the right to know

Press Freedom: Is Africa a ‘laboratory of disinformation’? 

By Damien Glez

Posted on May 5, 2023 08:50

 © Image by Damien Glez
Image by Damien Glez

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, professionals in the sector note a deterioration in the working conditions of journalists, particularly in West African countries, and not only those experiencing a security crisis. 

There were frowns all around as journalists marked the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. UN Secretary-General António Guterres acknowledged that, over the past three decades, there has been progress in laws guaranteeing access to information.

However, as many observers have lamented, both old and new ills continue to plague the industry. Assassinations (55 journalists and four media workers were killed in 2022, according to Reporters Without Borders), harassment, arrests, kidnappings, a business model undermined by technology, and – this is the defining trend of the contemporary era – an avalanche of racy content, disinformation, conspiracy, propaganda, hateful diatribes, and counterproductive commentary that often drowns out quality content.

‘No stranger’

Africa is no stranger to this. Guterres denounced the attacks on press freedom “in every corner of the world”, even though “freedom of expression as the driving force behind all other human rights” was chosen as the theme for the 2023 edition of this annual public holiday.

Reporters Without Borders noted a deterioration in working conditions in countries that are not directly threatened by terrorist aggression.

In the 21st World Press Freedom Index that evaluates 180 nations, Senegal – a pluralist society – plummeted from 73rd to 104th in just one year. An upsurge in verbal, physical, and legal threats against Senegalese journalists has led to fears that the right to information is steadily being eroded.

The call of the 30

Elsewhere, the continent – especially its sub-Saharan regions – is described by Reporters Without Borders as “the new laboratory of disinformation and propaganda”, especially in areas rife with conflict and security concerns.

Aware of these threats, 30 African and international organisations and media outlets have launched an appeal to the authorities of Burkina Faso and Mali.

This heterogeneous team is made up of various associations, press centres, federations, and other foundations; international media that are locally censored (France 24 and RFI); others whose correspondents have been banned (Libération, Le Monde, and our French counterpart Jeune Afrique, whose special envoy was expelled from Mali); and local press organs such as the Malian-based Joliba TV News or the Burkinabe Courrier Confidentiel

They issued a joint statement denouncing measures “likely to jeopardise the fundamental right of citizens to be informed”, with the complicity of “influencers who play vigilante and do not hesitate to threaten journalists and opinion leaders with death”.

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