Missing Burundi Journalist Yet to Be Found

Missing journalist,  Jean Bigirimana has been missing since  22 July, 2016 and there has not been any evidence that he is dead.


His colleagues in Iwacu Press Group, recently marked the first anniversary of his disappearance.

Bigirimana’s wife and children are worried, they are at a lose as to what has happened to their breadwinner. Read more…..


How African governments use advertising as a weapon against media freedom

National governments remain the single largest source of revenue for news organizations in Africa.  In Rwanda, for example, a  staggering 85-90% of advertising revenue comes from the public sector.


In Kenya, it’s estimated that 30% of newspaper revenue comes from government  advertising.  In 2013, the government spent Ksh40 million in two weeks just to publish congratulatory messages for the new President Uhuru Kenyatta.

But with a general election coming up this year in August, the Kenyan government has decided to stop advertising  in local commercial media.

In a memo, reportedly sent to all government accounting officers, the directive was given that state departments and agencies would only advertise in My.Gov –  a government newspaper and online portal.

Electronic advertising would only be aired on the state broadcaster – the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

It’s difficult not to characterize the withdrawal of state advertising from commercial media as punitive. Without this revenue stream newspapers are likely to fold.

Worse still, efforts to withdraw government advertising from commercial media can be interpreted as a worrying way to undermine the freedom of expression.

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Starving news media of revenue is a means of indirect state control. This has been the case in countries such as Serbia, Hungary, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.

But to fully understand the link between government spend on advertising and media freedom it’s important to take a historical perspective.

How did we get here?

The 1990s saw the adoption of multi-party politics in many African countries. This led to relatively liberal constitutions  in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana among others.

Since then, most African governments have grown anxious about their inability to control the local news agenda, much less articulate government policy.

For governments in countries such as  Ethiopai, Uganda,Zimbabwe and more recently Tanzania, controlling the news agenda is seen as a means to stay in power. Views that compete with the state position are often cast as legitimizing the  opposition agenda.

This is part of a much broader strategy for political control which Africanist historians and political scientists have called the ”ideology of order”.  This is based on the premise that dissent is a threat to nation building and must therefore be diminished.

The narrative was popularized by most post-independence African governments and emphasized through incessant calls for what they liked to call “unity”.

In Kenya, former president Daniel Moi even coined his own political philosophy of ”peace, love and unity”. Citizens were expected to accept this narrative unequivocally. Dissenting views were undermined through state-controlled media such as Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and newspapers such as the Kenya Times.

From the 1960s – 1980s, African governments conveniently used the nation-building argument to suppress legitimate dissent. Opposition was punished by imprisonment, forced exile and even death. This was common practice in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and in West Africa more generally.

The current political climate on the continent is premised on constitutional safeguards including the protection of free speech which make these kinds of punishments unlikely in the present day.

Many countries now have institutional safeguards  including fairly robust judicial systems capable of withstanding the tyranny of naked state repression.

As a result, the media is controlled in subtler ways and its violence is softer. It’s against this background that I interpret the withdrawal of government adverts from the commercial media in Kenya.

Controlling media budgets

In Kenya, the decision followed a special cabinet meeting which agreed that a new newspaper would be launched to articulate the government agenda more accurately.

The government also argued that the move was part of an initiative  to curb runaway spending by lowering advert spend in Kenya’s mainstream media and directing all the money to the new title.

A similar move was made in South Africa last year when the government’s communications arm announced that it would  scale down government advertising in local commercial media.

Instead, advertisements would be carried in the government newspaper Vuk’uzenzele. The decision withdrew an estimated $30 million from the country’s commercial newspaper industry.

The South African government also claimed that the move was made to reduce government spending. But  critics have argued that the decision was made to punish a media outlet that’s been particularly critical of President Jacob Zuma’s presidency.

In both countries the decisions have hit at a particularly hard time for the media industry, providing governments with the perfect tool with which to control the press.

Will a free press survive

Commercial news media is going through a period of unprecedented crisis. The old business models are unable to sustain media operations as audiences adopt new ways of consuming news.

