How robust are the institutional safeguards that underpin Nelson Mandela's vision of a strong and independent South African media? By Sue Valentine
Burundi's climate of press freedom deteriorated under President Pierre Nkurunziza in 2013. In June, the president signed into law a severely restrictive bill that forces journalists to reveal sources and places heavy fines and prison sentences on coverage the government considers detrimental to state security or the local economy. In April, CPJ wrote an open letter to the president, calling the law an "affront to the Burundi Constitution," and highlighting specific articles especially restrictive for journalists. Several journalists were attacked over the year, some by police officers attempting to quell a weekly protest by reporters calling for the release of their imprisoned colleague, Bonesha FM correspondent Hassan Ruvakuki. In March, Ruvakuki was released from prison with no explanation. He had been sentenced to prison in November 2011 for "participating with a criminal group" and spent 463 days in jail.
Violations of press freedom, including physical attacks on journalists, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and censorship across the country declined in 2013, compared with the previous year. Several journalists were attacked over the year; the eastern province of North Kivu, where fighting flared between government forces and rebel groups, was the most dangerous region for journalists, according to CPJ research. Local officials and rebels there censored broadcasters and harassed local and international journalists over coverage of the conflict. The state-run media regulatory agency suspended radio programs and journalists airing commentary critical of the authorities. Several soldiers were placed under investigation in connection with an attack on a community radio station in January. Although the reason for the attack was not clear, the station had aired several reports that criticized the military.
A year after the death of Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn succeeded in preserving the repressive climate in Ethiopia. Several journalists faced interrogation or prosecution for writing about the late leader, his policies, and even his widow. One journalist, Temesghen Desalegn, former chief editor of the critical weekly Feteh, was charged in February with defaming the government in connection with his articles on Meles. Some reporters attempting to cover other sensitive topics, like anti-government protests and the forced eviction of farmers, were also detained and harassed, while others fled the country fearing arrest. The government did not disclose the health, whereabouts, or legal status of two journalists who have been in custody for seven years. Authorities banned two independent newspapers, accusing them of violating press regulations, as well as a private broadcaster which was reporting extensively on peaceful protests by Ethiopian Muslims. The country faced international condemnation over the imprisonment of award-winning journalists Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, and Woubshet Taye, who were serving heavy terms on vague terrorism charges, but the Ethiopian government retaliated by imposing harsher conditions on them, including the threat of solitary confinement. Authorities continued to crack down on the online press by increasing its “technological capacity to filter, block, and monitor Internet and mobile phone communications,” according to an October report by Freedom House.
Anti-press attacks increased in Guinea in 2013 amid political unrest and inter-ethnic clashes in the run-up to the country's long-delayed legislative elections. The voting was finally held on September 28 and won by President Alpha Condé's party. Journalists were threatened and assaulted while covering pre-election activities, with some saying the assailants were security forces or political party supporters. Journalists were caught up in tension between supporters of Condé, mostly of the Malinke ethnicity, and opposition militants of the mainly Peul ethnicity. Some journalists were also accused of being spies for political parties. Government officials and security forces supportive of Condé shut down radio stations, suspended and detained their staff, and barred journalists from reporting on Condé's pre-election campaign tour. Though many journalists have been attacked in Guinea over the years, CPJ research shows that not one perpetrator of an anti-press attack has been held responsible since 2008.
The government of President Yahya Jammeh sought to tighten its grip on the already weak independent press with detentions, criminal prosecutions, and the introduction of more repressive legislation. The National Intelligence Agency arbitrarily detained at least three reporters in connection with their work for prolonged periods of time. One remained in detention in late year. Authorities announced their intention to re-introduce statutory regulation of the press with a government-run Media Commission and criminalized online dissidence by passing a law imposing a harsh prison sentence on any individual, living in the country or abroad, who uses the Internet to criticize public officials. No new information surfaced on the whereabouts of journalist Ebrima “Chief” Manneh, who disappeared after being arrested by agency officers seven years ago. The government has made contradicting claims about Manneh’s whereabouts and health over the years, and has not complied with various international rulings ordering his release.
The government of President Goodluck Jonathan used legal tools as well as brutal means to clamp down on media coverage deemed critical of the government. Sensitive and dangerous topics for the press included coverage of high-level public corruption, the government's war against Boko Haram insurgents, and the political activities of the Jonathan administration. Regulatory agencies headed by Jonathan-appointed officials cracked down on radio commentary critical of the government, and banned a radio station in connection with its criticism of an official polio immunization campaign. Film regulators also banned an acclaimed documentary detailing a culture of impunity for public corruption. The administration criminally charged the independent newspaper Leadership over the publication of a memo allegedly written by the president on plans to increase gas prices and sabotage a merger of opposition political parties. Amid continuing military action against insurgents in the north, security forces also harassed a newspaper in connection with its investigative report on alleged extrajudicial detentions of terrorism suspects. The government amended the anti-terrorism law to include broadly defined offenses that criminalize some legitimate newsgathering activities, according to news reports. Nigeria appeared for the first time on CPJ's Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and killers go free.
While the Somali government elected in 2012 attempted to gain more control and improve security, attacks on journalists continued. At least five reporters were attacked by militia groups loosely connected to the government, according to news reports. CPJ documented four journalists killed in direct relation to their work in Somalia, an improvement from 2012, which was the deadliest year on record with 12 journalists killed. In early 2013, the prime minister created a task force to investigate cases of killed journalists, but little had been done by the end of the year. The international community condemned serious flaws in the Somali justice system after a court imprisoned freelance journalist Abdiaziz Abdinuur for 66 days for interviewing the victim of an alleged rape who claimed security forces were the perpetrators. The staff of a critical daily in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland was harassed over the year: The director was attacked, the paper temporarily suspended in June and again indefinitely in December, and the editor and director briefly jailed on defamation charges. The charges were later dropped. A new media law considered by local journalists as progressive was passed in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in December.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.