Restriction of civic space threatens media, citizens

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day 2018, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), pays tribute to all journalists and media workers, many of whom continue to work under trying circumstances to bring citizens news and information necessary for them to make informed choices.


Over the course of 2017, MISA has witnessed the restriction of civic space across southern Africa, along with a subtle erosion of free speech rights. This, unfortunately, is compounded both by the media’s struggle for economic survival and relevance to citizens who all too easily disown their media and the critical role it plays in keeping power to account.

MISA’s analysis of the state of media freedom and free expression in southern Africa during 2017 is presented in our annual publication So This Is Democracy? The full report along with individual country chapters (AngolaBotswanaLesothoMalawi, MozambiqueNamibiaSouth AfricaSwazilandTanzaniaZambia and Zimbabwe) offers insights into media and free expression developments across the region and, importantly, proposes areas for joint action and prioritisation.

MISA rings warning bells on Tanzania and Zambia which stand out as democracies gone amok.

The Zambian political and social landscape was peppered with incidents ranging from the death of a student from Copperbelt University who was injured by police during a protest, to the bombing of a privately-owned media house in Lusaka and the declaration of a state of emergency following a spate of arson attacks on public installations.

President John Magufuli’s crack down on all criticism and dissent is both subtle and overt and weighted against popular political and economic reforms. This makes it difficult for advocates to navigate the terrain of harnessing support to fight for fundamental rights when Magufuli’s fiscal policy decisions reflect the strengthening of an economic sector. Citizens and stakeholders overlook infringements on freedom of expression and media freedoms. His shrewd skill in crafting law under the guise of regulation, is in fact constricting the space for opinions and in essence is creating a police state.  Opposition politicians and journalists including the exiled Ansbert Ngurumo and the still-missing Azory Gwanda are on a growing list of the dead, disappeared and detained.

We congratulate Namibia who has taken on board the principle of multi-stakeholderism in its inaugural internet governance forum. Governance of the internet concerns us all and everyone should contribute to how it is regulated. Indeed, everyone deserves a seat at the table

As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day this year, MISA remains mindful that new challenges related to political developments, technical advances and national security concerns require advocates of media freedom to constantly battle for its preservation and further enhancement. We have noted the rising and fierce criticism of the media by political figures. This encourages self-censorship and undermines the media’s credibility.

We remain apprehensive about legislation restricting freedom of expression online and offline sweeping across the region – namely Zimbabwe, Angola, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi, under the guise of protecting citizens from cybercrime and reinforcing their rights to privacy while the actual intent is to introduce more stringent monitoring of the internet and control over content posted on social media platforms.

The mistaken impression is that this will affect mainly the media but the impact of this type of control will have a negative effect on all citizens as it will curtail their freedom of speech rights.

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