough to sustain their operations, which is an important facet of media freedom and independence.

"Often poorly supported by the government [through laws] and still largely dependent on the editorial dictates of their owners, African media outlets struggle to develop sustainable economic models," added RSF.

Despite poor business models, a ray of hope lies in the investigative journalism coalitions that have managed to speak truth to power.

"The recent emergence of coalitions of investigative journalists has resulted in major revelations about matters of public interest," the organisation said.

In countries, such as Angola, Somalia and Zimbabwe, "the repression of dissident journalists persists".

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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