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World Press Freedom Day 2021: The Top Ten Best African Countries For Press Freedom

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World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on the 3rd of May every year. This celebration is a subtle reminder to the governments of different countries to commit to press freedom. Repressive governments often target and restrain press freedom—where they cannot control them. This is an important day to remember journalists that have lost their lives while chasing stories.

The origin of the celebration goes back to the 1991 Windhoek Declaration on promoting independent and pluralistic media. The emphasis of the declaration was on ways to establish, maintain, and foster a free press. Consequently, the Windhoek Declaration was adopted on May 3rd. Subsequently, this day was adopted for the celebration of press freedom.

The Theme for World Press Freedom Day 2021

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Information as a Public Good”. This highlights the importance of making information free and accessible to all. Perhaps, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay presents it most aptly by saying,

“The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day underlines the undisputed importance of verified and reliable information. It calls attention to the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating this information, by tackling misinformation and other harmful content.”

The theme for this year’s celebration is important for a number of reasons. In a world of changing communication systems, it is important to ensure transparency. Also, it emphasizes the importance of looking for ways to advance production, distribution, and reception of contents so that no one is left behind. While the theme is relevant to every country across the globe, we will focus on how it affects Africa.

World Press Freedom Day 2021 Global Conference

According to information available on the UNESCO website, the host of the World Press Freedom Day 2021 global conference is the government of Namibia. The conference which began on the 29th of April will end on May 3rd, 2021. Although the conference will hold physically and virtually, the venue is Windhoek. You can register your event to stand a chance of featuring in UNESCO’s list of celebrations.

Part of the focus of the conference is on the extinction threatening local news media around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse. Participants which will include policymakers, media leaders, media and legal experts, and so on will brainstorm on ways to tackle these challenges. Also, they will push for more transparency of Internet companies and improve the working conditions and safety of journalists.

World Press Freedom Index 2021 Ranking

Journalism is described as the vaccine against disinformation. However, the compilation by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released on April 20, 2021, shows that 73 countries “totally block or seriously impede” journalism. Also, 53 other countries constrain journalism. This year, only 12 of 180 countries offer a favorable environment for journalism.

For the fifth time in a row, Norway retains the top spot as the country with the most press freedom. Nevertheless, journalists in the country complain of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic. Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Costa Rica completes the top 5 countries on the ranking. Sadly, no African country featured in the top 20 countries. Below are the top 10 African countries for press freedom.

#10. Mauritius (Position: 61; Global Score: 28.74)

Head of Mauritius Prithvirajsing Roopun (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Head of Mauritius Prithvirajsing Roopun (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mauritius wraps the tenth spot on this list. However, it is important to mention that the country slipped 5 places to 61 position on the global ranking. Inasmuch as Mauritius presents itself as one of the models for human rights and democracy on the African continent, media remains polarized. The national radio and television are often guilty of propaganda while the opposition media are sidelined. Press freedom is bleak in Mauritius—and it could get worse.

#9. Niger (Position: 59; Global Score: 28.44)

President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum (Photo credit: BBC)

President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum (Photo credit: BBC)

Like Mauritius, Niger dropped 2 places from the previous ranking. In the past two years, Niger has experienced a fall in press freedom violations. Due to terrorism, journalists are still restricted from visiting dangerous areas. Thus, information about terrorism or migration is still scanty. In recent years, journalists have been arrested and media houses suspended. Journalists often face arbitrary arrest and trial under the controversial cyber-crime law. Also, most of the media houses in the country are struggling for survival.

#8. Madagascar (Position: 57; Global Score: 28.24)

President of Madagascar Andry Rajeolina (Photo credit: Africanews)

President of Madagascar Andry Rajeolina (Photo credit: Africanews)

The island nation dropped three places from the previous ranking showing a deterioration in press freedom. The nature of Madagascar’s media makes influence by politicians and businessmen easy. For example, in the 2018 elections, there was a limit on independent reporting. Media owners enjoyed government positions. Also, media coverage of certain official events was only open to pro-government journalists and media. To date, covering stories on corruption is dangerous especially with regards to natural resources.

