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Uneven record of press freedom, says new MISA report

Media Institute of Southern Africa : promoting media diversity . pluralism . self-sufficiency . independence - MISA logo. MISA
The MISA study finds that women's views are under-represented in the media in southern Africa
Southern Africa's media faced a mixed bag of challenges over the past year, a new report has found. The annual publication by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), 'So this is Democracy? - State of Media Freedom in Southern Africa 2004', published ahead of next week's World Press Freedom Day, said the status quo of either a generally free or a restricted media environment had been maintained in the countries surveyed. "MISA issued 169 alerts in 2004 against individual journalists, and freedom of expression violations against institutions in 11 countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, a decrease of 10 percent over the 188 alerts recorded 2003," said Zoë Titus, regional programme manager for media freedom monitoring. "However, it is a 100 percent increase compared to 1994, when only 84 alerts were issued, the first year MISA first began monitoring media freedom and freedom violations on the sub-continent." Significantly, only 47 alerts were recorded in Zimbabwe during 2004, a 54 percent decrease against the previous year's 102, according to the report. MISA attributed the decline to the fact that the independent media in Zimbabwe had been effectively silenced by the vigorous application of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). "The closure of the Daily News in September 2003 and that of the Tribune in 2004, impacted decisively on critical and independent reporting," said the report. Swaziland, on the other hand, showed a significant increase of violations during 2004 - a total of 29 individual incidents were recorded, as opposed to the official three noted in 2003. In SADC countries where there had not been an overt deterioration in media freedom, the need remained for media law reform, as the environment was "still littered with legal hurdles that stifle media freedom", according to MISA. The media in Lesotho and Swaziland were especially crippled by the financial cost of an increase in civil defamation cases that resulted in expensive penalties awarded to successful litigants. Good laws in themselves do not ensure an improved environment for press freedom, the report commented. "In Zambia, the benefits of the enactment of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation acts have not yet filtered down to the populace," MISA noted. The two laws are aimed at ending government interference in the public and private media. On 3 May 1991, the UN declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press was adopted in the Namibian capital of Windhoek, and MISA was established the following year as a non-governmental organisation with its headquarters in Windhoek. MISA has national chapters in 10 SADC countries and since 1994 has monitored press freedom in 11 countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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