Newsletter January 2015

Africa Report

kenya
Written by Debbie Ransome

Kenya – new security bill

A new Security bill in Kenya aimed at blocking press coverage of terror attacks has highlighted the problems raised when governments seek to strengthen their defence against terrorism and media gets caught in the crossfire. The bill, signed into law in late December, followed government criticism of the media over reporting on special units carrying out extra-judicial killings and of a local journalist covering security issues who had to go into hiding after receiving death threats. The legislation has been criticised by the Media Council of Kenya and by Kenyan press associations. A joint statement said that “terrorism should not affect the importance of freedom of expression and information in the media as one of the essential foundations of a democratic society”. The bill has also been criticised by human rights groups. Passage of the bill led to a brawl in the Kenyan parliament as opposition MPs accused the Government of setting up a police state. The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ)’s East Africa representative, Tom Rhodes, wrote: ‘Once it comes into effect, extensive reporting on attacks, like the coverage of the Westgate Mall attack, and reports questioning Kenya’s anti-terror tactics, could be quashed…with the law’s harsh penalties it will be easy for the government to curb any criticism of security measures that are made in the press or on social media’.

Nigerian journalists advised to be extra vigilant

Nigerian journalists have been advised to be more mindful of their language and on how they choose to frame potentially violent situations. The advice came at a workshop for journalists in south-west Nigeria, entitled ‘Promoting the safety of journalists in Nigeria’, organised by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and UNESCO and held in Ibadan, Oyo State. Nigeria’s first Mass Communications Professor and UNESC facilitator, Professor Chinyere Stella Akuma, said that the time had come for local and international agencies to support journalists against the factors exposing them to danger as they do their jobs. Professor Akuma advised journalists that they needed to live “above board” in their reporting. She added: “We as communicators should be careful about our language in order to stem violence. There are ways of portraying every situation. In doing so the safety culture should be viewed beyond 2015 elections”. While condemning past attacks of violence on media practitioners, Vice President of the NUJ, Dele Atunbi, advised journalists to practice their profession with integrity and honour.

SABC journalists complain

South African TV journalists have said that they have been banned from using footage from parliament showing some MPs calling on the President to pay back public funds spent on his rural family residence. The footage shows MPs belonging to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) chanting “Pay back the money” at President Jacob Zuma during a tumultuous August 2014 sitting of Parliament. Senior journalists at South African Broadcasting (SABC) said in December 2014 that they had been told they could not use the footage when writing stories about the EFF for the TV news. SABC denied such a ban on the parliamentary footage stating that editorial decisions are taken on a story-to-story basis. Journalists told press freedom bodies that this had been the second such instruction from senior management after a November 2014 email telling them to seek permission before bringing in political guests on any platforms.

Egypt

As we were going to press, we received this promising news concerning the Al Jazeera journalists recently freed from jail in Cairo. The news was carried by the Cairo-based Daily News. It wrote:

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said he will use his power to pardon the detained Al Jazeera journalists after the trial has finished. In an interview with London-based newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published on Saturday, Al-Sisi commented on the detained Al Jazeera journalists’ case. “We are in a country respecting the judiciary and I can’t interfere to release them until the final verdict has released,” Al-Sisi said. “I’ll use the presidential pardon after the trial’s sessions have finished.”

The tension in Egypt’s relations with Qatar and Turkey reached a peak after the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in August 2013, with both Qatar and Turkey backing the Islamists. Al-Sisi said that Egypt cannot insult countries even if tensions are temporarily found. Last November, Al-Sisi approved a law allowing foreign journalists to be deported to their home countries before an Egyptian court issues final verdicts in their cases.

The three Al Jazeera journalists, Australian Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, were initially sentenced to between seven and ten years imprisonment. Fahmy, who gave up his Egyptian citizenship, was released on a EGP 250,000 bail. Mohamed, who has only Egyptian citizenship, was released without bail. Greste was freed and deported on 1 February, after spending 400 days in prison.

The detained journalists ignored all the accusations they were charged with, expressing that they were doing their work. They had been charged with aiding a “terrorist group”, referring to the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, tarnishing Egypt’s image abroad and threatening Egypt’s national security. The journalists were arrested on 26 of December 2013, spending over a year in prison.

Photo credit: Global Panorama

About the author

Debbie Ransome

Editor, Caribbean Intelligence

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