More than that, mass audiences are growing ever smaller. Newspapers particularly haven’t been able to adapt to the changing profile of the old versus the new newspaper reader.

The effect has been that newspapers are no longer as attractive to advertisers. As such, they have to rely a lot more on state money and patronage for survival.

To sidestep state control commercial media in Africa must rethink their business models and diversify their revenue streams.

It won’t be an easy road but non-state media must also work hard to disrupt this re-emerging narrative of “order”. Nation states cannot revert to the dark days when government policy was singular and alternative viewpoints were silenced or delegitimised.

Source : The Conversation

Uganda: Court Orders Facebook to Delete TVO’s ‘Defamatory’ Posts Against Lawyer Muwema


The High Court in Ireland has accepted global social media giant Facebook’s plea to conceal self-styled social media activist Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO)’s identity arguing that revealing it to one of Uganda’s senior lawyers, Mr Fred Muwema would put his life in danger and expose him to harassment from the government.

The decision contained in a landmark judgment delivered on Wednesday is the result of a protracted legal battle between Mr Muwema and Facebook after the outspoken lawyer sued the social media powerhouse following TVO’s controversial claims that he had pocketed Shs900 million delivered by former information and national guidance minister Jim Muhwezi to stage manage a break in at his chambers in Kololo so the state could tamper with critical evidence of his client and former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi who contested President Museveni’s February 2016 election.

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In the decision, Mr Justice Binchy holds, “It is somewhat difficult for the court to make an assessment as to the extent of the danger that would be posed to TVO if his identity is revealed. It is fair to say however that there is consistency in the reports of Freedom House and US Department of State Human Rights Report on Uganda as well as Amnesty International all of which express concern about the freedom of expression and assembly.” Seeking to balance the need to hand over TVO to Mr Muwema “so he can protect his good name” by way of a defamation suit, the court took to protecting the safety of TVO given the history of Uganda’s human rights transgressions.

The judge however, in the last paragraph of the 26 page judgment clarified this was on condition that Facebook asks TVO to pull down the defamatory content 14 days from the delivery of the judgment lest Mr Muwema makes a fresh application to the court to have his identity revealed.

“I will do so on a conditional basis, the defendant has the means to communicate with TVO. TVO should be notified that unless the offending postings are removed within 14 days from the date of delivery of this judgment, then the plaintiff will be entitled to renew his application for Norwich Pharmacal relief which will be duly granted. The defendant should notify TVO forthwith,” he held.

A Norwich Pharmacal order is a court directive for the disclosure of documents or information.

In an earlier order in a supplementary decision delivered by the court on July 29, 2016, the subject of a written judgment dated August 23, 2016, the judge denied Mr Muwema some orders that would have had the effect of taking down TVO’s postings concerning him but ordered Facebook to reveal his identity so the lawyer could sue him from Uganda for defamation.

It is against this backdrop that Facebook moved fast and protested the order on December 21, laying evidence of gross human rights violations by Uganda and previous requests by Uganda Communications Commission to Facebook to hand over TVO to the Ugandan state.

Mr Jack Gilbert, the lead litigation counsel of Facebook in an August 19 affidavit asserted, “In my role, I receive hundreds of legal claims each year which comprise dozens of Norwich Pharmacal relief or basic subscriber information. Because Facebook is not a publisher, its general position is that any complaints regarding content should be directed to the relevant user that posted the content.”

In this particular case however, the judge noted, Facebook did not oppose the order to have its subscriber’s identity revealed only to turn around and raise the issue of TVO’s safety later.

Mr Muwema had told the court in his affidavit that whereas Uganda has challenges with human rights, “it is alarmist to paint a picture of unmitigated violations of human rights and lawlessness in Uganda.”

