17 April 2014

Africa: World's Media Chiefs Press African Leaders on Freedoms

Photo: Gwen Lister
Mostefa Souag of Al Jazeera, right, and IPI's Alison Bethel McKenzie, centre, join a call on Egypt to free Al Jazeera staff on trial in Cairo.

Cape Town — Editors and publishers from across the world have singled out the governments of Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland for threatening free expression and media freedom.

At a meeting in Cape Town this week, the general assembly of the International Press Institute (IPI) - a global network of editors, media executives and journalists - adopted resolutions which called on:

  •  The Ethiopian government to stop arresting journalists under anti-terrorism laws and to review its anti-terror statutes to protect freedom of the press;
  •  The Swazi government to release unconditionally the editor of The Nation, Bhekitemba Makhubu, and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko, who have been arrested, released and re-arrested by a succession of judges, some with personal interests in their case, in recent weeks;
  •  The Egyptian government to end arrests of journalists under anti-terrorism laws; and
  •  South Africa's President Jacob Zuma to submit a new secrecy law for court review.

The assembly also called on the South African government to explain why it placed obstacles in the way of African, Eastern European and Russian IPI members when they applied for visas for the IPI's World Congress.

In its resolution on Ethiopia, the IPI said that the use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists had "fuelled a sense of fear among media workers, both foreign and domestic."

At least six journalists had been jailed under the 2009 anti-terror law, it added, "some of whom are in failing health and have had restricted access to lawyers, friends and colleagues...

"The government must ensure that journalists are allowed to report on national security, unrest and dissenting politics without fear of arbitrary arrest, harassment or intimidation under laws intended to prevent attacks or prosecute terrorists seeking to do physical harm."

On Swaziland, where King Mswati III reigns as Africa's last absolute monarch, the IPI urged the government "to respect the fundamental right of freedom of expression and the role of journalists to raise alternative perspectives in Swazi society."

In Egypt also, the use of anti-terrorism law generated fear among media workers, the IPI said.

"Since the military-led ouster of Egypt's democratically-elected president in July 2013, more than 20 journalists have been indicted on terrorism-related charges, including several Al Jazeera employees now facing trial in Cairo."

The assembly called for media laws to be revamped to comply with the country's new constitution, and on Parliament to use its authority to investigate the use of anti-terrorism laws against journalists.

South Africa's Protection of State Information Bill had been improved since it first came before Parliament, the IPI said, but "further improvements are needed if the draft law is to shield journalists and whistle-blowers from wrongful prosecution that could have a chilling effect on press freedom and access to information."

It called on President Zuma to use his power to ask the country's Constitutional Court to review the law to see whether it complied with the Constitution.

Protesting at the treatment of IPI members by South African diplomatic missions, a resolution accused them of giving the impression the government was trying to prevent them from attending the congress.

"By placing obstacles to the issuance of visas," the meeting said, "South Africa lost an opportunity to showcase the country to journalists from a wide variety of foreign countries..."

The last time the congress was held in Cape Town, before the country's first democratic elections in 1994, it was addressed both by Nelson Mandela and former President F W de Klerk. This congress was addressed by a minister in the presidency.

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InFocus

World's Media Chiefs Defend African Media

Mostefa Souag of Al Jazeera, right, and IPI's Alison Bethel McKenzie, centre, join a call on Egypt to free Al Jazeera staff on trial in Cairo.

The plight of journalists and other media workers in Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland has come under the spotlight at a meeting in Cape Town of the International Press ... Read more »