Media stakeholders in Africa need to come together and fight if they are to realize any press freedom.

This emerged from a webinar organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ahead of the World Press Freedom Day being celebrated today and whose theme is ‘’Information as a public good’

At the webinar, media specialist Raziah Q Mwawanga was emphatic that media practitioners in the continent needed to stop having pity parties and twiddling their fingers every time the issue of press freedom comes up.

‘’Media practitioners should join unions and fight for freedoms and the Editor’s Guild needs to be stronger and in order to negotiate for power and good working conditions’’

Her response came against the backdrop of issues raised at the forum that included poor working conditions and poor pay.

‘’We need to come together and stop feeling sorry for ourselves and fight for our media freedom. We need to have a media safety net that will be taking care of journalists like in times of pandemics like now,’’ she said

Apart from poor pay and poor working conditions, the freedom of Kenyan journalists is pegged on the political conditions of the country and who owns the media platform.

“Kenya has seen a slow erosion of media freedom in recent years.  The political situation and security concerns have been used since 2016 as grounds for restricting the freedom to inform,” read part of a report by the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2021. The latter ranked Kenya 102 out of 180 countries meaning the country just went up one slot as last year it ranked at 103.

In the recent past nine journalists were arrested in Makima, Embu just last week as the police carried out an eviction order of a land dispute.

While speaking at the same forum, Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary -General Eric Oduor  echoed sentiments by Mwawanga but said efforts of the union to recruit often get frustrated by media houses who turn a big number of the practitioners into editors, thereby leaving just a paltry  number as reporters who can be recruited as unionsable members

“Out of 100 employees, 70 are editors or respondents so we are only left with a few reporters which denies us members,” he said

Oduor also told RSF that three hundred journalist jobs have been eliminated, newspapers are printing far fewer pages and some audio-visual media have replaced news programs with music broadcasts. Kenya and Uganda also suffered violations of data protection against the backdrop of Covid-19 surveillance.

KUJ Secretary-General, Eric Oduor

While Kenya grapples with such problems, other countries in the region are not doing any better for instance her neighbor Tanzania saw journalists brutalized as there was Covid-19 fueled use of force to prevent journalists from working. Calling the  pandemic a “western conspiracy”, the late president John Pombe Magufuli had an information blackout on all things Covid-19.

Tanzania went on to toughen its laws more than any other during this period, published in July a new regulation that drastically restricts freedom of information.  Prohibitions included publishing “information with regards to the outbreak of a deadly or contagious disease in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities.” Violations carry penalties of up to one year in prison and fines of up 1700 euros. A few weeks later, Tanzanian media were prohibited from broadcasting any foreign content without prior government authorization.

Several news outlets, including the country’s leading Swahili-language newspaper Mwananchi, were closed down after publishing stories about Covid-19.  Others were forced to broadcast apologies after carrying reports on the subject which angered the authorities.

There seems to be hope for the nation now as  new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan has ordered the reopening of news organization that were closed down or repressed under her predecessor.

Tanzania ‘s President Samia Suluhu Hassan

She said; “I am told you revoked licenses of some media outlets, including some digital TVs. Lift the ban but tell them to follow the law and government guidelines.”

It also emerged from the webinar that the government is waving a white flag by calling journalists to a roundtable meeting to discuss various issues.

Maintaining the same ranking for three years now, Uganda is also not doing well with journalists getting attacked by security agents almost daily. A good case in point is on February 17, 2021, when Ugandan soldiers assaulted 10 journalists, covering opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi, known popularly as Bobi Wine, as he delivered a petition to a United Nations office in Kololo. This incident was addressed when Military head General David Muhoozi apologized for the attacks, offered to pay the journalists’ medical bills and six of the soldiers  were later handed prison sentences of up to three months by a military court.

Since 14 March in sub-Saharan Africa, RSF has registered:

  • 109 press freedom violations linked to the public health crisis;
  • 40 arbitrary arrests of journalists;
  • 26 attacks, of which 24 were committed by security forces;
  • 14 sanctions or convictions of journalists or media organizations;
  • 19 restrictive measures;
  • 10 threats and intimidation;
  • 29 countries involved;
  • Nigeria (15 cases), Zimbabwe (14), and Uganda (12) together account for 38 percent of the registered violations.

This year, Norway is ranked first in the index for the fifth year running as the country with the freest press while Eritrea has been ranked the worst country when it comes to upholding press freedoms. Namibia remains a continental press freedom leader.