We live in dangerous times when journalists are seen as a danger to the society in some countries by ruling regimes. In Egypt journalism, following the arrest and sentencing of Al Jazeera journalists on what is seen as trumped up charges over among others, accusations that they reporters were aiding an outlawed political group, the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egypt President Morsi. There is a shameless attempt to legitimize these false charges where one of the journalists is said to have been carrying weapons of war after a spent bullet cartridge was found in his person. It is normal that where there is violence like Egypt where even guns are used, you would easily come across used bullets on the streets and as journalists, our job is to be the curious kind. There is nothing amiss about a journalist picking up a used bullet and taking it to subject it to further scrutiny. Why do we have to be curious and what to verify things, one may want to ask? The answer is simple. Journalism is a vocation that demands that those that undertake it apply a little bit of science in their work. For you to ensure that what you are working on is indeed a story, a story of public interest, you need to subject it to scientific journalism. Thus, in short, you need to make sure it stands up to the dictates of principles of craft. if you do not do that then everything might pass for news for publication, even those that are of not public interest. We are not attempting to teach journalism to anyone through this commentary, rather we want to explain why a journalist was found with a spent bullet in his person. So how does a regime turn around and say a journalist is a terrorist or aiding a terrorist organisation when he or she publishes a story on incidents that are taking place before the eyes of millions of people, where violence by both state parties and non-state actors is the order of the day? Is that criminal on the part of the journalist when they do their job, reporting on fighting in countries like Egypt and other hot zones where people, including innocent unarmed civilians are dying by the numbers? There is nothing criminal. It is high time that governments the world over, especially in Africa where journalists are threatened, harassed, imprisoned on many occasions, realise that journalists are an integral part of government. They are the conscience of the rulers. Through their job, they always remind those in power to stay in line with accepted principles of fairness, justice and others. They are a necessary evil and partners, who instead of being vilified, need to be accepted as a necessary structure that plays an unofficial advisory role, holding a government to account for its excesses.
The Ethiopia issue where a group of Ethiopian bloggers and journalists have been detained for nearly three months who are now charged with terrorism for having links to an outlawed group and planning attacks is worrying to say the least.
The seven bloggers of Zone Nine and three journalists were arrested in April, prompting an outcry from rights groups who said the case was an assault on press freedom.
Interestingly, the group is accused of planning attacks in Ethiopia and working in collusion with the US-based opposition group Ginbot 7, labelled by Ethiopian authorities as a terrorist organisation. These labelling of journalists as terrorists is a great concern as it shows an unprecedented move by draconian governments to criminalise journalism as a vocation. Closer home in Swaziland, human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and The Nation magazine editor Bheki Makhubu are accused of contempt of court , which has attracted criticism among the regional media criticism where MISA calls these charges a travesty of justice. It is a way of instilling fear among practicing journalists to ensure that no one reports negatively on those in power. Freedom of expression is constricted in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
We hope that the African Union will intervene in ensure that the practice of journalists in the continent is safeguarded. This is important especially that if fear reigns, then the truth will suffer badly and democracy and other principles will become a thing of the past and reverse gains made by Africa.