His affidavit was however replied by human rights lawyer and former secretary general of the Uganda Law Society Mr Nicholas Opiyo who on January 18 swore, “I know that Uganda Police have been looking for TVO for a very long time and when they arrest anyone on suspicion of being TVO, they are subjected to extreme abuse of rights and violation of court orders.” He added, “I have observed the use of trumped up charges to intimidate those critical of the person of the president. Kizza Besigye, his biggest political rival has been charged over 100 times on trumped up charges. He spends most of his time traversing the country answering a litany of charges.” It is this affidavit that the court used to guide itself in the decision. Facebook now has 14 days to ensure TVO deletes the defamatory content against Mr Muwema or else the court will allow his application for revelation of his identity.

Source : The Monitor

Africa: IFJ Condemns Closure of Three Radio Stations

Press Release


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned the closure of three independent radio stations in the Gambia.

According to the Gambia Press Union (GPU), Taranga FM, Hill Top FM, and Afri Radio were closed down on Sunday 1st and Monday 2nd December by the National Intelligence Agency NIA without explanation.

Media reports claim the NIA agents ordered the members of staff of the privately owned Taranga FM to stop transmission.

“Four NIA agents and a uniformed policeman came to the radio this afternoon (Sunday) around 2:30 pm (local and GMT) and told us to stop broadcasting,” Taranga FM staff told AFP on condition of anonymity. Local media sources also reported that Hill Top FM was closed down later the same afternoon.

Taranga FM is said to be critical of the Jammeh administration and is a popular radio station in The Gambia for its daily translation into national languages of the news published by the Gambian newspapers. Since its inception, it has been closed several times and has often been reopened conditionally as in 2011, when it was allowed to resume its activities but prohibited from addressing the subjects raised by the private press. Its journalists were also sometimes summoned to the NIA, arrested or tried.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “We condemn these closures and the attack on freedom of information this represents. The rights of all media workers in The Gambia must be fully respected and the stations allowed to broadcast without unlawful interference”.

The move is part of a renewed crackdown on independent media in The Gambia. Prior to December elections, freelance journalist Alagi Manka and journalist Yunus Salieu of the Daily Observer were arrested and detained at the NIA headquarters in Banjul. The director of the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) Mr Momodou Sabally was also sacked on 8 November, was detained and has faced a trial. GRTS journalist Bakary Fatty was also arrested.

Source : International Federation of Journalists

Ethiopian Newspaper Editor, Bloggers Caught in Worsening Crackdown


Nairobi — Ethiopia should immediately release all journalists detained amid an intensifying crackdown on the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. In recent weeks, Ethiopian authorities have jailed a newspaper editor, as well as two members of the award-winning Zone 9 bloggers’ collective, which has faced continuous legal harassment on terrorism and incitement charges. A fourth journalist has been missing for a week; his family fears he is in state custody.

The crackdown on the media comes amid mass arrests following large protests that led the government to declare a state of emergency on October 9. Security forces have detained more than 11,000 people since the state of emergency was declared, Taddesse Hordofa, of the Ethiopian government’s State of Emergency Inquiry Board, said in a televised statement on November 12.

“Silencing those who criticize the government’s handling of protests will not bring stability,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said from New York. “The constant pressure on Zone 9 bloggers with repeated arrests and court appearances is clearly designed to intimidate the remaining independent journalists in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia’s Supreme Court on November 15 continued hearing prosecutors’ appeal of a lower court’s October 2015 acquittal of four bloggers from the Zone 9 collective–Befekadu Hailu, Natnail Feleke, Abel Wabella, and Atnaf Berhane–on terrorism charges, campaigners reported on social media.

Security forces again detained Befekadu–a co-founder of the collective, which CPJ honored with its 2015 International Press Freedom Award–from his home on November 11, according to news reports. Authorities have not yet announced any new charge against the blogger. The Africa News Agency quoted Befekadu’s friends saying that they believed he may have been arrested following an interview he gave to the U.S.-government-funded broadcaster Voice of America’s Amharic service, in which he criticized the government’s handling of the protests.

An Ethiopian journalist in exile in Kenya, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told CPJ that Befekadu’s criticism of the government’s handling of protests in the Oromo and Amhara regions of Ethiopia on his blog may have also led to his detention.

When the terrorism charge against the bloggers was dismissed by the judge in October last year, Befekadu was informed that he would still face incitement charges, according to media reports. That case is still before the courts.

