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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 20:24 GMT 21:24 UK
Is Africa too dangerous for journalists?
Jean Helene
Jean Helene was shot dead by a policeman last October
The international human rights organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has said that 2003 was not a "particularly good" year for press freedom in Africa.

The organisation cited the killings of two journalists in Ivory Coast as well as the probable execution of a third in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It also chronicles many arrests as well as continuing threats to an independent press in Africa.

RSF said in countries like Cameroon, Gabon, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Togo and Zimbabwe, the press was the victim of authoritarianism and a resistance to change.

If you're a journalist in Africa, what do you make of your job? Are you taking your life in your hands?

As a member of the public, do you think reporters truly reflect what you see happening around you?

This debate is now closed. A section of your comments are published below.

I have seen a journalist that was thrown out of his own country Liberia because he held a radio talk show every Monday that discussed African leaders and the poor management of their country's resources.
William Horace, USA - New Jersey

Journalists do not have a record of consistently reporting the truth, be it in Africa, Britain or the USA. Western journalists come to Africa with their arrogant ignorance, which inevitably backfires in most cases. Local journalists are biased depending on which political camp they subscribe to. One needs only study the polarised reports about Zimbabwe for example. It's a pity.
Muchenjeri, Zimbabwe

Well, without the rule of law, it is, indeed, really dangerous to be a journalist inside Africa. But also most so-called journalists take cash from any source to write articles, fabricating facts and attacking individuals based on who is paying.
Thomas Boytee George, Freetown/Washington

The question is, who is making it too dangerous? One gets to see total confusion especially when it is voting time. These poor newspaper fellows have to dance to the music of the government in power or they risk their necks. The opposition also bribes the reporters in order to tell all the negative sides of the ruling party. These folks need all the protection there is in order for them to give a true picture of what is happening around us. Let's make Africa a free zone of freedom of speech and press.
Shuttie F.N.Libuta, Kitwe, Zambia

It is, indeed, really dangerous to be a journalist inside Africa
Thomas Boytee George, Freetown

It's unfortunate that many African countries are yet to mature politically, and this poses a great danger, not only to the journalists but to others. However, to say that Africa is "too" dangerous for journalists, is over stressing facts. How many journalists have lost their lives in Iraq?
Simon Mugenyi, Uganda

I was a former journalist in Africa who suffered vicious attacks from political powers and rebel forces. Africa has always been a "powder keg" for professional journalists. Journalists are 'push overs', they are tortured, imprisoned, offices ransacked, they are killed, harassed and crucified by politicians who stifle freedom of speech and enact draconian media laws.
Vic, Sierra Leone/USA

I was in Togo a couple of years ago when a private press office was destroyed by the army for publishing an article about the head of state. These governments don't want to be criticised, instead they want to intimidate journalists and prevent them from getting the truth to people. That is why many journalists in Africa are biased towards the ruling government.
Richard, Ghana

Most journalists in Africa or elsewhere have political sentiments of their own. This being the case then I don't see why they should "cry wolf" when attacked by their political opponents. In fact they just do the same using their pen to taint the images of their political opponents. They get what they deserve!!!
Issaya Ernest Tabagi, Tanzania

Let's look at the broader picture. In the shady world of today, there seems to be certain things a journalist cannot write about. And as a journalist, if you want to be doing your job for long, you just have to make sure you never cross dangerously into the "Red-Zone".
Oker Tobias, Uganda

It is in the interest of Western journalist covering Africa that the continent is labelled "dangerous" so that assignments there become lucrative. Africa is no more dangerous than Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan, Israel etc. Let's be rational on this matter and stop turning African into a dumping ground for all sorts of prejudices.
Eric Omware, Jonannesburg

Sometimes listening to the news is like listening to a fairy tale
Styles, Zimbabwe

Sometimes listening to the news is like listening to a fairy tale. Everyone you know or meet in pubs, public transport etc, is disgruntled but you hear on TV, "Zimbabweans of all walks of life have applauded the government for this and that". I think journalism is dead here.
Styles, Zimbabwe

Non-African journalists in Africa are not objective. They either lie against common people or lie against governments, and that is why they are not safe.
Hussein Ali, Mogadishu, Somalia.

