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Africa’s media is under siege


THREE issues stand out for us as we mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day, whose theme is “Journalism under digital siege”.

First, many governments in Africa still think they can achieve economic progress and political developments, including democracy, without a free media. But economic principles would hardly be sound without free flow of ideas and information. We must therefore help them see this reality. Free expression facilitates and enables economic growth.

Secondly, a lot of value created by the media on our content is exported outside Africa by Big Tech. We must find ways that allow Big Tech to participate in content distribution, but also in sharing the cost of creating that content. They have done this in parts of Europe and Asia and must not treat Africa any less.

The last issue, and probably the most important as we gather as a continent today, has to do with newsroom safety and media sustainability. We have seen tremendous gains. We must celebrate these achievements. However, there are still serious threats facing the media.

The East African Editors Society (EAES) calls upon us all, as Africans and the international community, to work towards progress.

The EAES is the umbrella body bringing together editor organisations in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

There are journalists around the world spending this World Press Freedom Day behind bars. We stand in solidarity with them.

Last year at least 28 journalists were killed while on the job or in retaliation for their work around the world according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which continues to investigate the motives behind the killing of 17 other journalists slain last year. While this number was lower than the previous year, it is a stark reminder that journalism continues to be a dangerous job. We lost journalists in Somalia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and DRC. Since January 2022, CPJ has confirmed that at least 16 journalists have been killed in connection to their work globally.

In our region today, there are journalists detained including in Rwanda, Ethiopia, in Eritrea (most of them behind bars since 2001), and in Hargeisa. Lest we forget:

  • Media regulation is going through new stress in Kenya, as the co-regulatory mechanism is tested in significant ways. We continue to engage and hope to find ways that keep the sanctity of the editorial space.
  • In Ethiopia, Amir Aman Kiyaro of the Associated Press, and freelancer Thomas Engida have been held for months since being arrested in November 2021 without any formal charge although the police accused them of “promoting terrorism”.
  • In Uganda, authorities arrested nine journalists in March this year for what they termed “involvement in offensive communication and promoting hate speech.” The journalists arrested from Alternative Digital are Mukose Arnold, Faridah Bikobere, Jeremiah Mukiibi, Tumusiime Kato, Tulyahabwe Roger, Nabukeera Teddy Teangle, Lillian Luwedde and Wabyona Jeje Jacob.
  • Somali journalist Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled was killed in a suicide attack in November 2021. He worked for Radio Mogadishu. In April 2022, freelance cameraman Zakariye Mohamed Mohamud Moallim was killed in Mogadishu.

These trends are also testament to how journalists on the front lines, keeping the public informed on conflict continue to pay the ultimate price. We must not forget:

Last year, amid the war, was the first time since 1998 that the CPJ documented the killing of an Ethiopian journalist in connection to their work;

On February 9, 2022, unidentified people in Chad shot and killed Evariste Djailoramdji, a reporter working for the local broadcaster Lotiko Radio, while he covered a conflict in the area;

Somalia continues to be one of the most dangerous countries for journalists where those killed are often targeted by the al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based terrorist jihadist fundamentalist group.

And we are all too aware of the terrible toll that the Ukrainian conflict is taking on the journalistic community.

We must also remember our colleagues who have disappeared over the years, and whose families continue to live without answers about their fate. For instance:

  •  Burundian journalist Jean Bigirimana who went missing in 2016 after going to meet a Source;
  • AFP’s Acquitté Kisembo who was last seen in the DRC in 2003;
  • Investigative journalist Guy-André Kieffer who disappeared in the Ivory Coast after receiving threats;
  • And here, our very own Azory Gwanda, who disappeared in 2017.

These colleagues are missing. Not forgotten. And we will continue to pursue answers about their whereabouts/fate.

There are journalists around the world spending this World Press Freedom Day behind bars. We stand in solidarity with them. In our region today there are journalists detained, including in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Eritrea (most of them behind bars since 2001), and Hargeisa.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen.

Journalists also operate in difficult legal frameworks. We have heard repeatedly during this conference about laws ostensibly meant to tackle cybercrime or misinformation or hate speech being turned against legitimate journalism. We are glad to hear that the government here is embarking on a review of media laws and hope that Tanzania will set the example for others by putting in place laws that protect and nurture the journalistic profession and the people’s right to know.

  • This is an edited version of an address by Churchill Otieno, Chairperson of the East African Editors Society at the Africa Media Convention held in Arush in celebration of World Press Freedom Day.