Is Africa’s investigative journalism on its deathbed?

It is no secret that governments and the media generally do not like each other. Not that they need to – many argue this antagonism is healthy and that the real problem would be if they actually took to each other.

By Lee Mwiti, The Monitor (Uganda) 5 May 2013

But with the year only four months in, African governments seem to be taking this antagonism a bit too far, as events would show.

On April 17, Swaziland’s High Court sentenced the editor of a privately-owned magazine to two years imprisonment or a hefty $20,000 fine, all for criticising the country’s chief justice.

In Burundi, the Senate has just harshly amended the existing press law, now granting the government broad rights to clamp down on critical reporting, including, astonishingly, of the economy. Under the new law, awaiting presidential assent, journalists could be forced to reveal their sources.

Nigeria two weeks back saw the arrest and charging of journalists who refused to reveal their sources. Their crime? The supposed outlandish suggestions that the presidency planned to scuttle an opposition bid to unite ahead of the 2015 polls.

In Zimbabwe ahead of this year’s polls, journalists live every day on the edge, as a government-sanctioned campaign of intimidation becomes the norm. Even those higher up the country’s food chain such as senior judges have not been spared.

In Mali, Angola, Mozambique as in a raft of other African countries, the story of crackdowns is depressingly similar, dutifully documented by media watchdogs such as the the Committee to Protect Journalists to Reporters Without Borders.

And if it is not the government, journalists still find plenty of others willing to take pot-shots at them, including the “non-state actors”, sometimes with deadly impacts.

Somalia has just had a fourth journalist killed this year by extremists; 18 were murdered last year. Another this week narrowly escaped death after being hacked with an axe.

The most obvious outcome of all these is the muzzling of free speech and the steady whittling of the independence of the media on the continent, never strong to begin with.

But another outgrowth rarely highlighted is the dearth of investigative journalism.

Stories such as that of the decorated investigative Ghanaian journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas are increasingly few and far between.

Too few journalists are asking the hard questions, or taking up the undercover assignments that were often the stuff of folklore at industry gatherings.

Sometimes it is not a matter of choice: Editors under pressure to cut costs are increasingly reluctant to approve budgets or are having to look for outside funding. Others are afraid of stepping on powerful toes for fear of losing government business.

The overall result is stories sounding like the official government line, including even in sections like business and sports where a valued advertiser – now the lifeblood of many media houses – may be upset.

The loser is ultimately the public, who do not get to know how their taxes are spent, or misspent, and who are fed a steady stream of propaganda in place of the truth.

New media and social networks have stepped in to try fill the growing vacuum, but many are plagued by the usual bottleneck of reliability, lack of reach and authority.

Who will speak up for the ordinary African?

Source: The Monitor 

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