You find problem spots on every continent. Saying that Africa is dangerous for journalists to work in is a comment based on overstatement and ignorance. But don't mistake me -- you couldn't pay me or some of my colleagues enough to send us to DRC or Zimbabwe.
Mike, US & South Africa

I have been working as a journalist in Ivory Coast for almost 6 months now. I would agree that journalists take risks but danger can be found anywhere. And I think I'm much more aware of my surroundings and the situations I put myself in. It's very sad that two journalists were killed here last year and I think it's even worse that the Western world is more focused on those deaths than the hundreds of other civilians who have been killed here since.
Carrie Giardino, Ivory Coast

In Ghana it is journalists who are dangerous for Africa.
Kin Hussein Ibn Alhassan, Ghana

In Ghana it is journalists who are dangerous for Africa. Journalists have worsened the plight of the ordinary citizen for they have allowed their emotions to override their role in the country. Journalists know nothing more than politics, which is bad for the continent.
Kin Hussein Ibn Alhassan, Ghana

Most of what the journalist in Nigeria gets is half-truths. Lack of transparency make it impossible for the reporter to discover the total story. Those who are willing to speak want to remain anonymous and are unwilling to back it up with documents for fear of reprisals. This is worsened by the economic interests of media owners.
Ifeanyi Ugwuadu, Nigeria

Africa is a rather dangerous place for any objective minded journalist. For instance, in Cameroon many journalists have got into trouble with the government for venturing into certain areas of national life considered too delicate. So for a journalist to cope in Cameroon, he either sells his conscience or visits his grave.
Khan, Cameroon

Even those journalists with good intentions have problem writing objectively For example, the image of Sudan depends on who is reporting; you have the Southern angle or the Northern angle. So what we read or view about a society is a poor copy of reality.
Atem Yaak Atem, Nairobi, Kenya (Sudanese)

Civil society needs to appreciate the ghastly alternatives of societies without journalists. Real, committed journalists reflect what they see around them. How else would they survive or command the respect of their communities? The tragedy in Africa in particular is that a lot of people who have no business in journalism have been allowed to invade and suffocate newsrooms. The result is self-evident.
Davison Wadawareva, Zimbabwe

Western journalists are only interested in poverty and conflicts when it comes to Africa so danger comes with it.
Mimi, USA

As a journalist I have reported from Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D'voire, Saudi Arabia, and the US. Journalism is dangerous everywhere depending on the political situation and how the journalist carries him or herself. The most dangerous places to report from at this moment is Iraq. While I condemn the death of Jean Helene, Africa is not as dangerous as the western media want the rest of the world to believe.
Kwame Antwi-Boasiako, Ghana/USA

Journalists put their life at risk, no doubt. Thanks for 'walking the walk'.
Robert Shatz, USA

I wish the foreign media could balance their news when it comes to Africa. Majority of what outsiders see about Africa is negative. There are many good things that take place in Africa to balance the bad things and yet they are rarely highlighted.
Hellen Kerali, Uganda/USA

Is there something called "pro-active journalism"?
Diimaa, Oromia/currently USA

There is one big problem I have observed; I would call it the 'herd mentality' which I would use to describe the behavior of journalists to flock to one particular hotspot without appropriate prior coverage of events leading up to the big event. To cite one example, students from the Oromo ethnic group have been staging protest marches & uprisings against, and facing down the governement of Meles Zenawi but little attention has been given to this big event. Instead, all international media have focused on the events in the neighboring Gambella region. Is there something called "pro-active journalism" ?
Diimaa, Oromia/currently USA

I been working for 14 years in Ethiopian television. One thing I'm sure of here, journalists are under fire, forced to churn out government propaganda. There is no way or method to crtisize or show the fact and the truth to the public.
Wendesha, exiled Ethiopian journalist, London

I am not a journalist but as a member of the public I can comment on what I see happen to jounalists here in Ethiopia. To be viewed as good, Ethiopian journalists have to go out of their way and report events as it interests the government. Any journalist who reports the event as it is is doomed. They faces persecution, jail, and property confisication. The only journalists who lead a safe life are those who work as information guardians of the government.
Jacob Konsitta, Ethiopia

This is just another example of how African governments supress the truth. There is no freedom of press or speech in Africa. To be a journalist in Africa is to be the enemy of the government, with frequent paper shot downs and visitations to the jailhouse. We have seen examples of journalists killed all over Africa or jailed indefinately without access to lawyers.
Alimamy Kheiyo - Sesay, U S A/Sierra Leone

The only journalists who lead a safe life are those who work as information guardians of the government.
Jacob Konsitta, Ethiopia

What is wrong with you people.If there is one or couple of incident in Africa, you people or the world makes a big deal about it without offering any solution to the problem. Quit patronizing Africa.
Imvulu Otioti, USA

As a little boy growing up in Sierra Leone, I saw the news paper " Tablet" closed and raided, and the editors chased out the country. The editor Paul Kamara spent more time in jail than at his home. Please stand up to these governments let them allow freedom of the press.
Mohamed Sylla, U S A/Sierra Leone

