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In the sixth of its Pan-Africa Profiles series based on recent public-opinion surveys in 34 African countries, Afrobarometer reports that media freedom supporters are now outnumbered by those who believe governments should have the right to prevent publications they consider harm

Popular support for media freedom in Africa has dropped to below half of adults, according to a latest survey conducted by Afrobarometer.

In the sixth of its Pan-Africa Profiles series based on recent public-opinion surveys in 34 African countries, Afrobarometer reports that media freedom supporters are now outnumbered by those who believe governments should have the right to prevent publications they consider harmful.

Declines in support for unfettered media were recorded in 25 of 31 countries tracked since 2011, including steep drops in Tanzania (-33 percentage points), Cabo Verde, Uganda, and Tunisia. “While many Africans believe that media in their countries have more freedoms today than they did several years ago, this is more often seen as problematic than as progress, the data suggest,” reads part of the report.

The new report also analyzes Africans’ news habits, showing that radio remains ahead of television as the most widely accessed source of news. “Use of the Internet and social media as news sources is expanding, but a large digital divide still disadvantages poorer, less-educated, older, rural, and female citizens.

“Radio is still the most widely accessed source of news, followed by television, while newspaper readership remains relatively rare on the continent. Access to Internet and social media is expanding, with majorities in some countries reporting regular use. However, there is a large digital divide: Access to digital sources is much higher in some countries than others, and is skewed in favour of wealthier, better-educated, younger, urban, and male citizens.”

According to Afrobarometer, Africa, as elsewhere, mass media face increasing opportunities and threats. New technologies have made it easier for producers to share content widely and cheaply, resulting in a proliferation and diversification of information sources.

It says broader populations can access content more easily and cheaply than ever before – and contribute to those discussions themselves – through call-in programs on vernacular radio stations, Internet news sites and blogs, and social media such as WhatsApp and Twitter.

“On the flip side, new competition and access to cost-free content threaten media organizations’ bottom lines. Consumer skepticism of media actors has skyrocketed as more people see media as propagators of falsehoods, bias, and hate speech, particularly when messages are critical of politicians or policies they support. Politicians – in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes – are more than happy to stoke this anger, which provides opportunities for governments to launch increasingly brazen legal and extra-legal attacks on media.

Prominent media watchdogs, such as Freedom House, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders, have documented increases in government regulations, censorship, and even violence against media actors in Africa and around the world.

The latest round of the Afrobarometer survey raises a red flag for free-press advocates. “Popular support for media freedom – a majority view just three years ago – is now in the minority, exceeded by those who would grant governments the censor’s pencil.

“This warning flag also marks a paradox. On the one hand, many Africans believe that media in their countries have more freedoms today than they did several years ago. However, it is not clear that people view these developments positively. In fact, among citizens who see media freedoms as increasing in their country, those calling for increased government restrictions on media significantly outnumber those who support broad press freedoms.”

Afrobarometer notes that perhaps more encouragingly, those who see media freedoms as declining in their country are more likely to support freedoms than restrictions. “Either way, it appears that a substantial number of Africans are dissatisfied with the current state of the media in their country, at least with regard to the demand for and supply of freedoms.

“Even so, nearly all Africans turn to mass media for news.”

John Masuku

Zimbabwean journalists have been urged to stick to basic news writing skills in order to avoid misleading the public or peddling fake news as authentic information. Veteran broadcaster John Masuku made these remarks ahead of this year’s commemorations of World Press Day on Friday. Masuku speaks with VOA Zimbabwe Service’s Gibbs Dube about this year’s theme c and media laws in Zimbabwe.

Gibbs Dube: We are commemorating World Press Freedom Day this Friday under the theme ‘Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation’. The focus is on democracy in times of fake news. What’s your take on disinformation and the circulation of fake news?

John Masuku: I’d like to encourage ourselves as media practitioners, journalists, to ensure that we are not the spreaders of fake news, because I’ve noticed that often times, on our platforms, on our chat groups, we tend to circulate fake news ourselves, instead of using the tools that we already know from our trade, in order to make sure that we sift all the fake news and only circulate amongst ourselves what is principle. So it is important that we play an important role as journalist to avert the spread of fake news.

Gibbs Dube: What do you think are the causative factors of journalists circulating fake news?

I think there are several factors, you know we are bored because the situation is never changing. We are also facing challenges in sustainability, and also, generally, the checks and balances that we were used to in the past, where we were proud of our profession as journalism, where people relied very much on us, we are now not taking that as seriously, and as a result, even some of our journalists are not writing stories after thorough research, so that it becomes very difficult to spread fake news.

You know if we run credible platforms people use them to verify if the facts are correct. So if something is spread out there, and you know if you check with VOA Studio 7, or if you check with the Voice of the People, you check with another platform, you get the correct information. But at times if we slacken in that direction, then there’ll be a lot of fake news coming from us.

So even encourage the membership organizations to continue what they’ve been doing, training journalists, and also retraining journalists and editors and running competition in order to create awareness about the danger of fake news, especially amongst ourselves as journalists and society as a whole.

Gibbs Dube: Now, in terms of laws, the government is saying that is actually transforming or dumping Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and other stringent laws. So what do you think the government will come out with? There are some fears obviously the coming laws may be worse than AIPPA, and others. What’s your take on that?

I think we should be involved. We should have full participation in everything that is being drafted or crafted, so that we don’t cry foul in future, when these laws are not in our favor. So now that the pronouncements have been made, and these laws are being changed, let’s write about them, let’s discuss them in our various programs, lets’ challenge them even through parliament, even though the ministry of information, let us be involved.

We have a tendency to leaving these to other parties and then when the laws are enacted, that’s when we write screaming headlines to say that we’ve been taken by surprise, we didn’t know what was going on and so forth. So I encourage ourselves as journalists that we are really following all that is taking place and also writing about it, so that there is no foul play as it were.

So as things stand right now, who is involved? Are we involved through our membership organizations? If we are not, let us be involved. Are we involved in writing about these issues that you are talking about? And not only talk about the fears, but let’s also talk about the content. What is it that is being changed from, to? Because others don’t even know what was there before, the content of the old, the draconian content that we’ve been always crying foul about, so we have to understand where we are coming from, and where we are going to and what advantage that has got for us as journalists.

So I really urge fellow journalists, fellow media practitioners that we be in it, and not only go by hearsay that this is going to happen, that government is going to do this, when we don’t have the facts on our fingertips.

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