“Africa not graveyard of journalists”

Africa is not the world’s graveyard of journalists, stated the Committee to Protect Journalists.  The Africa Program Research Associate of the CPJ Mohamed Keita said more reporters had died elsewhere than Africa.
Below is the full interview:

Africanews.com: How does the CPJ works i.e do you just create awareness etc?

CPJ: CPJ is an independent advocacy organization that investigates, documents, reports and speaks out against censorship and attacks against news gatherers worldwide since 1981.Our board members participate in our advocacy missions with heads of states and members of government and in coordination with other organizations, we assist persecuted journalists with relocation and funds for legal assistance and medical care following attacks. Each year, we honor courageous journalists with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award. The award’s aim is to draw attention to the plight of journalists worldwide.

Africanews.com: What have been some of the achievements of CPJ in Africa?

CPJ: The most immediate impact of our work is the assistance we have provided persecuted journalists, particularly journalists from the Horn of Africa, Zimbabwe and Gambia. In coordination with other organizations, we have facilitated the relocation and resettlement of dozens of journalists since 2001.

Without the continuing documentation and reporting of press freedom abuses by CPJ and other organizations, who knows what number of journalists who would face imprisonment, threats, censorship and murder without any support? It is difficult to provide figures for the number of journalists released from prison because of our advocacy, but in our evaluation, we are continuing to sensitize governments from Gambia to Ethiopia about adhering to press freedom as guaranteed by their national constitutions and the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights.

Africanews.com: How would you respond to the saying that “Africa is now the graveyard of journalists”?

CPJ: Actually, since 1992, when CPJ began keeping detailed death records of the fallen members of the media, more journalists have gotten killed in other regions of the world (Iraq, Asia, and Latin America) than in Sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, the conflicts in Algeria, Somalia, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda claimed the most journalists in the line of duty on the continent, but Africa is not the world’s graveyard of journalists.

Africanews.com: A lot of people say African journalists in particular deliberately engage in activities that could cause them their lives just for the sake of cheap popularity/fame. How is CPJ dealing with this?

CPJ: CPJ is strictly an advocacy organization and our mandate does not involve editorial policy, labor issues or journalism ethics. However, we acknowledge that unethical practices linked to poor training, low salaries, and financial and political pressures, are realities plaguing the free press in Africa and perhaps reflect the larger socio-economics problems of the continent. We believe these problems should be addressed by media self-regulation (for instance a professional media association for instance with disciplinary powers) and NOT by government regulation.

Africanews.com: Could you tell us briefly about the state of journalist abuse in Africa?

CPJ: Officials, government supporters, security forces, rebels routinely threaten and assault journalists over their coverage.

Imprisonment of journalists under libel, defamation, vague national security or anti-state laws or spurious criminal charges is common. This year, over 90% of journalists in prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa are behind bars without charge or trial and held in secret locations.

Journalists are murdered in quasi-total impunity and the killers are likely to walk off. In very few instances do investigations and prosecutions are carried out professionally and thoroughly to apprehend not only the killers but the masterminds.

Governments are also using more subtle methods of suppression of independent media, including pulling advertising from critical outlets, asking for exorbitant civil damages in defamation cases or bankrupting media companies with legal defense fees, or administrative restrictions on. Government enact media legislation criminalizing critical coverage and restricting press freedom

Africanews.com: Is there any improvement as compared to previous years?

CPJ: The rapid development of new technologies (internet, mobile phones) has allowed average citizens in only a few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to freely share testimonies and photos with a worldwide audience. In countries like Madagascar and Uganda for instance, we saw bloggers and citizen journalists offer unfiltered news, photos and video about the unfolding events there, circumventing the mechanisms of censorship that the traditional media is subjected to. There is also a significant portion of Africans in the Diaspora who have started news web sites and online fora to either track what is happening in their home countries, or advocate a particular political, social or religious opinion that cannot be freely expressed at home. There are questions that can be raised about the quality and accuracy of this kind of information, but it should be a positive development. At the same time, governments like Ethiopia are noticing these movements online and moving to block the sites at home.

Africanews.com: Why do you think most African governments “oppress” the press?

CPJ: African governments, like governments around the world, understand the power of the media in shaping public opinion and we see that most journalists are attacked for reporting bad governance (corruption, abuse), or challenging the official position on a sensitive topic. Many governments justify their repression by linking critical coverage with incitement to violence and undermining national security or development interests, but those are excuses.

Africanews.com: What has been the cooperation between CPJ and government institutions that you send petition letters to?

CPJ: Just last month, we received a response from the president of Senegal after we raised concerns about criminal libel laws used to jail journalists and a culture of impunity for those assaulting or threatening the press. We strive to engage officials in a constructive dialogue and we always seek to hear their side of the story, but there are some governments which refuse to be engaged.

Africanews.com: What do you forecast in terms of press freedom, journalists safety in Africa in the next five to 10 years?

CPJ: Hard to answer, but we remain optimistic, especially when we think of countries that experienced brutal civil wars and have come a long way in terms of their press freedom records, countries like Liberia or Burundi.

First published in my company network – africanews.com


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