African countries slide in press freedom rankings
It has been a bad year for the fourth estate across much of Africa, with 37 African countries falling in the rankings of the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) publishes the annual index as a measure of the freedom of the media and journalists around the world. According to the new index, press freedom is declining across the world as more governments tighten their controls on media.
The trends for the African region mirror this. While 12 African countries saw an improvement in their score compared to last year, 37 saw their scores deteriorate. Only four remained the same.
Two African countries fell far enough to enter the ‘very bad’ category. Burundi fell four places to 160th and Egypt fell two places to 161st. This brings the total number of African states in the lowest grouping to nine (Eritrea, Sudan, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Somalia and Libya also place here).
According to RSF, these are countries where the press is severely restricted and journalists and the media enjoy little or no freedom on what they can write or publish. There are also frequent reports of journalists disappearing or the forced shutdown of privately owned media outlets.
There are several bright spots. Namibia has again been crowned the best country for press freedom in the region for the fifth year in a row. It has, however, fallen in global rank from 17th in the 2016 index to 24th in the 2017 version primarily due to improvements within other countries.
RSF does warn that there is some cause for concern. Public order and security legislation is often used to restrict freedom of information. Journalists can also be targeted by political parties. Nevertheless Namibia's legislative safeguards remain strong: media freedom is guaranteed under the constitution.
Ghana placed second in Africa for the third year in a row and 26th globally for the second year running. There has been some harassment of journalists in recent years, notably over ‘false news’ which is prohibited under the 1960 penal code.The 1992 constitution, however, guarantees media pluralism and independence.
Cape Verde placed third in Africa and 27th globally, moving up the by five places. Similar to the others, it enjoys relative press freedom which is guaranteed by the constitution. A degree of self-censorship is common in small countries, RSF notes, due to the implications for future employment opportunities.
On the other end of the spectrum, press freedom in Djibouti has suffered because there is no media pluralism. All the media outlets within the country are state-owned. The Freedom of Communication Law guarantees that no independent outlets can operate within the country. Those that are deemed to have committed media offences can be imprisoned. The law also imposes age and nationality restrictions on those who can publish information. The only independent media outlet, La Voix de Djibouti, operates from Europe. In the 2017 index Djibouti scored 70.54 out of 100, ranking 172nd globally.
Sudan ranked 174th in the 2017 index for the third year running. It scored 73.56, a worsening of 1.03 points from 2016, indicating that media freedom has been further curtailed. Press freedom is restricted by the National Intelligence and Security Service who, in 2015, were granted powers equivalent to those of the army. A number of newspapers have been shut down and the government censors all print media.
Eritrea, one of the world’s most politically isolated countries, has ranked in the ‘very bad’ category every year since the index started publishing. In the 2017 report, Eritrea (179th) moved up from last place by one position giving way to North Korea which ranked last.
The authoritarian government in Eritrea has full control over the press. In 2016, foreign news agencies were allowed to enter the country but under strict conditions and close escort.
Data in this article was accessed via Analyse Africa, the database that aggregates macroeconomic data on Africa's 54 countries from world renowned data providers. For more information go to www.analyseafrica.com.
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