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The effort to have the laws repealed is being led by Pansy Tlakula, the AU’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information.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

Will Cuba Follow the Southeast Asia Model?

Decision to restore ties between US and Cuba has some debating whether it will lead to an enhancement or regression of democracy on the Communist island nation More

Kenyan Designer Finds Her Niche in Fashion Industry

‘Made in China’ fabrics underlie her success More

Report: CIA, Israel's Mossad Killed Senior Hezbollah Commander

The Washington Post story says Imad Mughniyah was killed instantly by a bomb "triggered remotely" from Tel Aviv by Mossad agents More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Lateri
X
Deborah Block
January 31, 2015 12:12 AM
Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Jefferson's Library Continues to Impress, 200 Years Later

Two hundred years after the U.S. Congress purchased a huge collection of books belonging to former President Thomas Jefferson, it remains one of America’s greatest literal treasures and has become the centerpiece of Washington’s Library of Congress. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid