Press freedom in Africa | Africa | DW | 03.05.2012
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Press freedom in Africa

World Press Freedom Day marks the anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, a statement of free press principles drawn up by African newspaper journalists in 1991.

In 1993 the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day in order to raise awareness of the importance of press freedom and to remind governments of their duty to uphold the right to freedom of expression. The date was chosen to mark the anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration.

Like the rest of the world, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced a notable expansion of media pluralism in recent years. The number of online newspapers that have burst on to the scene are just one example and in general African media consumers now have a much wider choice to turn to in their search for information.

Tools enabling the instant dissemination of information, such as the microblogging service Twitter have become commonplace.

But there are also many African countries in which independent media outlets and journalists still face harassment and violence in a bid to silence them.

Newspapers in chains

Muzzling the press is still frequent in Africa

"Eritrea is absolutely the worst place for journalists," according to Ambroise Pierre, head of the Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders.

In the organization's latest Press Freedom Ranking, issued annually on World Press Freedom Day, Eritrea occupies bottom place in the list of 179 countries surveyed.

This does not surprise Pierre, since the Eritrean government abolished freedom of the press 10 years ago. "Today, journalists work for the state media and have to print what the Ministry of Information tells them. Anyone who tries to defy the state lands in jail," he said.

Award for Ethiopian journalist

It's a similar story in neighboring Ethiopia. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), about 150 Ethiopian journalists live in exile, more than from any other country in the world.

One who chose to stay is Eskinder Nega. He's currently in jail, charged with inciting terrorism, and could face the death penalty. Nega was arrested after he wrote articles questioning the arrest of journalists and actor Debebe Eshetu. Previously Nega and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, were jailed for their coverage of a disputed election.

Nega has just been awarded a press freedom prize by PEN America, a branch of PEN International which promotes intellectual cooperation between writers and freedom of expression. His wife accepted the prize on his behalf in a ceremony in New York on Tuesday.

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, Somali radio journalist Farhan James Abdulle was shot dead as he was returning home in the village of Garsor. The 27 year-old is the fifth journalist to be killed in Somalia this year.

Media under threat in Nigeria

World Press Freedom Day 2012 comes at a time when the media in Nigeria have come under threat from Islamist group Boko Haram.

Last week a suicide bomber blew himself up at the premises of leading newspaper, Thisday. A second bomb went off in the northeastern town of Kaduna. At least five people were killed in the attacks. A video posted on YouTube purporting to come from Boko Haram, threatened further attacks on the media for alleged biased reporting.

The Thisday newspaper building in Abuja after it was hit by a bomb

The offices of Thisday in Abuja after the bomb attack

In an interview with DW, Shaibu Usman Leman , the Secretary General of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, said Nigeria is currently in a very difficult situation.

"I think a threat to journalism and to journalists will amount to a threat to democracy," he said.

"I want the group (Boko Haram) to understand that the media is a friend to all and it is unnecessary therefore to target them for persecution for whatever reason."

Nigerian journalists would not be intimidated by threats and attacking them would not help the country, Leman said.

Two countries stand out

Reporters Without Borders also found fault with Angola, despite its flourishing economy. The government exercises too much influence on the media, the organization says.

Journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques writes about Angola's limited press freedom on his blog

Michael Rediske of Reporters without Borders Germany

Michael Rediske sees positive developments

"Two of the most influential people in the Angolan regime are among the owners of the only private television broadcaster in Angola, TV Zimbo," he wrote.

Marques' blog was one of this year's finalists for the Deutsche Welle Blog Awards (BOBs).

There is also some positive news about press freedom in Africa. Michael Rediske, from the German branch of Reporters Without Borders, notes that, “for the first time, we have two African countries in our list of the top 20 countries for press freedom, namely Namibia and the Cape Verde Islands.”

Their high rankings stem largely from their political stability.

Author: Susan Houlton
Editor: Asumpta Lattus

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