RSF Index 2020: African journalists suffer intimidation, censorship, and murder

The 2020 World Press Freedom Index is compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Source: RSF website.

Media freedom in Africa is stifled, plagued by issues such as harassment, murder, and the overall censorship of journalists says the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) index.

The 2020 RSF World Press Freedom Index “assesses the level of pluralism, media independence, the environment for the media and self-censorship, the legal framework, transparency, and the quality of infrastructure that supports the production of news and information,” said the general analysis of the index.

Eritrea is the worst place for a journalist to work in North Africa, two positions shy of last place on the index. Ranking 178th, the general analysis said, “at least 11 journalists are still languishing in the regime’s prisons, without access to their families or to lawyers” in the country.

It added that the media is totally subject to the “whim” of President Isaias Afwerki.

In contrast, Namibia’s constitution, buffered by the courts, guarantees Namibia’s media freedom.

“The supreme court ruled in 2019 that the government could not use national security as a pretext for preventing the courts from deciding whether the media could reveal certain information,” the RSF index said.

Ranking 23rd, Namibia has maintained its top spot in Africa from last year of having the freest press on the continent.

The index said the southern African country’s press is “protected by the constitution and is often defended by the courts when under attack from other quarters within the state or by vested interests.”

The index said the legal framework safeguarding Namibian journalists could be improved by the “long-promised law on access to state-held information”.

The Namibia Media Trust (NMT) hosts the ACTION Coalition and NMT director Zoe Titus said the coalition has been campaigning for the enactment of an access to information law since 2012.

“In 2016 we worked with government to develop a draft which, I believe, is complete having been through all the relevant governmental processes. We expect it to go to parliament when it opens in 2020,” Titus said.

The 2020 RSF index noted that the fall of several dictators through the years has “loosened the noose on journalists”. Zimbabwe went up one position to occupy the 126th spot this year. However, the index notes that there has not been significant change in the post-Mugabe era.

“The security apparatus has not yet lost the habit of harassing journalists and acts of intimidation, verbal attacks and confiscation of equipment are all still standard practice,” the index said of Zimbabwe.

As frayintermedia previously reported, security forces have had a heavy-handed approach with journalists working during Zimbabwe’s COVID-19 lockdown. Zimbabwe has the highest number of COVID-19-related violations against the press, according to the International Press Institute’s tracker on violations against the press during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor. What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030? The answer to that question is being determined today,” said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire in the general analysis of the index.

In a recent article, Amnesty International condemned Tanzanian authorities for banning local journalist Talib Ussi Hamad for reporting for six months. The organisation called it “the latest in a string of attacks on the right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom during the pandemic”.

The cracking down on Hamad and other journalists during this critical time may be indicative of the state of Tanzanian media. The country went down six places to 124th position on this year's RSF index.

“None of the 180 countries ranked in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index has suffered such a precipitous decline in recent years,” the index said, adding that the election of President John Magufuli ushered in a draconian hold on the media.

Tanzanian’s east African counterpart Somalia is in worse shape, ranking 163 - the worst in sub-Saharan Africa. The impunity of crimes against journalists darkens the Somali media landscape. As previously reported by frayintermedia, the murder of 25-year-old Abdiwali Ali Hassan made him the 50th Somali journalist to be killed in 10 years.

“In Somalia, it might be utterly hard to identify who is targeting you, when, where or even why!” said journalist and Somali Women in Media general secretary Deka Kasim, at the time.

Moving westwards, there were “a series of attacks by unidentified persons on radio stations critical of the government and cases of police violence against journalists,” in Liberia in 2019, the index said.

The country ranks 95 out of 180 countries and the RSF index said there have been many verbal and physical attacks on media workers in the west African country.

Female Journalists Association of Liberia head Siatta Scott Johnson said security forces are currently hindering the work of journalists as the country has undertaken physical distancing methods to curb COVID-19. Being a woman journalist does not make it any better.

“Security forces will find every reason to intimidate you because you’re a woman. Some of our rights as journalists are reduced because it is a state of emergency,” Scott Johnson said.

Overall, Africa ranks third regionally on the index. The regional analysis said the next 10 years will see “historic choices” for journalism on the continent as misinformation is on the rise.

“Societies where factual accuracy and open discussion of ideas are cardinal values must firmly and unequivocally support journalists,” the analysis added.

"Africa has a diverse media and, similarly, a diversity of experiences when it comes to press freedom. What we share though is the reality that media freedom is essential to democracy," said frayintermedia CEO Paula Fray.

"There is sufficient evidence that shows the positive impact of media freedom on gender equality, economic access and democratic practices. We should not rest until all African countries have the media freedom their citizens deserve," said Fray.

Find all the RSF analyses here.

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