In 2015, global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 12 years

Journalists in East and Southern Africa suffered a sharp increase in political pressure and violence, a new report from Freedom House says.

The Freedom of the Press 2016 report, released this week, says heightened partnership, polarisation, extralegal intimidation and physical violence against journalists caused a decline in media freedoms in Africa and around the world. It states: “Global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 12 years in 2015.”

Uganda is one of the countries that experienced a clamp down on press freedom in 2015. According to the report, this was the result of increased harassment of journalists attempting to cover opposition politicians. Additionally, the decline was caused by “a growth in bribery in exchange for favourable election-related reporting”.

Similar findings about Uganda’s narrowing space for free media were reported earlier this month by Reporters Without Borders. In its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, it says: “Countries with political crises fell in the rankings. In Republic of Congo (115th), Uganda (102nd) and Djibouti (172nd), a presidential desire to hold on to power led to pre-election violence against journalists and harsh, government-orchestrated censorship of the media.”

Freedom House notes that several East African countries also suffered a decline in media freedoms. In Kenya, this was caused by greater government pressure in the form of threats and oppressive laws, while Tanzania passed “two highly restrictive laws”: the Statistics Act and the Cybercrimes Act.

In Burundi suppression and opposition of free media led to the closure or destruction of almost all independent media outlets, and intimidation and violence against journalists drove many into exile.

Key findings in the Freedom of the Press 2016 report

Only 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a free press—that is, where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.

Forty-one percent of the world’s population has a Partly Free press, and 46 percent live in Not Free media environments.

Significant gains in Africa

Burkina Faso improved due to the removal of prison sentences as punishment for libel, renewed attempts to end impunity for past crimes against journalists, and a decrease in state interference in news content.

Significant declines in Africa

Ghana declined due to stepped-up attempts to limit coverage of news events and confiscation of equipment; increases in violence directed at journalists by the police, the military, political party members, and ordinary citizens, including the first murder of a journalist in more than 20 years; and continued electricity outages that impaired media production and distribution.

Tunisia declined due to an increase in prosecutions of journalists and bloggers, repeated assaults by security forces on media personnel in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, and increased government pressure on the national broadcaster and the independent media regulatory body.

Zimbabwe declined due to increased threats and attacks on media personnel, including the disappearance of a prominent local journalist; continued arrests of journalists for libel in defiance of a constitutional court ruling; and an economic crisis that led two media houses to shut down.

Burundi declined due to the closure and destruction of independent media outlets and extensive harassment and violence against journalists, which drove many into exile.

Egypt declined due to more uniform pro-government bias in the media, increased physical abuse of journalists, and recurrent destruction of newspaper pressruns when officials objected to content.

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Read the full report here.

Grace Natabaalo

Grace Natabaalo is a programme assistant at the African Centre for Media Excellence.

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