Ethiopian Information Minister Negeri Lencho did not respond to CPJ’s calls and text messages seeking more information.

Security forces also detained another Zone 9 blogger, Natnail Feleke, on October 4 on charges he had made “seditious remarks” in a restaurant while criticizing security forces’ lethal dispersal of a protest, according to diaspora news websites.

Separately, a court in the capital Addis Ababa on November 15 sentenced Getachew Worku, the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Ethio-Mihidar, to one year in prison on charges of “defamation and spreading false information” in connection with an article published in the newspaper alleging corruption in a monastery, the Addis Standard news website reported.

Abdi Gada, an unemployed television journalist, has not been seen since November 9, family and friends told diaspora media. The journalist’s family and friends told the Ethiopian diaspora opposition website Voices for Voiceless that they fear he is in state custody.

Ethiopia ranked fourth on CPJ’s 2015 list of the 10 Most Censored Countries and is the third-worst jailer of journalists in Africa, according to CPJ’s 2015 prison census.

Source : CPJ

Ethiopia Court Jailed Journalist Getachew Worku for One Year


The federal first instant court Arada branch has today jailed journalist Getachew Worku, editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly independent Newspaper, Ethio-Mihidar, for one year.

Getachew was taken into police custody last week on Nov. 4th after the same court found him guilty of ‘defaming’ senior clergy members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The court passed the guilty verdict in an ongoing lawsuit brought against Getachew by the church. The lawsuit followed an article the newspaper ran in May 2015 detailing the conduct of corrupt practices by senior members of the clergy at the precincts of the Saint Mary’s Patriarchal Monastery here in the capital Addis Abeba.

Subsequently, prosecutors have charged Getachew with Ethiopia’s criminal code article 613 under “defamation and spreading false information.” During the hearing last week, prosecutors have originally sought a jail term of up to three years. Getachew was taken to the Qilinto prison on the southern outskirt of the capital where he spent the week.

Source : Addis Standard

Uganda: Media Face Suspension for Snubbing Parliament


A suspension from reporting from parliament could be the ultimate sanction against media houses whose editors declined to appear before the house committee on Rules, Privilege and Discipline on Wednesday, a reliable source has told The Observer.

The source, an MP who sits on the committee, said for the time being they will keep engaging the editors but if that fails “everything [including suspension] is possible.”

“We don’t want it to get to that level [suspension]; that is why we have to keep the lines of communication [between MPs and the media] open,” the MP said.

Such action would affect journalists from The Observer, Red Pepper and Uganda Radio Network (URN), whose editors did not heed the summons. Only New Vision, which is partly owned by the government, turned up.

Among other reasons, the media organisations say the committee has no jurisdiction to pry into the editorial matters of their newsrooms. They have also pointed out that in summoning editors to defend themselves, parliament is acting as complainant, prosecutor and judge in its own case.

The committee is investigating alleged negative media reporting on parliament, especially regarding the MPs’ benefits and perks. Our source said there was no need for editors to snub the committee because the intention of parliament is not to “pin” media organisations on anything, but to understand how the media works.

He said: “You people have blown this issue out of proportion. The media and parliament are partners. We are not going to point any fingers… “

The MP added that the committee will meet Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga before tabling its report.


While our source insisted the interface between editors and parliament was meant to be a harmonious interaction, W

ednesday’s meeting with New Vision editors almost turned into a trial.

The Vision Group team was led by Barbara Kaija, the editor-in-chief, and included John Kakande, the editor, and Raymond Kirabira, the legal officer. During the five-hour meeting that locked out journalists attached to parliament, the MPs and editors engaged in heated exchanges.

The exchange, sources said, was started by Gaster Mugoya, the MP for Bukooli North and the committee’s lead counsel, when he asked the editors to explain the motivation behind the story that parliament’s work was paralyzed because MPs traveled to the UNAA convention in the United States.

“How was it paralyzed, Madam Editor?” Mugoya queried, adding that it was a pity that a paper of New Vision’s calibre had fallen for rumours circulating on social media.

