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Africa: Covid-19 pandemic-related economic pressure could compromise media outlets' independence & freedom of expression

Author: AFP, Published on: 8 June 2020

"Virus crisis piles pressure on African media"

Collapsing revenues, rising layoffs: the coronavirus crisis is battering media outlets across Africa that were already struggling for cash and often facing pressure from hostile authorities. The news of cutbacks was sudden and painful for journalists at two of Nigeria's most popular independent newspapers when bosses from The Punch and Vanguard made their announcements last month...In Kenya some media houses slashed wages by up to half, in Uganda a leading weekly halted printing, and in Namibia hours have been reduced and redundancy schemes fast-tracked...

Officials from Nigeria's journalist union said it had appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to provide emergency aid to distressed media. But there are fears that state aid would only increase political interference in sectors around Africa that are already often dominated by powerful vested interests. "The government has been harassing the media. Several journalists are facing trials for frivolous offences," University of Lagos lecturer Olubunmi Ajibade said of the situation in Nigeria. "Collecting bailout funds from government at this time will compromise their independence and freedom."...

But media professionals say journalists are already trying to do the job of combatting "fake news" -- and such laws could be used to muzzle them. Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, who heads the Lesotho branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said two journalists in the tiny kingdom were warned under new rules for spreading misinformation -- only for it to turn out that their work was accurate. The government of Andry Rajoelina in Madagascar has pushed its control even further and mandated outlets carry all official information about the pandemic....


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