To pose the question in this manner is to already cast the continent as a dangerous place.It is unfair to lump countries with a free media such as South Africa or Kenya with those without a free media such as Rwanda. If a doctor, lawyer, farmer or tourist is in Congo it is equally dangerous as it would be to a journalist...if the country is in war.
Kiprono, SA

Yes I think Africa is too dangerous for journalists.This assertion culminated out of my own personal experience as a journalist in one of Africa`s most power - corrupt nations. There was no press freedom and everything one wrote was scrutinized by certain security agencies and if any article is found to be exposing the government, then one is destined to spend indefinite time in jail.
John, Sweden

I am very aware that most people in the world find it impossible to believe that white South Africans did not really know the full extent of the apartheid oppression in SA, or who Mandela was, but the fact is it is true. Mainly because we lived in a country with state controlled media where news was biased to suit the government of the day. Media was absolutely a propaganda tool. This is why the role of reporters is so essential. Even if they can't tell their story in their own country, they need to tell it to the world so that people know, and in time the message will and does get back. In South Africa we have recognized that, hence our new press freedoms. It is the bravest thing our new leaders have done.
Bronwyn, UK

Africa has become a cesspool of corruption, poverty, ignorance and death. As the Western world tries to comprehend what Africa is, it's the journalists who must brave the violence and danger to report back. Yes it is dangerous but what can we do about it?
Charles, Montreal, Canada

Nigeria is still the same today only brutality no longer means jail or assasination. What we have now are purely business men whose pens are for the highest bidders.
Tony Odianosen, Nigeria

The best way to mirror a society is through it's press. Likewise the press whose character is formed by the kind of government in power. Nigeria is still the same today only brutality no longer means jail or assasination. What we have now are purely business men whose pens are for the highest bidders.The principle of justice, fairness and equity can not work in the country where curruption has been institutionalised. What we have in Nigeria today are political journalists. They're either pro - government or anti - governmment.
Tony Odianosen, Nigeria

With Africa, it is always been - accentuate the negative, ignore the positive. African journalists are no more targets for angry politicians who consider themselves victims of a bad press than are their counterparts in supposedly more enlightened, law-abiding societies.
Trevor M. Millett, USA

It is hard to have an independent press, without a proper constitution and accountable and responsible government. Look what happended to the all journalists in Eritrea, most of them are in jail, and the lucky ones have fled the country. As long as the general population remains ignorant and unable to demand their rights, their ears will remain shut.
Berhe Tensea, Canada

In Uganda today there is relative press freedom as result of government losing all cases they have brought against journalists. While some journalists are doing the correct reporting, some are being paid to write the opposite.
Kikulwe Yosam, Uganda

One thing I actually observe about the overall function of journalism is most of my colleagues fail to inculcate the journalistic ethics which are meant to safeguard and facilitate the progress of our profession. Many of them feel that they can turn their blue ink to red in order to castigate or defame innocent people. Journalism in Africa can be strong if we show patriotism to our respective countries. If the right ethics are observed, the cry of torture, repression and other difficulties meted on us shall be a thing of past and our survival will end up being a dream.
Chief Manneh, Gambian in Ghana

I think that in countries who have their democratic institutions damaged, or malfunctional, getting facts to surface will always be hard.
Pedro Castro, Argentina

Having been in northern Uganda in 1991 - 1992 during the rebel activity, I can say that not enough reporting on the situations in Africa are done. US citizens have little real awareness of how difficult life is in northern Uganda or of the slaughter that has occurred since June 2003. We need western journalists to face the terror of the night as bravely as women and children in the villages of Africa!
Dr. Colleen A. Weiden, Ph.D., Africa Genesis Foundation, USA

Being a journalist becomes dangerous when those in power do not want the truth to be known. During apartheid journalists were hounded and silenced as the government in power did not want the ouside world to know what was going on.Today in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is doing the same expeling journalists like Andrew Meldrum from the Guardian and even banning the BBC. What is ourageous is that there isn't more of an outcry. The truth must never be hidden
Peter Ross, Harare Zimbabwe

For Western journalists, there's never accurate reporting on Africa because of their ignorance. African journalists are mostly biased.
Atsbeha Yimam, USA

As a journalist you're indeed taking your life in your hands especially when you're a war correspondent. War correspondents find themselves in the same position as enemy army; they're sometimes caught in exchange of fire. Journalism is dangerous any where, it doesn't matter whether is in Africa, Europe, North America, or Asia. Journalist have reported to have been killed in all continents. This not an African issue. As matter of fact, more Journalist have been murdered in the Middle East than Africa.
Jay, USA