#7. Seychelles (Position: 52; Global Score: 25.66)

President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan (Photo credit: Bloomberg)

President of Seychelles Wavel Ramkalawan (Photo credit: Bloomberg)

Seychelles is one of the African countries that recorded a great improvement in press freedom. The country moved up 11 places from 63 in 2020 to 52 in 2021. There has been a major development in privately-owned media in recent years. Also, public media are gradually becoming free from previous tight state grip. They now easily criticize the government on subjects like nepotism and corruption. The new president from the opposition party gives regular press conferences—and no media is barred.

#6. Senegal (Position: 49; Global Score: 25.22)

President of Senegal Macky Sall (Photo credit: Bloomberg)

President of Senegal Macky Sall (Photo credit: Bloomberg)

The West African nation dropped two places from 47 in 2020 to 49 in 2021. The country remains one of the most stable democracies in West Africa and journalists enjoy a diverse media landscape. The 2001 constitution of the country upholds freedom to inform. However, there are still grey areas when it comes to press freedom. For example, radio stations may face harassment and the conviction of their journalists if they interview government critics.

#5. Botswana (Position: 38; Global Score: 23.25)

President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi (Photo credit: Mining.com)

President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi (Photo credit: Mining.com)

Press freedom is improving significantly under the new government. Botswana moved up by one spot in the 2021 ranking compared to what it was in 2020. President Mokgweetsi Masisi, unlike his predecessor Ian Khama) gives frequent press conferences. However, state-owned media are still far from independent. In fact, there are now under the direct supervision of the office of the president. Sadly, the declining advertising revenue due to COVID-19 is increasing the vulnerability of journalists. Thus, they are more likely to take bribes.

#4. Burkina Faso (Position: 37; Global Score: 23.17)

President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kabore (Photo credit: CGTN)

President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kabore (Photo credit: CGTN)

Burkina Faso’s ranking improved by +1 from what it was in 2020. The country is one of Africa’s success stories when it comes to press freedom. In 2019, the national assembly passed a criminal code amendment with severe punishment for false information. Also, the amendment stipulates punishment for journalists that cover security forces that “compromises public order and the conduct of security operations”. This amendment gives the government more power to crack down on journalists.

#3. South Africa (Position: 32; Global Score: 21.59)

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa (Photo credit: BBC)

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa (Photo credit: BBC)

Press freedom in South Africa remains fragile. Anti-terrorism and apartheid-era legislation are often used to limit the coverage of government institutions. Also, journalists are often targets for government spies. Reporters face a lot of repression including attacks with rubber bullets for not complying with lockdown measures. Now, there is a new law that sentences journalists to up to six months in prison for spreading fake news about the COVID-19 pandemic.

#2. Ghana (Position: 30; Global Score: 22.26)

President Akufo-Addo of Ghana (Photo credit: Polity.org)

President Akufo-Addo of Ghana (Photo credit: Polity.org)

There was no change in Ghana’s ranking when compared to the previous year. Ghana continues to portray itself as the beacon of democracy in Africa. The country’s 1992 constitution, Chapter 12 guarantees media independence pluralism. However, the country is not without its challenges. In 2018, some investigative journalists have to spend time hiding to produce a documentary on corruption in Ghanaian soccer. Nonetheless, the biggest breakthrough for journalists is the adoption of a law to grant access to state-held information. This is coming 20 years after its first introduction in parliament.

#1. Namibia (Position: 24; Global Score: 19.25)

President Hage Geingo of Namibia (Photo credit: DW)

President Hage Geingo of Namibia (Photo credit: DW)

Although dropping one spot from 23 in 2020 ranking to 24 in 2021, Namibia remains the best country in Africa when it comes to press freedom. Namibia has held this position since 2019. According to RSF, press freedom is enshrined in Namibia’s constitution and defended in courts when it comes under attack. However, journalists face attacks once in a while. One of such was in 2019 following the revelations that officials were taking bribes to grant access to Namibia’s fishing ground. Nevertheless, Namibia’s journalists continue to enjoy a swell day.

Conclusion

While a number of African countries have experienced great improvements others like Nigeria, Rwanda, Egypt, and Eritrea continue to slide to the bottom of the list. Obviously, ensuring press freedom is one of the ways to make the government accountable. World Press Freedom Day 2021 is a wake-up call for African countries to strengthen their institutions. No politician should be bigger than the state. This can only happen when people have the freedom to ask questions and demand accountability.

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