Global press freedom declined to its lowest point in 12 years in 2015 as political, criminal, and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power (Freedom House, 2015). In Africa, the situation is even more frustrating. Journalists are highly susceptible to economic and political pressures. “The tensions and pressures are even greater in situations where states and governments purport to pursue liberal democracy in principle, while in reality, they continue to be highhanded and repressive to their populations. When this happens, journalists are at risk of employing double-standards as well, by claiming one thing and doing the opposite, or by straddling various identity margins, without always being honest about it, especially if their very survival depends on it” ( Nyamnjoh, 2006, pp,7).
According to the Freedom House (2015), Ghana’s reputation as one of the ‘freest’ media environments in sub-Saharan Africa was tarnished in 2015. The media landscape witnessed a series of physical attacks against journalists, often by state officials, alongside legal and financial pressure on reporters and media outlets. Due to these recent political developments and constantly changing current events, Ghana’s press freedom status has been fluctuating since 2013 between Free and Partly Free. However, Ghana’s press freedom remains relatively impressive for an African nation. According to Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Ghana is the 26th out of 180 countries, in the world ranking in 2017.
Ghana’s status declined from Free to Partly Free in 2015 due to stepped-up attempts to limit coverage of news events. The confiscation of equipment, increase in violence directed at journalists by the police, the military, political party members, and ordinary citizens, and continues electricity outages that impaired media production and distribution create a challenging atmosphere for journalists to deliver professionally. In December 2015, the Ghanaian parliament adopted guidelines requiring the operators of public electronic communications or broadcasting services to submit content to a government media commission for approval before dissemination. The failure to do so can result in fines or a jail sentence of up to five years. While the constitution protects the state-run Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) from government interference, political parties attempt to influence coverage. Private media face editorial pressure from their owners, particularly those with political connections. President Mahama during his time in office called for an increase in regulation of the media in order to avoid the spread of false information that could damage the country’s international reputation. Also, while citing increasing partisanship, Mahama also called for radio stations to invite fewer political party representatives to their talk shows (Freedom House, 2015). The landscape is gradually witnessing positive changes under the current leadership.
According to the Freedom House (2015), Nigeria has one of the most vibrant media landscapes in Africa. The Nigerian 1999 constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the press. The print sector, in particular, is generally outspoken in its criticism of unpopular government policies. However, the media sometimes face politicised interference from public officials and regulators over their criticism of the government or coverage of sensitive issues, such as high-level corruption and national security. Nigeria’s press freedom status has, therefore, remained Partly Free for quite a while now. According to Reporters without Boarder press freedom index, Nigeria is the 122nd out of 180 countries, in the world ranking in 2017
On a more positive note, within the short time that Nigeria has returned to civil democratic rule, the newspapers and magazines have begun to unearthed monumental scandals in the political arena but not without huge sacrifices. Nevertheless, self-censorship, physical assaults, and intimidation along with impunity for crimes against journalists remain major concerns in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the media environment in Cameroon is constrained by a restrictive legal regime. Journalists reporting on sensitive subjects risk police questioning, lawsuits, and extrajudicial detention. When violence increased in the Far North region due to the terrorist activities of Boko Haram, the government came up with several laws indirectly stifling freedom of expression (Freedom House 2015).
According to the Freedom House (2015), freedom of the press in Cameroon has remained Not Free due to the use of both laws and extralegal detention to harass journalists. The country’s 1996 constitution guarantees the freedoms of expression and the press, though libel and defamation are criminalised. A number of independent newspapers report critically about the government. Several radio call-in shows and television debate programs often strongly criticise the government and individual officials. That notwithstanding, media outlets operate under constant threat of prosecution or regulatory sanctions, leading many journalists to self-censor. Reporters are often harassed or detained by security forces while attempting to cover sensitive stories. A new anti-terrorism law signed in December 2014, makes it easy for reporters to be sentenced to lengthy prison terms for “defending terrorism” by simply being expressive, thus further stifling press freedom in the country. According to Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Cameroon is the 130th out of 180 countries, in the world ranking in 2017.
Also worth mentioning is the fact that, with the ongoing anglophone crisis in Cameroon, minority English speaking journalists are seriously hunted by the government for their publications and participation in the crisis. Throughout the ongoing Anglophone crisis masterminded by Cameroonians in the Diaspora, the internet/media has been a major tool for sensitization and mobilization. Activists in the diaspora use the internet to sensitize and encourage political debates. Anglophone journalists have equally become very vocal on the issue. The Cameroonian government has responded to this by monitoring activist and journalist both off and online. The government arrest, detain and tortures journalist. Many journalists have gone into hiding. The government interrupts internet at will in English Cameroon.
Cameroon is a very good example of a practically non-democratic country. The absence of democracy and freedom of expression makes Cameroon perfectly contrasting with Ghana and Nigeria who are regarded as good and somewhat good examples of democracy and press freedom in Africa.
P.S: This is a continuation of our contrast in the African Pie series. Please endeavor to read all parts of the series to have a full understanding of certain aspects.