The case of French reporter Olivier Dubois, who was released from captivity a fortnight ago after 711 days in Mali, casts a light on the grave situation.
He was the first French journalist to be detained anywhere in the world in the past decade.
According to Sadibou Marong, Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) director for the sub-Saharan Africa bureau, “no fewer than five journalists have been killed and six others have gone missing since 2013”.
“The increase in attacks by armed groups has steadily reduced the space in which journalists can gather information and has weakened the means of communication,” he said.
In Chad, Burkina Faso and Mali, coups have resulted in paranoid junta leaders controlling the media and creating fertile ground for disinformation narratives.
“Pressure and patriotic directives from army juntas have fostered the development of controlled media and a code of silence surrounding sensitive subjects.
Bans on international media and the expulsion of foreign reporters reflect a desire to silence criticism and have created space for media favourable to a pro-Russian narrative that defend the presence of Wagner mercenaries in the region, and contribute to the spread of disinformation.
Journalism and press freedom have also suffered significantly because of the deployment of cyberspace legislation and internet shutdowns.
The Digital Law of Benin allows for the incarceration of journalists.
Until a revised version was adopted in June 2022, journalists in Niger were convicted under the country’s cybercrime law.
In this hostile environment, fear of reprisals has favoured self-censorship. Withholding information has become the norm.
“The challenge for many media outlets has become existential. How do you continue as a news organisation when journalistic freedom and quality journalism are clearly compromised,” asked Marong.
This week, RSF released its report titled “What it’s like to be a journalist in the Sahel”.
The report stated since Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, both journalists for Radio France International, were murdered in 2013 by their captors in Mali, three more journalists have been killed in the area.
Two Spanish journalists reporter David Beriain and cameraman Roberto Fraile were slain while covering an anti-poaching unit in eastern Burkina Faso in 2021, while Obed Nangbatna, a reporter and cameraman for national TV broadcaster Télé Tchad, was killed in Chad in 2019.
While noting Dubois’ release, the report said two Malian journalists Hamadoun Nialibouly and Moussa M’Bana Dicko, who were also abducted by armed groups in Mali, were still missing.
It added while repression was high, “initiatives to combat disinformation have emerged at the local level” and these were mostly fact-checking projects such as Mali Check, Africa Check, and DésinfoxTchad.
Regional journalism linkages among journalists in the Sahel have been established.
There are radio stations such as Yafa, Kalangou, Radio Ndarason Internationale, and Tamani which broadcast in local languages from the most crisis-hit pockets of the Sahel.In addition, a regional network of journalists known as CENOZO, is supporting independent investigative journalism in the region.
Source: News 24