Journalists and media workers in Africa are consistently harassed, intimidated, assaulted, tortured, arrested incommunicado and jailed under very vague charges and sometimes killed with impunity in relation to their work. Today more than ever before, there is a perpetual increase on attacks on female journalists working online, who are systematically targeted with sexual abuse and derogatory remarks in order to silence them.
It is unfortunate to note that investigative journalists who work on exposing corruption and gross human rights abuses are “specifically targeted for murder” by the states and non- state actors. The majority of these cases cannot even reach the courts at the national level because of the lack of political will of the states to prosecute the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. The litany of deaths from 2012 to date has been long, brutal, horrifying and unacceptable. Journalists have indeed been added to the list of “endangered species”. The litany of deaths warrants the urgency for the physical safety of African journalists and the need for a robust regime that prevents, investigates, apprehends and punishes offenders.
The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 65TH Ordinary Session in November 2019 in Banjul, The Gambia states boldly in Principle 20 (1) and (2) that governments should guarantee the safety of journalists and media workers as well as to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists.
On the other hand, Agenda 2063, Aspiration 3 calls for “a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, and respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law”. This however, cannot be achieved without quality journalism and the creation of a conducive environment for the media to operate by governments. Our democracies cannot be strengthened if journalists continue to live in perpetual fear and self –censorship. Impunity on crimes committed against journalists and media workers is cancerous, undermines the judicial system and erodes good governance and the rule of law.
“Sadly, a number of African governments have been identified among the abusers of media freedom and accomplices in the issue of impunity and crimes committed against journalists. “The enacting of repressive media laws, systematic digital surveillance and the deliberate failure to implement regional and international instruments that guarantee the safety of journalists and media freedom is an affront to democracy”.
FAJ fully identifies with the values and principles embedded in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in Africa, and calls on governments across Africa to adopt and implement national plan of actions to safeguard the safety of journalists and media workers in their respective countries. African governments must demonstrate the political will to prosecute crimes committed against journalists and media workers. There is no media freedom anywhere, when journalists live and work in fear. Quality journalism is fundamental for national development and it can only be achieved when the safety and security of journalists and media workers is guaranteed.