Senegal and Tunisia are among the countries that have fallen the most in the annual press freedom ranking, published on Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The 21st edition of this ranking highlights in particular the effects of disinformation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
In two-thirds of the 180 countries assessed, the specialists who contribute to the development of the ranking “report the involvement of political actors” in “massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns” , according to RSF. The most significant drops in Africa concern Senegal (104th, -31 places) and Tunisia (121st, -27).
In Senegal, where the possibility of a third term for President Macky Sall is arousing opposition, RSF denounces “the sharp deterioration in the security conditions of journalists” . This country was however a “regional model until recently” . The NGO also judges that Tunisia, chaired by Kais Saied, is “increasingly authoritarian and intolerant of criticism from the press” .
The defense and promotion of the pro-Russian narrative contribute to the explosion of disinformation and the development of a propaganda ecosystem across the continent. Fake media networks now help denigrate and discredit journalists who do not comply with the patriotic injunctions imposed by the new juntas in power.
A similar phenomenon is also noticeable in Ethiopia (130th). The Tigray War led to a wave of arrests of journalists and encouraged intense propaganda by federal authorities, such as the Tigray Liberation Front (TPLF). In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (124th), in the North Kivu region, journalists are also caught between the injunctions of the M23 rebels and those of loyalist forces.
Propaganda and disinformation thrive in a terrain that remains one of the most dangerous for journalism. If the French journalist Olivier Dubois regained his freedom after 711 days of captivity in Mali, a total of five journalists were killed in the exercise of their function, between the end of September 2022 and January 2023, in Cameroon (138th ), in Kenya (116th), Somalia (141st), and Rwanda (131st).
Even when investigations are opened, they do not always lead to the originators, as illustrated by the cases of Cameroonian journalist Martinez Zogo and Rwandan John Williams Ntwali . In this environment where impunity reigns, arbitrary arrests on false grounds, particularly targeting investigative journalists, have multiplied.
Yesterday regional model, Senegal (104th) fell 31 places in the ranking, in particular, due to the prosecution of journalists Pape Alé Niang and Pape Ndiaye and the sharp deterioration in security conditions for media professionals. In Burundi (114th), the particularly severe verdict, sentencing journalist Floriane Irangabiye to 10 years in prison, helps to keep this country at the bottom of the ranking.
While the situation is now described as “difficult” in nearly 40% of countries (compared to 33% in 2022), some improvements are still to be noted on the side of Niger (61st) where the law on cybercrime, used to condemn Journalists, was amended in June 2022. In Uganda (133rd) the Constitutional Court also struck down a provision of the Misuse of Computers Act, which criminalized the publication of “false news” .
According to the 2023 edition of this benchmark ranking, the conditions for practicing journalism are poor in 7 out of 10 countries. The NGO is alarmed by the strong presence of disinformation on social networks, illustrated, for example, by false images generated by artificial intelligence (AI)
This world ranking is produced by RSF on the basis of “a quantitative survey of abuses committed against journalists” on the one hand, and “a qualitative study” on the other. The latter is based “on the answers of hundreds of press freedom experts (journalists, academics, human rights defenders) to a hundred questions” .
The 10 highest-ranked African countries by RSF:
South Africa (25)
Cape Verde (33)
Ivory Coast (54)
Burkina Faso (58)