Lack of Press Freedom Stifling Political Transformation in Africa

At the 60th World Newspaper Congress, which opened yesterday in Cape Town, South Africa, Gavin O'Reilly remarked that

in dozens of African nations, political transformation has been deeply flawed, if not stillborn, because of the failure to secure one of the absolutely fundamental conditions for full, living democracy and pluralism ­ I'm talking, of course, about freedom of the press, which continues to be violated on a daily basis across the length and breadth of this continent.

O'Reilly, the current president of the World Association of Newspapers, noted that perhaps the greatest "scourge of press freedom" is the use of "insult laws" that outlaw criticism of politicians and authority figures, and criminal defamation, both of which, he noted, are used indiscriminately in the vast majority of African nations that maintain them in order to silence a critical press.

While O'Reilly refers throughout his opening remarks to "press freedom," the problems he highlights are relevant not just to the newspaper members in his association, but to anyone who engages in speech that is critical of those in positions of authority.  Indeed, in many nations, bloggers have taken up the standard dropped by traditional media sources in the fight against corruption, famine, and poverty.  One need look no further than Global Voices to see this happening.

(Disclosure: Global Voices, like the CMLP, is affiliated with the Berkman Center and Ethan Zuckerman, a founder of Global Voices, is on the board of advisors for the CMLP.)

UPDATE: Vincent Maher and Matthew Buckland are providing detailed coverage of the conference.


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