Celebrating World Press Freedom Day amid new wave of media crackdowns in Africa

A woman sits in front of a poster made up of the names of murdered journalists, during the World Press Freedom Conference on July 10, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

  • Ethiopian journalists face the death penalty for criticizing the government.
  • Mali is accused of having expelled journalists.
  • In Zimbabwe, Angola and Somalia, “dissident journalists” are in the line of fire.

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

In a press release analyzing the Press Freedom Index for 2022, the organization notes that “there are still, too often, cases of arbitrary censorship, particularly on the Internet, with occasional network shutdowns in certain countries, arrests of journalists and violent attacks”.

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

“These (attacks) generally go completely unpunished, as was the case with the 2016 disappearance of Malian journalist Birama Touré, who – as RSF has demonstrated – was kidnapped by a Malian intelligence agency and most likely killed while ‘He was being held incommunicado,’ said RSF.

Last week, Mali kicked out France 24 and its radio partner, RFI, over alleged false reporting on the Malian military.

This year’s Press Freedom Day – May 3 – comes at a time when journalists operating in Ethiopia are experiencing some of the harshest working conditions to ever appear in Africa.

Two Ethiopian journalists, Dessu Dulla and Bikila Amenu, were arrested 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 prohibits “undermining the Constitution”. If found guilty, they face a three-year prison sentence or even life imprisonment; furthermore, the maximum charge for their alleged crime is the death penalty.

In the Sahel region, “insecurity and political instability have increased sharply, and there have recently been severe 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 in addition to repressive laws, journalism now faces new challenges related to fake news and disinformation, adding to the age-old challenge of propaganda.

RFS said:

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

Although news organizations are businesses, they are not 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 diktats of their owners, African media are struggling to develop sustainable economic models,” adds RSF.

Despite poor business models, a glimmer of hope lies in the investigative journalism coalitions that have succeeded in speaking truth to power.

“The recent emergence of coalitions of investigative journalists has resulted in major revelations on issues of public interest,” the organization said.

In countries like Angola, Somalia and Zimbabwe, “repression of dissident journalists persists”.

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

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