Covid-19 exposed the vulnerability of African journalists, new study finds

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that the role of African journalists in nurturing democracy through fact-based and pluralistic debate is still far from assured, a new study from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) indicates.

In its 2020 World Press Freedom Index RSF notes that instead of allowing journalists to do their job of reporting the news, authorities sought to control coverage of the pandemic and often facilitated or directly contribute to hostility and mistrust to those trying to provide objective, researched reporting. Resultantly, RSF registered three times as many arrests and attacks on journalists in sub-Saharan Africa between 15 March and 15 May, 2020.

The attacks were widespread throughout the continent. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, one journalist ended up with a broken leg as he covered the crisis. To the south in Zimbabwe, investigative reporter Hopewell Chin’ono, was arrested after helping to expose overbilling by a company supplying medical equipment to combat Covid-19. In Comoros, newspaper reporter Andjouza Abouheir was threatened with prosecution after she revealed that the country had reported no coronavirus cases because samples taken from persons suspected of being infected had not been sent for analysis.

RSF says this surge in abuses served as a reminder that African journalists are only too often regarded as enemies to be controlled or suppressed, rather than allies who can help address contemporary challenges and crises. The marked increase in abuses is reflected in a 13% deterioration in the Index’s violations indicator for the region in the past year and is one of the reasons why Africa remains the world’s most dangerous continent for journalists in 2021, according to RSF analysis.

For the full World Press Freedom Index and regional analyses of press freedom in 2020, visit the RSF website.

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