Winston Mano interviewed by the SABC News’ The Globe programme about the significance of World Press Freedom Day
Democracy and development on the African continent require open media that allow the public to freely send and receive information, regardless of the caveats on public order and security. The World Press Freedom Day is an opportunity to reflect on gains and challenges faced by journalism in Africa. This year is important, coming 60 years after African independence and 30 years after the Windhoek Declaration which prompted the UN to establish the World Press Freedom Day. To some extent there is a mixed picture on the continent, with some positives in terms of pluralism but also undue restrictions on the media by a variety of forces. The media themselves are struggling from a pleathora of pressures, infringement and abuses of the media. Talking with SABC’s Peter Ndoro, Winston Mano emphasised that the promising opening up of media space in Africa is backsliding especially given the new controls related to reporting the Covid pandemic. Paronoid governments are not fascilitating the reporting of corruption or the management of the epidemic. In many ways it similar to the days of fighting terrorism. Business, religious and new digital platforms are adding to capture of the media. Journalists in Africa continue to suffer from crisis of power and domination by vested interests, undue state controls/ownerships. The dwindling funding have made the media more vulnerable to controls. The private or independently media space is shrinking due to competition as well as limited sponsorship and advertising. Hostile economic pressures have brought undue pressure on public interest media such as the SABC. A neoliberal framework has introduced unhealthy cost -cutting measures. In South Africa groups such as SOS have done well to push back on the undue threats and pressures on the media. Social media have emerged as a good alternative but their role is restricted by harsh controls and internet shutdowns by paranoid authorities. Ultimately the questions are: free speech for whom? Whose voices are being heard, who should be heard? The answer is not encouraging as the majority rural Africans are still outside formal media, local languages are shunned by main media, the poor cannot afford the media. The necessary corrective is for communication rights of Africans to be grounded and responsive to African experience.