World Press Freedom Day – The State of Journalism in Africa
By Zuko Komisa
As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May, let’s reflect on the challenges and victories that affect the state of the Freedom of Press in this country and on the African continent. The South African constitution, which has been lauded as being one of the most progressive in the world. Article 16 (1) states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media.
South Africa has had a very dynamic media landscape in past 23 years. Its ever-changing cultural & political landscape, scandals and new laws being put in place have drastically influenced public discourse. However, it seems that despite all the gains of a new dispensation South Africa still sees an outcries over the criminalisation of ‘secret information’ in the Protection of State Information Bill. This Bill has contributed to enormous pressure on journalists who report on scandals in government and as it prevents the reporting of news in National Key Points, it has become almost impossible for media to report news of interest to the public.
The road to complete Press Freedom in Africa has been paved with many challenges. It is still a normal occurrence in many African countries to see the imprisonment of journalists. In 2014 two journalists were arrested for questioning the Ebola Outbreak in Guinea. In more recent years, a journalist was sentenced to 10 years in jail for condoning terrorism in Cameroon, two Zimbabwean journalists were arrested for reporting on the deteriorating health of the president and in Egypt video journalists continue to be put behind bars every day.
To date previously colonized countries in Africa still use pre-independence laws meant to destroy any expression of opinions against colonial masters. In all these countries the colonial government tightened the screws on any coverage that exposed lack of services, nepotism, bad governance, abuse of power, and corruption. There was stern action taken on journalists who dared oppose. This still continues to happen in 2017.
Press Freedom on the African continent remains extremely volatile during elections; it is during this period that campaign coverage is scrutinized. In the 2016 South African local government election reports emerged of a War Room that was meant to actively work at creating news that was in favor of the ruling party, shaping the narrative and falsely presenting it to prospective voter.
As we draw closer to the 2019 election I am reminded of a story a learned Professor once told about politics and governance. He said to be victorious you need only do one thing. You must win the hearts and minds of the people. That’s it. The moment you get that done, you are in charge. This explains the current reality of the treatment of the press throughout the continent and the world.
The Power Of A Single Story
Should we be more patriotic in our approach as a country? What line do we draw in the name of Freedom of Expression? In a Ted Talk titled “The Power of a Single Story” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
The perception of the African continent by the rest of the world has largely been that of a war-torn, poverty stricken, colonized continent. This has largely been caused by the consistent messages projected by local and international media. A simple Google search of “African Child” shows the long way we still have to go in getting to balanced African stories.
The major strides that we’ve made in the pursuit of Press Freedom should be appreciated and acknowledged, we should be excited by of all the liberties we still enjoy as a nation and continent. In the same breath, we should continue to fight for complete Press Freedom, the right to know. It is every citizen’s responsibility to question the powers that be and to strengthen the institution that protects the rights of the press.
Image Source: Google