News / Africa

Campaign Begins to Ensure Free Press

CPJ logo
CPJ logo

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
The African Union has launched an effort to rid East Africa of colonial-era defamation and sedition laws. Since independence, many countries have used them to clamp down on freedom of the press.


The effort to have the laws repealed is being led by Pansy Tlakula, the AU’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information. In a statement, she said, “"Criminal defamation laws are nearly always used to punish legitimate criticism of powerful people, rather than protect the right to a reputation.”

This month, she met with government and NGO representatives to identity which laws limit investigative journalism into alleged corruption, or government or business wrongdoing.

A number of freedom of expression groups are applauding or supporting the effort, such as Britain’s Article 19 and the U.S. - based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.

Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa consultant, said, “Criminal defamation laws have been a thorn in the side of journalists in East Africa and the Horn of Africa for decades in most countries. I mean, when you look at somewhere like Tanzania, for example, a lot of these laws actually came from the colonial era. So they’ve been around for almost a century, in fact.”

Rhodes said the laws make it difficult for the press to report on issues involving powerful officials or business people.

“Quite often they just simply refer to the courts. They consider it an insult or some other form of libel and that way they can silence the press. Because once you throw a journalist in jail he or she will never ever report on these kinds of issues again – or at least they’ll be far more careful and probably apply a lot more self-censorship,” he said.

There can be little if any burden of proof required when leveling defamation or libel allegations against journalists.

“Quite often,” he said, “the constitution really upholds a robust free press. But when it comes down to actual practice quite often these authorities don’t even bother with a burden of proof, but go straight directly to the state prosecutor to censor the press.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists consultant says getting rid of these laws is one goal – preventing them from being replaced with something just as bad is another.

“The problem with some of these anti-press laws is they’re a bit like a weed. Once you’ve hacked off one, another dandelion pops up. We’re seeing other weeds growing up, such as anti-terrorism laws. And this has been a huge, huge problem for Ethiopian journalists since 2009. We now have five Ethiopian journalists incarcerated on what we consider trumped-up terrorism charges,” he said.

Rhodes says while the AU rapporteur’s campaign will initially focus on East and the Horn of Africa regions, she’s expected to expand the campaign to the rest of the continent.

You May Like

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid