Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan has said that there is a need to form the unity of African journalists to tell the story of Africa as the British government committed 3 million pounds to the media global fund to enhance media freedom in the continent.
British High Commissioner to Tanzania Mr David Concar made the announcement as Africa marked this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) in Arusha, Tanzania even as he challenged the rest of the world to contribute to the kitty to support African journalism.
But even as the British government pledged support, Tanzanian President Suluhu challenged the African media to ensure that professional ethics guide the practice of journalism in Africa.
“Tanzania respects the freedom of the media and that comes with responsibilities. The media is crucial to the development of society but must play within the laws established and must help the African governments achieve their objectives,” President Suluhu, the chief guest and keynote speaker during the event, said.
She revealed that Tanzania has over 200 radio stations, 53 Television stations, over 100 newspaper outlets, 476 online Television, and over 95 blogs.
This year’s United was sponsored by the Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco) with Journalism under digital siege as its theme.
While the rest of Africa converged in Tanzania for the event, Uruguay hosted the WPFD at a global level.
President Suluhu said supporting the African media is a step in the right direction that will make Africa tell its own story.
“We have seen how the foreign media has exaggerated in its reporting, especially on African matters. If you don’t tell your own story, no one will do it for you. I dare challenge you to tell me where the media in the West has, for instance, told a negative story about their countries,” said President Suluhu.
She said Tanzania will review unfriendly media laws to ensure that Tanzanian media enjoys its space but with a caveat that until that happens, the media must obey the laws in place.
She did not, however, fail to announce that proliferation of social media and the misuse of the digital space as the biggest challenge that African society, for instance, has to contend with.
The British High Commissioner said that the global fund will not only help journalists in capacity building but also cushion them against various existential threats to a free press.
“Hacking and illegal surveillance make it hard for journalists to do their job. Harassment, censorship, and increased taxation are other impediments that affect the freedom of the media,” said Mr Concar.
This year’s event was marked against the backdrop of increased threats to journalists in doing their work.
After a peak in 2012 when 147 journalists around the world were killed in the line of duty, the numbers have decreased though still worrisome even as 2021 saw the lowest number of journalists killed since 2003.
For instance, in 2017, about 74 journalists were killed, 2018 saw 87 lives lost and in 2019 at least 53 journalists were killed with 50 others killed in 2020.
In 2021, the number picked up compared to the previous year with 55 journalists around the globe killed in their line of duty.
The event drew senior editors around Africa. Eastern Africa Editors Society (EAES) Chairman Churchill Otieno said the freedom of the media can only be enhanced if governments in Africa reviewed the repressive laws to allow journalists to do their work.
Mr Otieno, who is also the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) president, said that the Covid-19 pandemic was the most difficult moment the media in Africa has undergone with some shutdown over financial challenges.
“As we celebrate this day, we cannot afford to forget, or to negate, the price that many African journalists paid as they reported, either from the newsrooms or from the theatre of operation, about the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the time the world came to a standstill,” said Mr Otieno.
“But still the media consistently provided life-saving information.”
The KEG boss noted that although Kenya had done well in terms of legislation for a free press, some of the laws enacted by Parliament need a further review to further open up the space of press freedom as a country’s development tool.
“When the media unearths a corruption scandal in government, it should be good news for the governments. However, this has not been the case. We have seen governments target the media houses and individual journalists who expose such rot in society by all means available whether crooked or otherwise,” Mr Otieno said.