Thursday, December 27, 2012

The growing militia threat to Africa's journalists

When the various media watchdogs sit down to collate their annual lists of the travails that African journalists on the continent continue to confront, there will be a feeling that this year has been a particularly tough one.
The reports usually make for grim reading, and will likely show that attacks against journalists by militias, rebels and other 'non-state actors' have barely let up, so much so that the UN last month felt constrained to raise an alarm.
The United Nations Human Rights Council late September adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists during its 21st session in Geneva.
The 47-member body recognized that an increasing number of threats were being made by militia rebels and other non-government agents.
The council urged member states to promote a safe and conducive environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.
"The Council expresses its concern that there is a growing threat to the safety of journalists posed by non-state actors and calls on all parties to armed conflict to respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” the resolution read in part.
"States [should] ensure accountability by conducting impartial, speedy and effective investigations into such acts falling within their jurisdiction and to bring to justice those responsible and to ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies," the resolution further urged.
Taking root
Last year's Arab Spring revolutions and their spawn offs in other countries were cited for non-state attacks on journalists, but in the last three or so months it has looked a trend further taking root.
In late September, a headless body found in in Mogadishu, Somalia was later identified to be Abdirahman Mohamed Ali, a journalist who worked for online sports site
On the same day, Ahmed Abdullahi Farah, a reporter and cameraman for Yemen News Agency (SABA), was killed in a minibus by armed men at a checkpoint in Dharkenley district in southern Mogadishu.
The killings of Ali and Farah, though gruesome, contributed to the five deaths in Somalia journalist ranks that month alone in a country that is arguably the most dangerous for a journalist to work in.
On September 20 three Somali journalists, including the head of the state-run Somali National Television and the head of news for Radio Mogadishu, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at a Mogadishu cafe. At least four other journalists were wounded.

Journalists protest against censorship in Khartoum. Photo |AFRICAREVIEW.COM
Since the year began a total of 15 journalists have been killed in Somalia, mainly in attacks attributed to the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab.
Others have got off more lightly. In August, Malian radio reporter Malik Maiga Aliou was kidnapped during a live broadcast and beaten and left for dead at a cemetery in the rebel-head northern city of Gao.
The armed Islamic militants who rule the north were apparently sending a distinct message by storming the station and "disciplining" the journalist for telling "lies".
In July two Libyan journalists covering the country's first election in decades were kidnapped by armed men before being released nine days later.
Foreign journalists have also had harrowing tales to tell. Twenty-one-year-old British journalist Natasha Smith and CBS reporter Lara Logan were sexually assaulted by Egyptian mobs that regularly took to the streets in the aftermath of the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak last year.
State involvement
State harassment is however still alive. A report this week by a special committee set up to probe the shocking death of Tanzanian journalist Daudi Mwangosi in early September has admitted there was excessive use of force.
Mwangosi was killed while covering an opposition rally in a country generally not known for its animosity to journalists. The probe report recommended an improvement in relations between police and the media.
And in Cote d'Ivoire, security officers last month attacked Anderson DiƩdri as he interviewed the family of a Cabinet minister that was being evicted from their home. The minister, Albert Toikeusse Mabri had sought the eviction after filing for divorce earlier in June.
Arbitrary arrests and harassment have continued to be the lot of many African journalists.
Egyptian television presenter Tawfiq Okasha is currently on trial for among other charges incitement to kill the President.
The proprietor of Al-Faraeen channel had his station suspended after airing a show that was against the Muslim Brotherhood, now in power.

In July, an Ethiopian high court handed renowned blogger Eskinder Nega an 18-year jail term for engaging in terrorist activities. The journalist was known for his articles that were often critical of the country’s regime. During the trial, five other journalists currently in exile abroad were sentenced in absentia.
According to statistics by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) 463 journalists were forced into exile globally between June 2007 and May 2012. The main reasons for their flight have been the threat of violence and of imprisonment.
Freedom statistics
The highest numbers of exiled journalists were in Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.
CPJ records show that 942 journalists have been killed globally since 1992. Of these 657 were murdered, 171 killed in crossfire and 111 killed on dangerous assignment.
This year alone 47 journalists worldwide have been killed; 25 were murdered, 17 died in cross fire and five died on the job while pursuing dangerous assignments.
According to the Freedom of the Press 2012 report released by international watchdog Freedom House, only five countries in sub-Saharan Africa have attained complete press freedom.
The five countries are Mali, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mauritius and Sao Tome while Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa have been listed among the 23 partly free countries.
Countries like Angola, Rwanda and Zimbabwe according to the report do not have any press freedom.
Equatorial Guinea and Eritrea were listed among the world’s eight worst performers while Ethiopia was singled out as the only country in sub-Saharan Africa to have a nationwide internet filtering system which was in 2011 upgraded to a more sophisticated version.
While addressing a pan African conference in Ethiopia on the safety of journalists recently, the president of the Federation of African Journalists Omar Faruk Osman warned that African journalists still faced high levels of violence.
He noted that a culture of impunity had spread as many of the cases of violence remained unresolved leading to self-censorship by the media due to fear.
"The impunity for violence against journalists deserves the equal attention to crime targeting government officials and international civil servants in their official functions," he said.

But the media has also been challenged to maintain their independence. 

Corruption hurdle
In August, the Sudan Tribune reported that a number of reporters in South Sudan had witnessed their colleagues taking payments in return for writing favourable articles.
The article noted that despite being the world’s youngest nation, corruption had eaten deeply in to the media fraternity with some journalists demanding cash for transport or spiking stories when they do not receive payment.
The Uganda Media Development Foundation reported in 2011 that the brown envelope phenomenon was particularly common among some journalists who found it hard to make ends meet.
In Bill Ristow’s 2010 report on bribery of journalists around the world he notes that in Ghana, a reporter goes to a media briefing and inside their press packet, there’s a brown envelope containing the equivalent of a $20 bill, which they willingly accept.
According to the same report, a South African journalist admitted in an affidavit that he and several others had set up a media relations firm that received cash payments for helping an African National Congress official in his struggle with party rivals.
Several corporates and politicians have had their functions ignored because of their inability to provide adequate “transport” or “lunch”.
In cases where the two are provided, the outcome is stories moulded in a friendlier and favourable ways. Twange Kasoma documented this in his study of brown-envelope journalism in Zambia of one such incident where after receiving about $125 from a political party, one journalist admitted, “It naturally made me want to write a story slanting on supporting the source.”
Despite these elements that continue to give journalism a bad name, the media continues to play a vital role in development of state economies globally.
The fourth estate has been termed as the watchdog highlighting social injustices. Kenyan media played a vital role in lobbying against the $25 million dollar bonus deal awarded by members of parliament in secret. President Mwai Kibaki rejected the hugely unpopular deal.

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