Editorial: Free press key to good governance

Earlier this year journalists from tv station Al-Jazeera have been found guilty of ­"endangering Egypt's security" in a trial Amnesty International has slammed. (Reuters)

Earlier this year journalists from tv station Al-Jazeera have been found guilty of ­"endangering Egypt's security" in a trial Amnesty International has slammed. (Reuters)

The Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the 2014 iteration of which was released late last month, provides a broad but fairly detailed guide to how successful African states have been over the past year in providing “the political, social and economic goods that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state”. Mauritius, Cape Verde and Botswana top the list, with South Africa coming fourth. At the bottom of the list are Eritrea, the Central African Republic and Somalia.

The good news is that, overall, performance in the categories of governance and human development has improved somewhat; the bad news is that, at the same time, more than half the countries of Africa are going backwards as far as safety and the rule of law are concerned.
Accountability and transparency are down across the continent.

An example on which we report this week –  one the Ibrahim assessors seem to have neglected – is the way freedom of expression and the role of the media in making that right tangible have been undercut in Botswana. One journalist from that country is on the run from law enforcement agencies for reporting unfavourably on the president, and the government is talking about an official register of journalists –  a favourite tool of those afraid of a free press. It would allow the government to decide who may practice as a journalist, obviously enabling it to “ban” those it doesn’t like.

The idea has been mooted elsewhere in Africa, not least by the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and should be noted by assessors such as Ibrahim’s as a move towards repression. The media is often in the firing line when governments are unaccountable and not transparent, and want to keep it that way.

If one of the foundation’s aims is to provide relevant information for civil society, so that it knows where to tackle government and how to ensure the rights of the citizenry, this is the kind of thing we need to know.

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