Press Freedom: France overtaken by Ghana, Mali, South Africa and Namibia

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The new international press freedom index, from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), confirms a sound democratic well being among a group of African countries. This is against a backdrop of many European democracies who, by virtue of this index, are losing their grip on press freedom, one of the premier pillars of the principle of democracy. France finds itself in the 43rd position this year, behind four young African democracies. Despite this encouraging data among African countries, the general situation of press freedom on the continent is still far from impressive.

Is France still a model of press freedom? Not so sure, judging from the new press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) last Tuesday. France, a historical force to reckon with is — as far as human rights is concerned — 43rd in the standings, just ahead of Cape Verde (44th) and far behind budding African democracies including Ghana, Mali, South Africa and Namibia, in 27th , 30th, 33rd and 35th positions respectively. According to RSP, these countries are among some of the most respectful of press freedom, worldwide. RSF insists that democracy is built on solid foundations and that freedom is guaranteed in the 5 African countries that appear among the top 50 on their index.

Continuing its progressive slump from 2002, when the first RSF index on press freedom was released, France lost 8 points this year after an equally unimpressive 2008 rankings. In 2002, France was number 11. Since then, Journalists have found themselves “summoned by the police” while been “forced to reveal their sources,” regrets Jean-Francois Julliard, Secretary General of RSF. “The interference of political authorities, including the Head of State, Nicolas Sarkozy” is also pinned in the RSF report.

Although significant progress has been made in recent years in Africa (at the expense of several traditionally democratic European nations like France, Italy or Spain), the overall state of freedom of press is still worrying on the continent. Madagascar, which was the scene of a violent political upheaval this year, lost 40 points, as it nosedived into the 134th position. The Congo, where the opposition journalist Bruno Jacquet Ossébi died under murky circumstances, also falls 24 points to 116th position.

Guinea, where a demonstration was violently suppressed last September 28, remains at the 100th place. Niger, recently suspended from the Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) following a highly contested legislative elections declined 9 points, setting camp at a dismal 139th position. Surprisingly, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (136th), following the renowned journalist, Jestina Mukoko’s kidnapping and eventual imprisonment, gains 15 points! RSF indicates that, an announcement by the government of national unity, this summer, to return the BBC, CNN and the Independent daily newspaper, The Daily News (…) has brought some hope. Mauritania, where General Ould Abdel Aziz’s election went smoothly in July 2009, has assembled a few points. Not surprisingly, Sudan (148th), Rwanda (157th), Equatorial Guinea (158th), Somalia (164th) and Eritrea (175th), fought for bottom spots.

North Africa falls

North Africa has seen a marked decline in press freedom in recent years and is hardly better off. Algeria lost 20 points in one year, sporting the 141st place. Morocco descended to 127th position, down five points. It must be noted that this year, the northern African kingdom banned and seized newspapers while slapping media houses and journalists with lawsuits. Tunisia, where President Ben Ali has won a 5th consecutive term, got the prize of the worst country for press freedom in North Africa.

The 2009 international press freedom index, was put together by RSF, between September 1 2008 and 1 September 2009. Data collection involved a questionnaire, which identified some 40 points, ranging from attacks against journalists (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, disappearances, monitoring, etc..) to various forms of pressure that may be exerted on the Media (fines, censures, seizures, searches, advertising boycotts, etc..).

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