COVID-19 has been identified as a burning factor fuelling the use of force to prevent journalists from working in Africa. This was said by Reporters without Borders in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, indicating that although there was less deterioration in Africa’s “Abuses” score, it continues to be the most violent continent for journalists.
The 2021 Index shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation. The data reflects a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage, further showing that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Africa, Asia and Europe.
After a wave of liberalisation in the 1990s in Senegal, Eritrea and Djibouti, press freedom violations are now only too common. They include arbitrary censorship, especially on the internet (by means of ad hoc internet cuts in some countries), arrests of journalists on the ground of combatting cybercrime, fake news or terrorism, and acts of violence against media personnel that usually go completely unpublished.
Reporters without Borders say respect for press freedom is still largely dependent on the political and financial influence that undermines their independence. For the most part, it says, State-owned media still tend to be governmental mouthpieces or propaganda tools and have a long way to go before they become independent public service media reflecting a wide range of opinion.
On the pretext of combatting disinformation and hate speech, many countries in Africa have adopted new laws in recent years with vague and draconian provisions that can easily be used to gag journalists.
It has been said that an increase in online attacks is another disturbing phenomenon making Africa a bad space for journalists in this era. These attacks are often by trolls close or directly linked to the government that are designed to discredit or intimidate journalists.
The report by Reporters without Borders show that African journalists were hit hard by the Coronavirus in 2020, suffering three times as many attacks and arrests from 15 March to 15 May as during the same period the year before.
Ranked number 38 globally, Botswana’s press freedom violations are said to have declined since President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over. Masisi, according to Reporters without Borders, has given at least frequent press conferences, unlike Ian Khama, who gave none.
Nonetheless, there is still no law on access to information, which journalists have long been demanding. The few privately-owned newspapers depend on advertising that they may or may not receive from the State.
Three years after taking office, Masisi has yet to keep his promise to revise draconian laws such as the 2008 Media Practitioners Act, which restricts their freedom to inform, journalists say, and the law on access to information.
In 2020, Botswana saw journalists being arrested and detained at holding cells by State security spies while on duty. The said journalists were interrogated, and their gadgets confiscated. Prior to that, one female journalist was ambushed by security officers at her home.
Even though Namibia has been doing well in protecting and giving journalists freedom since 2019, in 2020 several reporters were briefly arrested and some given warnings after putting a question to the President, and many media outlets were barred from government press conferences about the Coronavirus crisis.
It was against this background that a Namibian journalists’ union was formed in 2021, the first since the country became independent. Namibia is ranked number 23 in this year’s Press Freedom Index, becoming one of the countries in Africa doing well in respecting journalists.
In Ghana, a group of investigative journalists had to spend part of 2018 in hiding after producing a documentary about corruption in Ghanaian soccer. A ruling party parliamentarian who had been named in the documentary publicly threatened one of the journalists without ever being arrested or questioned.
According to Reporters without Borders, the journalist was shot dead in the street a few months later. Investigative reporters are often threatened even though journalists are rarely arrested. It was reported that, most cases of police aggression against journalists go unpublished but timid attempts have been made to combat this impunity.
South Africa’s 1996 constitution protects press freedom, but the State security agency spies on some journalists and taps their phones. Others are harassed and subjected to intimidation campaigns if they try to cover certain subjects involving the ruling African National Congress (ANC), government finances, the redistribution of land to the black population or corruption.
The opposition party in South Africa, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema was given a high court warning in 2019 because of its invective and hate speech against journalists. In 2020, the COVID-19 crisis did not spare journalism in South Africa.
Rubber bullets were fired at a reporter covering compliance with lockdown measures and a community newspaper editor even had to flee abroad after being threatened by the police for covering a lockdown-related story, RWB said.
The Djibouti 1992 Freedom of Communication Law is itself is an obstacle to free speech and media pluralism. It provides for jail terms for media offences and imposes age and nationality restrictions on those who can create a media outlet. In terms of media freedom, Djibouti is ranked 176th, 5th position from the lowest bottom.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) has indicated concern about the ongoing trend where the general public falls victim to criminals purporting to be police officers.
According to BPS Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, the criminals target individuals at shopping malls and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where upon approaching the unsuspecting individual the criminals would pretend to have picked a substantial amount of money and they would make a proposal to the victims that the money is counted and shared in an isolated place.
“On the way, as they stop at the isolated place, they would start to count and sharing of the money, a criminal syndicate claiming to be Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer investigating a case of stolen money will approach them,” said Motube in a statement.
The Commissioner indicated that the fake police officers would instruct the victims to hand over all the cash they have in their possession, including bank cards and Personal Identification Number (PIN), the perpetrators would then proceed to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
Motube also revealed that they are also investigating a case in which a 69 year old Motswana woman from Molepolole- who is a victim of the scam- lost over P62 000 last week Friday to the said perpetrators.
“The Criminal syndicate introduced themselves as CID officers investigating a case of robbery where a man accompanying the woman was the suspect.’’
They subsequently went to the woman’s place and took cash amounting to over P12 000 and further swindled amount of P50 000 from the woman’s bank account under the pretext of the further investigations.
In addition, Motube said they are currently investigating the matter and therefore warned the public to be vigilant of such characters and further reminds the public that no police officer would ask for bank cards and PINs during the investigations.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership walked out of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week on account of being targeted by other cooperating partners.
UDC meet for the first time since 2020 after previous futile attempts, but the meeting turned into a circus after other members of the executive pushed for BCP to explain its role in media statements that disparate either UDC and/or contracting parties.
The Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), Tymon Katlholo’s spirited fight against the contentious transfers of his management team has forced the Office of the President to rescind the controversial decision. However, some insiders suggest that the reversal of the transfers may have left some interested parties with bruised egos and nursing red wounds.
The transfers were seen by observers as a badly calculated move to emasculate the DCEC which is seen as defiant against certain objectionable objectives by certain law enforcement agencies – who are proven decisionists with very little regard for the law and principle.