JOHANNESBURG, May 3 – Journalists met in Ghana’s capital Accra on Thursday to mark World Press Freedom Day, with freedom of the media on the African continent coming under scrutiny.
According to Reporters Without Borders’ (RWB) Press Freedom Index for 2018, South Africa ranks third on the continent for media freedom, with Ghana ranked Africa’s freest country when it comes to the press, coming in at 23 internationally out of a total of 180 countries.
Namibia follows Ghana at number 26 while South Africa is ranked 28th internationally. Towards the lower end of the index, Togo comes in at 86th internationally, Liberia at 89, Tanzania at 93 and Kenya at 96.
Kenya had previously been regarded as having a freer media but a crackdown on the press following the political unrest and violence surrounding last year’s presidential elections brought its ranking down.
At the bottom of the index is Ethiopia at 150 while Rwanda is ranked 156 internationally, Burundi at 159, Egypt at 161, Libya 162, Somalia 168, Equatorial Guinea 171, Djibouti 173 and Sudan comes in at a low of 174.
The dubious reputation for having the least freedom of press on the continent goes to Eritrea which scores a dismal ranking of 179 internationally – with only North Korea ranking lower.
However, across sub-Sahara Africa, governments are continuing their crack down on the media even if their rankings are not at the absolute bottom end of the freedom index.
Uganda in April ordered internet service providers to shut down all news sites that had not been authorised by the communications regulator, as the latest attempt by President Yoweri Museveni’s government to constrict the space for independent media.
The regulator said only 14 online publishers had met the requirements to remain online, including a $20 fee and an Interpol clearance certificate.
Tanzanian president John Magufuli now requires bloggers to register, a privilege that could cost an initial $484 and another $440 annually.
According to RWB, almost all of Angola’s media continues to be under the control of the government and ruling party. Journalists who are too critical of the government or who dare to cover corruption cases are usually arrested or prosecuted for defamation. The government passed a series of media and communication laws in 2016 that put a government-controlled regulatory authority in charge of registering and punishing media and journalists and this continues despite the swearing in of a new government.
Some positive news comes out of Gambia, however. After just over a year under President Adama Barrow, the page is turning for the Gambian media, which is blossoming in an unprecedented manner. Private broadcast media have been launched and the print media is no longer afraid to criticise the government.
Last year the Gambia was ranked 143 internationally but this year comes in at number 122 internationally, a 21-place rise on RWB’s freedom index.