Kirabira, New Vision’s legal officer, protested against the tone of the questioning, insisting that the editors were not on trial. Kakande, a former parliamentary reporter, told the MPs that at times “negative” stories about parliament should be blamed on the institution (parliament).

“Sometimes we want to crosscheck with you on stories but you are not forthcoming and we end up making mistakes. You need to strengthen your communications department [directorate],” Kakande said.

Kaija told the MPs not to go hard on journalists and editors because they are human and, therefore, make mistakes. She said New Vision has a dedicated column for correcting mistakes or inaccuracies in their reporting and on some occasions they have issued apologies.

She then presented a statement before the committee in which she made a case for the establishment of an independent media council. In her statement, Kaija noted that the council needs to be free from political and other interferences.

“An independent media council whose independence and funding is protected by an act of parliament is desirable for our young democracy and we know that it is in your power as the august House to facilitate Uganda’s young media to grow and to serve better,” Kaija said, reading from her statement.

Source : The Observer(Kampala)

Zimbabwe: Jonathan Moyo Breaks Ranks

Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo has dismissed the notion that the security sector cannot be scrutinised by journalists as fears of a government crackdown on the private media mount.

Information minister Chris Mushohwe repeated his controversial claims last week that the security sector was “sacred” in a veiled threat to the private media.

President Robert Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba has also issued similar threats that have been amplified by the State media in chilling fashion.

Mushohwe warned that journalists who preyed into security sector issues were venturing into a crocodile-infested pool.

However, Moyo, a two time Information minister, posted on Twitter that the assertions were wrong as the Constitution ensured that there were no sacred cows.

“It’s wrong to say some sectors are outside media coverage. Nothing is above the Constitution,” Moyo tweeted on Friday.

“It’s the law, stupid! The Constitution is supreme. So no sacred cows,” he added.

Moyo was Information minister when the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was crafted.

The law was used to persecute independent media and some critical newspapers were forced to close down.

Moyo has since toned down and after his appointment in 2013, he tried to extend an olive branch to the independent media.

He has also been critical of defamation laws used by the government to silence critical media institutions and has also spoken out against the arrest of journalists.

He was replaced by Mushohwe in a Cabinet reshuffle last year, a move that signalled the government’s renewed onslaught against journalists.

Police recently arrested NewsDay deputy editor Nqaba Matshazi and reporter Xolisani Ncube after the paper reported that Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) operatives had been paid bonuses ahead of other government workers.

The government has also been angered by the coverage of the security sector’s involvement in the fluid battle to succeed Mugabe by Zanu PF factions.

Academic Ibbo Mandaza said government’s threats against the private media were meant to silence journalists.

“They just want to intimidate the media and cover up for the shortcomings currently in the State and exacerbated by the succession battles,” he said.

“There are cracks they would never want exposed because they reflect the weaknesses in the state.”

Former Zanu PF official Kudzai Mbudzi, who is now associated with former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s People First movement, said the media had a right to “shine light on the security sector’s misdemeanours”.

“The media should not be harassed, intimidated or arrested for writing stories about military officials dabbling in civilian politics,” he said.

“Mugabe’s administration should instead focus energies on de-politicisation and reform of the State security sector as that is crucial to achieving durable peace, improving governance and aiding democratic consolidation.

“Mugabe in December admitted at the party’s conference that the military were dabbling in Zanu PF politics and for his administration to then threaten journalists for writing about it shows gross disregard and disrespect of the role of the media.”

Mbudzi said Mugabe has for years allowed the security forces to dabble in politics in contravention of the Constitution.

“The military, police, and CIO have no business meddling in civilian politics, and if they so do, journalists have a right to report on such,” he added.

“The Constitution says defence forces are expected to be non-partisan and professional in the discharge of their duties.”

There are reports that the security sector is divided along Zanu factional lines, with some said to be behind Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, while others allegedly support First Lady Grace Mugabe and a faction known as Generation 40.

Some are believed to be still loyal to Mujuru, who was kicked out of Zanu PF in 2014 for allegedly plotting to topple Mugabe.

