Strong Public Support for 'Watchdog' Role Backs African News Media under Attack

"More than 100 journalists have fled tiny Burundi to escape repression and danger, according to Reporters Without Borders – a dramatic illustration of the impact of a “deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels”. If a free press is a pillar of a free society, Africa marks World Press Freedom Day 2016 (May 3) amid growing concerns that this pillar is under attack by governments determined to silence critics. Free-press champions report growing numbers of journalists who have been harassed, intimidated, arrested, tortured, or exiled (Media Foundation for West Africa, 2015a, 2015b; Amnesty International, 2016). Freedom House (2016) says global press freedom has “declined to its lowest point in 12 years.” Some states have enacted repressive laws to censor journalists, often citing as justification a need to fight violent extremism (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya) or to stop publication of “false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate information” (Tanzania) that could undermine “national unity, public order and security, morality, and good conduct” (Burundi). Beyond government repression, threats to media freedom come from violent non-state actors (such as extremist groups in Nigeria and Mali), influence-wielding officials, and even self-censoring journalists."