In West Africa, it’s becoming tougher and riskier to be a journalist. It seems like every day, they face more threats, arrests and attacks. The world is noticing that more journalists are being put in jail. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that as of December 1, 2022, 363 reporters were behind bars globally, more than ever before. In 2022 alone, Africa saw 56 journalists jailed.
Recent events in Nigeria and Benin Republic have raised big concerns about the safety of the press. Damilola Ayeni, a Nigerian journalist, was arrested and wrongly labeled a jihadist by Beninese police. Sadly, Nigeria is no stranger to press issues, with twenty-four journalists reportedly killed there between 1992 and 2022.
Things have gotten worse with the recent attack on Mustapha Usman, a journalist with ICIR, by officers of the FRSC and the move by Nigeria’s president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to ban 25 journalists from covering Presidential Villa activities in Abuja.
Reports by Space for Change showed that most press problems in West Africa happen in Nigeria. There have been 122 cases of press and media attacks there. Even security people who should protect citizens have raided media houses. In 2019, the Nigerian Army and police raided offices of the Daily Trust newspaper, claiming they disclosed secret security information.
The arrest of Pape Ale Niang, a well-known journalist in Senegal, is another worrying sign. He was charged after publishing information about a sensitive political case.
Media is important. It keeps the government in check and gives people the information they need. When media people are excluded, it makes people wonder what the government is hiding. It can break the trust of the people and harm discussion that’s needed in a working democracy.
According to the United Nations, independent, free and pluralistic media are central to good governance in democracies that are young and old.
The problems between the government and the press in West Africa reflect a global crisis. The rising number of jailed journalists and increasing restrictions on the media show that press freedom is shrinking and it requires global attention.
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