Political observer, Maxwell Saungweme said Mugabe’s administration would not want “its skeletons outed”, hence the onslaught on the media.

“Undemocratic regimes with too many skeletons in their cupboards do not want any serious public scrutiny of the security services,” he said.

“This happens with all dictatorial regimes in Africa and elsewhere. Zimbabwe is at a very crucial juncture where the government is facing its worst economic problems in history, yet at the same time the government itself is dysfunctional and the ruling party and government are torn apart due to succession disputes in the party.

“Given that the government and most of its institutions are militarised, the military definitely has a big role to play in the ongoing succession fighting and power matrix.

“So you cannot expect the regime to be comfortable with the media exposing the goings-on in the military at this juncture,” Saungweme added.

“But the media should be steadfast on their role and continue to report things as they are.

Source : The Standard

Virginia’s journalist of the year on leaving his paper: ‘Time for us to go our separate ways’


By Corey Hutchins

Reporter John Holland’s tenure at The Virginian-Pilot was a brief but eventful one.

The Boston native with a thick New England accent came to the paper in late 2013 after a few years reporting overseas and, before that, a decade at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. In less than two years he shook up Virginia Beach, won the state press association’s award for Outstanding Journalist of the Year, attracted his share of critics among the local political and business elites, and found himself in the middle of a controversy over claims of management meddling in the newsroom.

Now he is no longer with The Pilot, the latest high-profile departure from a paper that has since last fall experienced deep staff cuts and turnover at the top.

Holland’s exit is likely to raise some eyebrows for close readers of The Pilot. For his part, though, Holland declined to go into detail about the circumstances of his departure. “There’s new leadership at the paper with different approaches, and this was probably the perfect time for us to go our separate ways,” he said, in part, in a statement to CJR. “The Pilot still has an unbelievably deep and talented group of reporters. I was very lucky to work there and will miss it.”

Holland added that three of the four editors who hired him have also since left the paper. His exit comes eight months after longtime Pilot editor Denis Finley resigned.

Since leaving The Pilot, Holland has signed on as a consultant for an investigative media and courts project in Albania and is seeking freelance work.

The paper’s current top editor, Steve Gunn, did not respond to a phone message or emails seeking comment for this story.

While at The Pilot, Holland covered the strange case of a public works director apparently on perpetual leave for military deployment and a local Little League that got into the bingo hall business, among other stories. But his most notable work focused on the intersection between local government and some of the region’s leading industries—banking and real estate.

In November 2014, The Pilot published an investigation by Holland reporting that the mayor of Virginia Beach, Will Sessoms, had cast votes benefiting developers who borrowed from a bank where the mayor also worked as an executive. In the aftermath, the mayor left his lucrative private-sector job, the bank and others in the area changed their policies on executives holding public office, and an official inquiry was launched.

The story also prompted plenty of pushback—and as I reported in January, according to many Pilot journalists, some of it came from upper management at the paper’s own company, stymying other reporting efforts and precipitating a crisis in the newsroom. Eventually, the paper did run a clarification and a correction, and, in time, reporters got back to work.

Then, just this month, after a yearlong investigation, a special prosecutor charged the mayor with five misdemeanor counts of violating Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act by failing to make necessary disclosures. Two of the five cases that led to charges had been featured in The Pilot’s coverage. (The case is pending; Sessoms has said he “never intentionally violated the conflict of interest act.”)

Holland also pursued a line of reporting about the city’s involvement in the private sale and redevelopment of a decaying landmark hotel. A September 2014 article raised conflict-of-interest questions about one council member’s vote on a package of tax incentives. By early this year, the FBI had reportedly opened an investigation. There has been no resolution to date.

Holland’s final story for The Pilot returned to the hotel deal, from a slightly different angle. That article documents the assistance one developer got from city officials in putting together a successful offer, and quotes a councilman who worries that “people believe there isn’t a level playing field in the city.” According to sources at The Pilot, the story was held up internally for months. It ran on Sunday, Nov. 8, after Holland had already left.

Source : CJR Editors