December 29, 2015 11:06 AM
NAIROBI—The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its annual report on the killing of reporters around the world. The report looks at the state of media freedom in Africa. Forty-six-year-old Waweru Mugo has been a journalist in Kenya for the last 15 years and now runs his own media consulting firm.
It is not always easy. Last October, Kenyan lawmakers considered a bill that would ban the press from reporting on parliamentary matters. The controversial clauses were eventually removed amid protest from civil society and media organizations.
According to Mugo, journalists in Kenya and all of Africa face challenges, especially attempts by governments to intimidate and censor them. This, he says, has limited the growth of a free press.
“When you try to highlight some of these issues, the government tries to crack the whip,” he said. “The government demands that you do ABCD, that you’re not supposed to be unpatriotic, they label you as unpatriotic, they say that you’ve been bought off by foreign interests, you are working for the opposition. So the journalists also kind of bend to the whims of the government through self-censorship.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 69 journalists around the world were killed while on duty this year. Many died at the hands of Islamist militant groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State.
The biggest number came from Syria, but 11 were killed in Africa, including five in war-torn South Sudan.
Felix Odimmasi, of the School of Law and Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi, says the lack of government support makes journalists cautious about reporting from conflict areas like South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria.
“… Because one, they would not go out there and report, and two, those who dare to go out and report still know they are at risk, so they have to be very careful about what they report about and where they go. It’s the general lack, weakness of the rule of law,” he said. “The laws that exist are not necessarily being followed and there’s no strong legislation in some of these weak states to protect the media.”
Members of Africa’s Fourth Estate have come under fire across the continent from multiple regimes. Amnesty International says the South African government and ruling African National Congress party are pushing for a tribunal to regulate the media under the guise of “transformation.”
Amnesty notes that in Ethiopia, many journalists and media workers are currently in prison or have been convicted in absentia because of their work.
Benji Ndolo, a civil rights activist from the Kenya-based Organization of National Empowerment, says a concerted effort from non-state actors is the only way to halt the intimidation.
“International processes, civil rights movements, non-governmental organizations and even church organizations as well as the media will push these countries into a corner where they will be held to account for loss of lives. They will not have impunity forever and so change will absolutely come to these countries, accountability will be there,” said Ndolo.
Besides South Sudan, other African countries where journalists were killed in 2015 included Somalia, Kenya, Libya and Ghana. Another five were killed in Somalia’s neighbor, Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.
This article was published on Voice of America.