Culled from Press Freedom in 2007: A Year of Global Decline (Freedom House)
Press freedom declined on a global scale in 2007, with particularly worrisome trends evident in the former Soviet Union, Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. This marked the sixth straight year of overall deterioration. Improvements in a small number of countries were overshadowed by a continued, relentless assault on independent news media by a wide range of actors, in both authoritarian states and countries with relatively open media environments…
Sub-Saharan Africa: Overall, 7 countries (15 percent) were rated Free, 18 (37 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 23 (48 percent) remained Not Free in sub-Saharan Africa. The average regionwide level of press freedom declined during the year, as did the average score in the legal and political categories.
Trends in individual countries presented a mixed picture, with some improvements but a greater number of declines, including three negative status changes. Press freedom conditions continue to be dire in Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, and Zimbabwe, where authoritarian governments use legal pressure, imprisonment, and other forms of harassment to sharply curtail the ability of independent media outlets to report freely. All three countries continue to rank among the bottom 10 performers worldwide.
Reasons for the negative movement during 2007 varied from country to country, but it appeared to be driven by either legal or political factors, and in many cases a combination of the two. Benin’s score worsened from 30 to 31, which tipped it over the cusp from Free to Partly Free status, owing to the continuation of criminal libel cases and polarization in a growing number of politically funded media outlets. An increase in legal harassment, particularly through libel cases, was also an issue in Mali, whose score worsened from 24 to 27; Burkina Faso, whose score decline from 39 to 41 was aggravated by several cases of physical harassment; Senegal, whose score moved from 46 to 49 amid biased judgments by the regulatory commission and attacks on the press; and Djibouti, whose score fell from 69 to 72, in part because of the shutdown of the country’s only private newspaper.
In a number of other countries, political polarization and conflict, sometimes centered on elections, and the authorities’ resulting desire to limit press coverage of certain issues had a negative effect on media outlets’ ability to cover key news stories and on the diversity of information available to the public. Following a promising upgrade in 2006 due to legal improvements, the Central African Republic slipped back into Not Free status as the authorities attempted to limit coverage of the continuing armed conflict in the north of the country. Meanwhile, Niger, which has for some time been rated in the Partly Free category, witnessed a score decline from 58 to 63 points and a downgrade to Not Free status due to the government’s attempts to control information on the civil conflict in the north, including suspending the operation of critical media outlets, prosecuting journalists for libel, and harassing those who produced controversial reports.
Political conflict was a primary factor in the Comoros’ score decline from 48 to 54 points, the survey’s largest drop. The country has seen increased polarization and a parallel increase in censorship and harassment of media by the security forces. Election-related polarization also occurred in Sierra Leone, whose score dropped from 56 to 59 to reflect a tense preelection political atmosphere that negatively affected media freedom, including biased reporting, threats, and physical violence, as well as directives from the media commission regarding news coverage. In Lesotho, an election-related crackdown that included the shutdown of a radio station and the deportation of one of its journalists led to a numerical slippage from 42 to 46. Threats and attacks from nonstate actors, particularly regarding journalists’ efforts to cover the growing problem of drug trafficking, were a key factor in Guinea-Bissau, whose score moved from 48 to 53. Finally, conditions in one of Africa’s worst performers, The Gambia, worsened further during 2007, from 77 to 79, due to a combination of legal and extralegal intimidation of journalists and media outlets that included court cases, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, and complete impunity in past cases of press-freedom abuse. At year’s end, media freedom was under threat in Kenya in the wake of a disputed election and widespread violence that led to the shutdown of media outlets.
Although they were far outweighed by declines, Africa did see a number of improvements during 2007. In many cases, these positive movements reflected a decline in the physical harassment of journalists or the increased ability of reporters to cover sensitive political stories. Attacks on the press declined in Tanzania, whose score improved from 51 to 48; Nigeria, whose score improved from 55 to 53; and Cameroon, whose score improved from 67 to 65. Cameroon also benefited from the licensing of four new private broadcast outlets. Meanwhile, Sudan saw continued numerical improvement owing to further growth in media diversity in the south of the country. Finally, two countries that had seen declines in 2006 reversed course in 2007. A crackdown on the press was eased in Burundi, with fewer cases of physical harassment or jailing of journalists, leading to a positive numerical shift from 77 to 74 points. An improved political situation in Cote d’Ivoire, in which journalists were less prone to attack and better able to cover news events throughout the country, resulted in a positive score change from 68 to 66.