South Africa’s status as a regional model for press freedom continues to take a beating and its press freedom barometer continues to slip further, and for the first time since the index was established the country is no longer in the top 50, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) revealed in its World Press Freedom 2013 Index released last week.
The country of Nelson Mandela, a leader who always dreamed of a continent living in peace with itself, has seen its media freedom peace disturbed as the southern African nation could only manage a modest 52nd place, 10 places down from 2012 (42nd) and 19 places down from 2009 when it was ranked 33rd.
The challenges facing free reporting in SA include the controversial Protection of Information Bill and the increasingly mediaphobic behaviour of security forces and the ANC government’s towards critical journalists. Police continue to arrest journalists, photographers, and TV camera staff at crime scenes and confiscate their equipment, while media analysts believe the Information Bill will seriously curtail free reporting and ‘kill’ investigative journalism,
On the other end of the continent, war-hit Mali has taken the biggest fall of all – 74 places down, from 25th last year to 99th this year – as a result of a military coup that fuelled tension and brought fear into newsrooms.
RSF said: “Many journalists in Mali were physically attacked in the capital and the army now controls the state-owned media.”
The French army, who have been conducting military operations in the north alongside Mali troops, have also barred journalists from entering the frontline, claiming it was too ‘dangerous’ to do so.
Tanzania, ranked 70th from 34th last year, was also another country singled out by the RSF World Press Freedom Index 2013, which said the country sank more than 30 places because, in the space of four months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered.
For Senegal, supposedly a democratic model for Africa, RSF ranked the country 59th, 16 places up from 75th last year, saying the year 2012 was a year of hope.
The Paris-based organisation said: “The presidential election took place in a peaceful atmosphere for the media, despite a few regrettable assaults on journalists, and President Macky Sall, who had declared himself willing to decriminalise press offences, took office. Much remains to be proved in 2013, as was illustrated by the prison sentence handed down on a journalist in December.”
Angola, Zimbabwe, DRC and Rwanda remain clogged at the bottom of the index, ranking 130th, 133rd, 142nd and 161st, respectively, while Eritrea is holding the tail of the index with its 179th position out of 179 countries.
*Photo by Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters.