Press freedom: RSF denounces the deterioration of the working conditions of journalists in the Sahel

In a recent report, the organization decried the “constant deterioration” of working conditions for both local and international media in the region. Joining in the call for action, thirty media outlets, journalists associations, and freedom of expression organizations urged the ruling juntas of Mali and Burkina Faso to safeguard the rights of journalists against growing threats. Both countries have been under military rule since 2020 and 2022, respectively.

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of journalists, expressed its concern that the Sahel region may soon become “Africa’s biggest news blackout zone.” 

According to the RSF 2023 World Press Freedom Index, released on Wednesday, journalists face significant challenges operating in almost 40% of African nations, compared to 33% last year. The report also revealed that 46% of countries were problematic for journalists, with only 10% showing a satisfactory press freedom ranking.

While Nigeria moved up six places in the rankings this year, press freedom advocate Oluwatosin Alagbe of the Center for Journalism Innovation and Development cautioned that the improvement was cosmetic. The organization’s press attack tracker showed that there have been approximately 45 attacks on journalists in Nigeria since January, and the government’s disregard for press freedom during elections was a troubling spectacle. “The body language of the government doesn’t speak to wanting to improve; it’s definitely not an improvement,” Alagbe said.

The RSF report also expressed concern that credible journalism is being threatened by the spread of false content.

Reporters Without Borders stated last year that Nigeria had the highest number of violent attacks, arrests, and detention of journalists in Africa. Nigerian authorities often cite the spread of misinformation and disinformation as a reason for media crackdowns, claiming it could threaten the country’s peace.

Kemi Busari, an editor with Dubawa, an independent fact-checking project in West Africa, agrees that the trend of purveyors of misinformation has been growing lately. These individuals are leveraging people’s biases and sentiments to spread false information, Busari explained. “Some people have found a market in it just for economic reasons.”

Last year, the Nigerian authorities faced widespread criticism for attempting to revoke the licenses of 52 broadcast stations over alleged renewal fee issues. The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) later suspended the move.

In late March, the NBC fined Lagos-based Channels Television approximately $11,000 for airing an interview with the opposition party’s vice-presidential candidate, Yusuf Datti-Ahmed. The NBC claimed that Datti-Ahmed’s commentary on the February presidential election, in which the ruling party’s Bola Tinubu emerged as the winner, violated the broadcasting code and could threaten national security.

Channels TV authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while the rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sued the NBC, urging it to withdraw the sanctions.

Kolawole Oluwadare, a deputy director at SERAP, characterized the fine as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression. He stated, “The facts leading up to the sanctions do not justify the sanction itself; these actions are unwarranted and an abuse of powers of the NBC.”

Despite RSF’s concerns, Nigerian authorities rejected the organization’s ranking last year, claiming the country was among the freest in the world for journalists. On Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari stated that journalists had “unfettered freedom” during his administration.

Other Concerns

The spread of disinformation and propaganda is a major threat to press freedom worldwide, with political actors in many countries getting involved in these activities. According to the 2023 edition of the World Press Freedom Report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), specialists who contributed to the ranking found that in two-thirds of the 180 countries evaluated, political actors were involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns. This was particularly true in countries like Russia, India, China, and Mali.

RSF’s Secretary-General, Christophe Deloire, also pointed out the role of leaders of digital platforms, such as Elon Musk, in distributing false or inaccurate information. He warned that reliable information was being drowned out by a deluge of disinformation and called for democratic principles to be put back into the market of attention and content.

Moreover, the report highlighted the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to create fake content, which is becoming increasingly plausible and difficult to distinguish from the real thing. It cited fake photos of Donald Trump’s arrest generated by an AI called Midjourney that were taken up virally on social networks. The report also warned of large-scale manipulative productions by specialised companies on behalf of governments or companies.

Overall, the conditions for practising journalism were found to be poor in seven out of ten countries, according to the report. While Norway was ranked as the best country for press freedom, North Korea came in last. France ranked 24th and gained two places in the ranking. The report called for action to be taken to combat the spread of disinformation and to protect press freedom around the world.

The use of AI to create fake content is a new and concerning development in the spread of disinformation. AI-generated fake videos, images, and audio can be extremely convincing, making it difficult for people to discern what is true and what is not.

About the author

Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

Leave a Comment