CPJ Blog

Press Freedom News and Views

Peter Nkanga

Peter Nkanga, an independent bilingual investigative journalist based in Abuja, Nigeria, is CPJ's West Africa consultant. He is a 2012 CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards finalist and the 2011 co-recipient of the Forum for African Investigative Reporters' (FAIR) African Investigative Journalist of the Year award for his working exposing corrupt practices in Nigeria's oil ministry. Peter specializes in human rights and advocacy reporting.

Liberian newspapers protest threatening remarks by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's security chief. (Wade Williams/FrontPage Africa)

Most governments, even repressive ones, at least give lip service to supporting freedom of the press--especially on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. But in Liberia this month, Othello Daniel Warrick, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's chief security aide, shocked local journalists by threatening them and calling them "terrorists" at a public event to mark the occasion, according to news reports and local media groups.

Nigeria's press freedom record is on the decline.

For the first time since 2008, when CPJ began publishing its annual Impunity Index, Nigeria has made the list of the "worst nations in the world for deadly, unpunished violence against the press."

News stands in Mali are empty as journalists strike. (news.abamako.com)

Mali's press has endured one attack too many.

Since the coup d'état of March 22, 2012, CPJ has documented a staggering 62 anti-press violations across Mali. Journalists and media houses have become ready targets of attacks, threats, intimidation, assassination attempts, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and censorship by separatist and Islamist militant groups and government security forces alike. 

(Desmond Utomwen)

"If a journalist can't fight for his own right, then he has no responsibility to fight for others," Desmond Utomwen, a senior correspondent with TheNews Magazine/PM News, told me after a High Court judge on October 4 awarded him 100 million naira (US$637,000) in special damages from the Nigeria Police Force and Guarantee Trust Bank Plc.

Utomwen's victory represents the largest award for any journalist in Nigeria's 52-year history as an independent nation and sets a clear precedent for the country's beleaguered press.

Benedict Uwalaka after his attack. (Premium Times)

Hardly ever do Nigerian journalists get justice for assaults suffered in the line of duty. But things may be set to change with the case of Benedict Uwalaka, a photojournalist with Leadership Newspapers, who on August 9 was brutally assaulted at a government hospital in Lagos State. The first step toward justice came 22 days later, when Bayo Ogunsola, one of the assailants identified by Uwalaka, was arraigned in court on August 31 on a two-count charge of assault and destruction of the journalist's camera. Ogunsola pleaded not guilty on both counts.

Selma Lomax. (FrontPage Africa)

A private university in Liberia has suspended a journalist studying there for publishing a newspaper story critical of the institution's management.

On May 8, private Cuttington University in Suacoco in central Liberia suspended Selma Lomax, a reporter with independent newspaper FrontPage Africa and a third-year student in agriculture at the institution, for four months over an April 26 story analyzing the financial struggles of the university. FrontPage Africa had previously reported on constraints plaguing the university since its founder and leading donor, the Episcopal Church of the United States, withdrew a major portion of funding. Based on interviews with university employees, Lomax's story discussed controversy over university President Henrique Tokpa, who has been accused of mismanagement and nepotism.

Police shielded parliamentarian and former state governor Bukola Saraki, left, from journalists after he was questioned by a police fraud unit. (247nigerianewsupdate.com)

On World Press Freedom Day last week, Nigeria's Information Minister, Labaran Maku, publicly asserted that the country's media "is one of the freest in the universe." On paper, Nigeria's 1999 Constitution guarantees the freedom of the press to "uphold...the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people." But seven journalists who attempted to put this principle to practice on World Press Freedom Day experienced a different reality -- one all too common for independent journalists working in Africa's most populated nation.

Equatorial Guinea President
Teodoro Obiang (Reuters/James Akena)

To commemorate World Press Freedom Day on May 3, CPJ published a list of the 10 most censored countries, citing Equatorial Guinea as the fifth worst offender. In response, the Minister of Information and government spokesperson, Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro, dismissed the analysis of the country's press situation as biased.

"We are going to communicate with those international media organizations who are out to destroy the image of the country," Ecoro told me last week. "They have a biased opinion of the situation in the country."

The story that ignited controversy, generated threats, and forced a government to take a stand.

Liberian journalist Mae Azango's courageous reporting on female genital mutilation, which made her the target of threats and ignited international controversy, has forced her government to finally take a public position on the dangerous ritual. For the first time, Liberian officials have declared they want to stop female genital mutilation, a traditional practice passed down for generations. Involving the total or partial removal of the clitoris, the ritual is practiced by the Sande secret women's society. As many as two out of every three Liberian girls in ten out of Liberia's 16 tribes are subjected to the practice, according to news accounts. 

Lalla Cissokho (Courtesy of Cissokho)

Last week, a judge in Senegal convicted a man of assaulting three journalists outside their newspaper's office in the capital Dakar last month. The attack was not related to journalism, but the quick arrest and prosecution of the perpetrator serves as an instructive contrast between the handling of an ordinary crime and the handling of abuses against journalists in the line of duty - cases which are usually politicized, stalled, or both.

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