Ethiopia, Gambia most improved while Ghana falters in 2019 Press Freedom Index

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Daniel MumberA

While media freedoms and the working environment for journalists across the world generally declined, there were glimmers of hope in Sub-Saharan Africa where Ethiopia and The Gambia had marked improvements in the 2019 Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index categorised the media climate in more than three-fourths of the 180 countries and territories studied as “problematic”, “difficult” or “very serious.”

Only 8% have a media climate considered “good”

Democracies seem to be giving up, while increasingly authoritarian governments are silencing the media.

“Democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency of all people.”

In Africa, Ethiopia climbed 40 places from near the bottom to 110, reflecting the reforms by the country’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed. Abiy’s government has released thousands of political prisoners including journalists and bloggers, in addition to dropping charges against diaspora-based media outlets.

Gambia also moved up in rank to 92, putting it 30 spots higher than last year. RSF attributes the jump to a change in government, under which the human rights climate in the country has greatly improved.

‘‘New media outlets have been created, journalists have returned from self-imposed exile and the criminalization of defamation has been declared unconstitutional,’‘ the RSF report said of Gambia.

Top 5 African Countries

1. Namibia (23, global rank)
2. Cape Verde (25)
3. Ghana (27)
4. South Africa (31)

Bottom 5 African countries

1. Eritrea (178, global rank)
2. Sudan (175)
3. Djibouti (173)
4. Equatorial Guinea (165)
5. Somalia (164)

According to another report published by RSF, 80 journalists were killed worldwide in 2018, up from 65 in 2017. Forty-nine of these were journalists deliberately killed because of their reporting. A total of 348 journalists were detained.

“It’s worse every year,” Cédric Alviani, the East-Asia Bureau Director of RSFsaid.

“Democracies seem to be giving up, while increasingly authoritarian governments are silencing the media.”

Summary for Sub-Saharan Africa

  • Namibia is Africa’s top country for press freedom
  • Press freedom in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries is classified as either “bad” or “very bad”.
  • For the first time in more than ten years, no journalist was in prison in Ethiopia, at the end of 2018.
  • Somalia is Africa’s deadliest country for journalists. ( 3 journalists were killed here in 2018)
  • Ghana’s reputation as Africa’s top country for press freedom was hurt by the murder of an investigative journalist in January this year.
  • Democratic Republic of Congo registered the most press freedom violations in 2018.