Nelly Bassily | April 29, 2013
May 3 is recognized around the globe as “World Press Freedom Day.” This year is the 20th anniversary of its inception in December 1993, and an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom.
Focussing on the theme “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media,” World Press Freedom Day 2013 will highlight journalist safety, crimes against freedom of expression, and securing a free and open Internet as the precondition for online safety.
The day is also an occasion to assess the state of press freedom throughout the world, defend the independence of the media, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of work.
Rob Mahoney is the Deputy Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ. Presenting CPJ’s annual report in February of this year, he noted that 70 journalists were killed in 2012. He also pointed out that at least 232 journalists were imprisoned, the highest number since the CPJ started compiling statistics in 1992.
CPJ says that 15 journalists have already been killed in 2013. This includes Somali radio journalist Rahma Abdulkadir, who was reportedly shot and killed by unknown attackers in Mogadishu on March 24.
Many more journalists have been violently assaulted. In January, Elisabeth Olofio was severely beaten, and her home in the Central African Republic ransacked. Also in January, Malawian journalist Anthony Masamba was assaulted when his interviewee grabbed the recorder and began punching him. Only a few weeks ago, the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum was brutally assaulted outside of his home.
In Tanzania, many believe the media is being threatened by government forces in the lead-up to the 2015 election. The country’s information minister deemed the Swahili-language newspaper, MwanaHalisi, too critical of the government, and suspended its publication under the Newspaper Act, 1976.
MwanaHalisi was previously banned for reporting on a plot to unseat President Kikwete in the 2008 elections. There is concern that the newspaper’s dedication to investigative journalism has made it a prime target of the Tanzanian government. Since 2008, several members of the organization have been attacked in their own newsroom.
Henry Maina is a media reform activist and director of Article 19 Eastern Africa, an NGO which promotes free speech, and citizens’ rights to participate in decision-making and make informed choices about their lives. He says the ban on MwanaHalisi violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Press freedom activists and media scholars in Tanzania are calling on the government to lift the ban on MwanaHalisi, and to abolish the Newspaper Act.
On May 3, journalists, press freedom activists and media organizations from across East Africa will meet in Arusha, Tanzania, for a conference to celebrate World Press Freedom Day. The conference organizers − the Coalition of Media Organizations − will highlight gender issues and the need for media reforms throughout Africa. They are especially concerned about the situation in East Africa where, along with rising violence against journalists, there appears to be a growing intolerance of independent journalism.