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The effort to have the laws repealed is being led by Pansy Tlakula, the AU’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information.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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid