By Florence Gichoya
There is a systematic stifling of the media by oppressive regimes and extremists. The rising numbers of journalists killed or jailed across the globe because of doing their job is of great concern to any society.
Peter Julius Moi, a 27 year old South Sudanese journalist was murdered on August 21 2015 in Juba by unknown assailants. He was a print journalist and wrote for the bi-monthly ‘New Nation’ newspaper and ‘The Corporate’ a weekly newspaper.
His tragic death came three days after President Salva Kiir threatened the media just before he left the country to attend peace talks in Ethiopia. “Freedom of the press does not mean that you work against your country. If anybody does not know that this country will kill people, we will demonstrate on them,” he said.
Irina Bokova, the Director General of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) condemned the heinous attack and urged South Sudan government to expedite the investigations in the interest of upholding press freedom and the rule of law. “Journalists are the voices of the people and when violence is used to silence one of them, society as a whole suffers,” Irina indicated.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) South Sudan is the second deadliest country for journalists globally and comes after France. Peter Julius Moi was the seventh journalist to be killed in the country this year alone.
CPJ confirms that 39 journalists have been killed across the globe in 2015. Since 1992 around 1,142 journalists have lost their lives while in the line of duty. Iraq tops the list with 67 deaths followed by Algeria (60) deaths and neighbouring Somalia comes in third with 57 deaths.
221 journalists were imprisoned as of December 2014. In Africa, Eritrea tops the list with 23 journalists jailed without trial. It is also the most censored country in the world and operates on presidential decrees since its constitution was suspended. Ethiopia comes in second with 17 imprisoned journalists attributed to the repressive 2009 anti-terrorism law that criminalizes any media reporting that authorities consider to ‘encourage’ or ‘provide moral support’ to banned groups.
While journalists’ lives are most endangered in conflict zones and in despotic regimes, there is an upsurge of threats in seeming ‘peaceful’ countries. In USA, news reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward were shot at by Vester Lee Flanagan II, a disgruntled former colleague on August 26, 2015. They worked for WDBJ TV station and were attacked during a live-on-air interview recording.
Brazilian journalist Gleydson Carvalho worked for Radio Liberdade FM station and was very vocal on political corruption. He was killed on August 6 2015 while on-air by assailants who stormed his workstation as he presented his mid-morning radio show.
Early this year, the world was shocked when 8 French journalists working for satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ were murdered by terrorists. The motive of the attack was the magazine’s publishing of cartoons depicting Muslim prophet Mohamed.
Judicial intimidation on media
Journalists facing oppression have fled their home countries in large numbers. According to CPJ, since 2010 more than 452 journalists are living in exile. Syria’s 101 journalists have fled the country. In Africa, Ethiopia tops with 57 followed by Eritrea where 32 have fled. The topmost countries considered a safe haven for exiled journalists are USA, Turkey and Kenya.
In Ethiopia ten members of ‘Zone9Bloggers’ who wrote on human rights and governance issues were arrested on April 25 2014. The government charged them for using internet and social media platforms with the intent to ‘overthrow, modify or suspend the Ethiopian Federal State Constitution’. The leadership somehow succumbed to international pressure and released five bloggers before USA President Barack Obama’s visit to Ethiopia in July. It was such an unexpected move that the bloggers’ lawyer learnt about their release through the state media. The case has been adjourned for a record 36 times as the government calculates its next move.
In West Africa, as Cameroon is involved in fighting Boko haram insurgency it is not allowing any criticism or divergent opinion especially from the media. The country’s National Communication Council (NCC) shut down ‘Afrique Media’ a pan-African television channel. A government official justified the move by saying that the work of the media is to inform and not ‘behave like judges.’ The media house had reported on Cameroon’s Boko haram war and implied that France could be funding the terror group since confiscated firearms from the group came from France.
When Egypt’s military overthrew the Muslim brotherhood government, a diplomatic war erupted between Egypt and Qatar. On December 29 2013 Egypt arrested three journalists who worked for Qatar owned Al Jazeera media house. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were charged for biased reporting on ousted leader Mohamed Morsi and Muslim brotherhood. They denied the charges and were later released after global diplomatic pressure.
The escalating threat on press freedom should be checked since journalists are simply carriers of information. Intimidation and killing of reporters will only push the media to self-censor its work in order to survive, the result of which will be a disservice to the public’s right to information.