Oct 4, 2012, 1:23 PM
In some cases, governments with pretence to democracy enact draconian laws to muzzle the press. Under such laws, journalists, free expression advocates, or opposition politicians, can be taken before the law on charges that border on the absurd.
On top of that, media houses are randomly closed down without regard for the resultant economic hardship for the employees - yet the same governments enjoy setting themselves up as champions of poverty alleviation.
All of these have made journalism practice in Africa precarious and unattractive at least to the faint-hearted.
However, some African governments have appreciated the value of press freedom and freedom of expression. Senegal, Ghana, Mali and a host of other countries around the continent have decriminalized press offences.
One thing that is very clear is that African journalism is known to have survived all sorts of authoritarianism and emerged better able to crusade for an open society characterized by accountability, transparency, good governance, and the rule of law.
Evidently, journalism is beyond human destruction because it is as indispensable to governance, even autocratic ones, as the air we breathe.
It is our view that only a pluralistic, diverse and independent media can produce the kind of criticism that draws resentment or reprisals, albeit for the public good. Where the press is gagged, the people resort to the grapevine for information, which has proven to be both dangerous and impossible.
The addiction to online newspapers for the real news in most of Africa, for instance, is illustrative of what happens when the conventional press is stifled.
More important, a pluralistic, diverse and independent media is a catalyst for development. It is only when the people are properly informed that they can be counted upon to throw their weight wholeheartedly behind national efforts.
And the type of enlightenment that leads to greater patriotism and productivity is not based on propaganda. Propaganda is known to have a short lifespan. The case of the former Soviet Union is instructive.
Because time exposes every falsehood, the people will eventually get to know the truth and clamour for their liberty.
Mozambique, Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Benin and South Africa have come to recognise the invaluable role the press plays in national development, hence they have chosen to liberalise and decriminalise their media.
This is the new path for Africa’s development. Other countries in the sub-region including The Gambia are urged to emulate these countries.
“I submit to you if a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
Martin Luther King