JOHANNESBURG - The upending of Mali’s once-peaceful democracy has been disastrous for the West African nation’s journalists, Reporters Without Borders said Wednesday in their annual World Press Freedom Index.
While the report cites small gains in war-torn Liberia and improvements in Senegal after longtime president Abdoulaye Wade surprised critics by gracefully stepping down after losing an April election, Eritrea was ranked worst country in the world for press freedom for the sixth consecutive year.
Mali, however, is one of three African nations that slipped precipitously in this year’s index, which ranks 179 countries according to their level of press freedom. Central African Republic's ranking fell in the wake of a rebellion, and Guinea-Bissau's in the wake of a coup.
In Mali, which saw both, Islamist militants seized control of the country’s north by exploiting a power vacuum left in the wake of a March coup by Malian forces.
“This country was going well in terms of press freedom before, and the military coup in March, and then the chaos into which the country [drifted] because of this situation, had huge consequences for the work of the journalists," said Ambroise Pierre of the Paris-based media advocacy group that produced the report. "Many radio stations stopped their programs and journalists were actually beaten in Bamako and in the north of the country.”
Overall, Pierre added, East Africa is the worst region, with Somalia equaling only Syria as the most dangerous nation for journalists.
As in previous years, Africa hung onto the dubious honor of ranking last among continents. Eritrea, which bottomed out the index, was called “Africa’s biggest prison for journalists,” with at least 30 journalists in custody. The longtime leader of the small Red Sea nation abolished the independent press more than a decade ago.