The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) notes in its ‘Press Freedom in Africa 2010’ report that Africa recorded some 322 press freedom alerts in 2010, which is an increase of about 43.16%, compared with 2009.
The alerts – made by the Africa Office of the Inter-national Federation of Journ-alists (IFJ), the FAJ and the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) – showed an average of about 6.19 alerts were made each week, 0.88 alerts were made each day and 1.23 alerts were made each working day, which, the report states, is an “increasingly disturbing situation”.
It is disturbing, as press freedom on the African continent is already low and statistics show an increasing level of violations against press freedom and human rights.
However, on a more positive note, the report reveals that the killing and assassination of journalists has decreased, compared with 2009. Alerts issued through the IFJ network related to the assassination of journalists decreased by 7.14% in 2010, compared with 0.62% in 2009, a figure which excluded journalists who died following occupational accidents that occurred in the discharge of their mission.
Physical attacks against journalists, however, increased by 9.31% in 2010. Arrests and intimidation were the most widespread strategy used to prevent journalists and the media from performing their work, with 16.77% of alerts issued being related to the arrest of journalists and 14.59% of alerts related to intimidation.
The same applies to the imprisonment of journalists which, at 14.59% of alerts issued in 2010, is among the most serious concerns for advocates of press freedom and human rights. For most of the cases reported, the legal justification for their imprisonment still needs to be established.
Further, major constraints that African journalists had to face consisted of verbal or physical threats, with 6.52% of alerts issued relating to the matter. Alerts related to the closure and suspension of the media increased by 7.14% in 2010.
Phenomena such as the abduction of journalists, at 1.24%, the destruction of the media, at 2.79%, fines, at 2.79%, and the exile of journalists, at 0.93% of alerts, are statistically low but were among the major concerns in 2010.
At regional level, East Africa remained the hottest region of the continent with 198 alerts issued, which is about 3.80 alerts each week or 0.54 alerts a day.
This is followed by Central Africa with 10.86% of the alerts, then West Africa with 10.24% of the alerts and Southern Africa with 9.93% of the alerts.
North Africa follows closely with 7.76% of alerts, but was among the regions in which press freedom was the most threatened. The region only has five countries, which makes the alert rate high.
The level of alert output in East Africa is partly explained by the high levels of violence in the Horn of Africa, but also by the establishment of a network of media monitors across the East Africa region. This has significantly enhanced the ability of the EAJA to monitor all incidents against journalists.
In East Africa, five countries particularly stand out in press freedom violations. The total percentage of alerts allocated to the five countries in East Africa include 16.45% of the alerts issued in Somalia alone. This represents an average of slightly over one alert every week. It is followed by Uganda at 12.42%, Ethiopia at 9%, Sudan at 7.45% and Burundi with 5.59% of alerts.
In Central Africa, Came-roon’s poor performance this year led the IFJ to initiate an international campaign to sensitise the country’s author-ities to the urgent need to improve the working conditions of journalists.
The Democratic Republic of Congo had 3.72% of alerts and is still on the list of the most dangerous countries for journ-alists.
In West Africa, three countries which behaved well in 2009 stood out, owing to a sudden upturn in violations of press freedom and threats against journalists and the media in 2010. These are Sierra Leone at 2.48%, Togo at 2.17% and Côte d’Ivoire with 1.55% of all alerts.
In Southern Africa, Angola’s, Zimbabwe’s, Swaziland’s and South Africa’s press freedom violations increased.
In North Africa, as was the case in 2009, Tunisia stood out in the imprisonment of journ-alists and the efforts it pursued to gag and control independent trade unionism in the media sector. Further, the repeated violations of public freedom precipitated the downfall of President Ben Ali.
However, the alert system conceals certain realities – for example, few alerts concerning countries such as Eritrea, Libya, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Swaziland and Gambia were issued because fear has been imposed on those harbouring any thought of independence, particularly advocates of freedom of the press and of opinion.
This has resulted in self-censorship by journalists, the media and even citizens. In all these countries, it is extremely difficult to find sufficiently courageous intermediaries to openly shoulder the respons-ibility for informing inter- national opinion about the truth of activities in their countries.