I was living in Ghana when I learned of the horrific execution style murder of French journalist Jean Helene in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Nothing since 9/11 has shocked me more deeply than this cold blooded act. Clearly, journalists do take their lives into their hands, even when reporting from a seemingly safe place like a police station, as Helene was. Journalistic accreditation changed him from an innocent bystander into a target. He was simply working to bring the story to the public when he himself became the story. God bless you, Mr. Helene.
Adam Larson, United States

In the quest for the story, journalists seem to be under the impression that they are immortal, as they place themselves in the midst of volatile and violent situations.
Lisa, Hong Kong

The dilemma journalists face has to be the ultimate catch-22 situation. They want the freedom to be in the thick of trouble hot-spots, in order to report back to the rest of the world incomprehensible suffering and injustice. At the same time however, in the quest for the story, journalists seem to be under the impression that they are immortal, as they place themselves in the midst of volatile and violent situations. They should indeed have the freedom that enables them to be in trouble hot-spots, but there must be other options than reporting from the "field" when its going off. Afterall, the power in their story depends upon them surviving to tell the tale. A journalists blood on paper is no use to anyone.
Lisa, Hong Kong

Speaking as an American female who spent a year doing political research and writing in Zanzibar, I can say that I personally never experienced any problems whatsoever, although there were a few incidents involving government-sponsored censorship of politically controversial local publications. Tanzania is a very peaceful country and I did not feel that I was taking much of a risk as a foreign journalist. That said, other countries across the African continent can certainly pose a very real threat to journalists. It is rather unfortunate that in these problematic countries, it is the indigenous journalists who are in far greater danger of censure or even punishment than are foreign journalists, who are generally treated with kid gloves by local authorities.
Jennifer, California, USA

Most journalists in Africa working for pro - western organisations tend to write and paint a very negative picture of Africa in order to please their paymasters.Our journalists tend to focus only on bad stories that border on sensationalism yet there are so many good positive stories that happen and are never reported.
Tambaoga, Zimbabwe

I'm a trained photojournalist who has been practicing in Zimbabwe but because of the untenable laws I decided not to register to continue practicing. This means I last practiced journalism officially at the end of 2002. I'm now a photojournalist in the wilderness. I've formed an organisation to work for real freedom for all Africans. I believe that piece-meal solutions to the issues of freedom in Africa do not work. There is need for a more wholesome approach. And the vehicle for the wholesome change is the journalist. I hope this message gets to you safely because there is an intention, on the part of the government, to monitor all forms of communication in Zimbabwe.
Yess Danda, Zimbabwe

I hope this message gets to you safely because there is an intention, on the part of the government, to monitor all forms of communication in Zimbabwe.
Yess Danda, Zimbabwe

It's sad that the lives of journalists are at stake in Africa. Journalists are not free to carry out their work freely due to interferances espcially from governments who look at them as enemies.
Lazarus Mwale, University of Zambia Mass communication Student

As a young boy I would switch my father's radio to BBC on shortwave with a lot of difficulty, positioning the transistor radio near the roof of the house. It was joy was to hear how they report as live bullets are heard from the background. I didn't know it was dangerous. Now working for the media, I have seen and felt the heat our journalists go through. Most people love watching and listening to the news but will not hesitate to push, abuse or even injure a reporter who is working. I salute all reporters since they risk and put their lives at stake.
Job Egalaha, Kenya

Since the era of the democratic dispensation in Nigeria, there has not been victimisation or assults of the press. At least not known to me.
Kunle, Nigeria

I am a Journalist and Africa is not dangerous at all to us or any other professionals. It has just been wrongly publicised and represented by the Western media and western countries.
Joe Nkadaani, Zambia

In Africa we get what the politicians want us to hear which is okay for now to maintain the peace
Dennis Mwaipola, Tanzania

Our African nations are still young and gaining roots.The press can be both a builder and a destroyer of peace. The African press cannot be treated like the western press. In Africa we get what the politicians want us to hear which is okay for now to maintain the peace. Changes are gradual and they will come with the new generations.
Dennis Mwaipola, Tanzania/USA

I think that in this day and age nobody is any safer in the 'western' world than in developing countries. You're just as likely to get killed in a train crash here as you are to get mugged (or worse) in Africa! I think that with all the censorship that goes on reportrs do a fantastic job, but should they have kept the footage of people jumping from the WTC from us? Who can say?
Brendan, UK

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