Democracy Flourishes in Environment of Press Freedom-RSF

By Ruth Nabakwe
Paris, France

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

October 24, 2002

Governments that stifle press freedom in Africa are creating serious stumbling blocks to the growth of democracy in their societies, says Robert Menard, Secretary General of the Paris-based Media Freedom watch group Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF).

Menard made the remarks in an interview Wednesday soon after an award ceremony in Paris to honour four African journalists for excellence and professionalism in their various domains ranging from Radio, written, press to photography and graphics designs.

Sponsored jointly by the RSF and the Radio France International (RFI), the award honours professional journalistic talents from the Francophone African countries and those of the Indian Ocean Rim.

The Prizes were awarded in four categories; best coverage of news from Radio, written press, photography and graphics design.

The President of the Jury, Aminata Traouré, a psychosociologist and former Malian minister of culture and tourism, awarded the prizes to Radio journalist Claude Kyanzu Lokangu of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Larisse Houssou of Benin’s daily newspaper "Le Point", Rivo Stephanoel Razoarinjatovo of Madagascar’s "New Magazine" as well as Songda Ouedraogo, a graphics designer of Burkina Faso’s monthly magazine "Marabout".

Congolese journalist Lokangu was honoured for a radio report on the financial problems faced by Congolese to bury their dead as a result of widespread poverty, while Larisse Houssou of Benin won the award for his report on forced marriage of young girls in Benin.

Madagascar's photo award winner Razoarinjatovo was honoured for his photographic illustration of child labour in Madagascar that was worsened by extreme poverty according to him.

Burkina Faso's graphic designer Songda was honoured for his graphic design of the so called ‘’Youpgon mass grave’’ in neighbouring Cote d’Ivoire which was discovered during the height of political tensions in the country soon after President Laurent Gbagbo came to power

RSF secretary general Robert Menard said the awards were expected to recognise talent in African journalists who often demonstrated courage despite an environment where governments stifled the free flow of information.

Menard expressed concern saying African governments' attempts to stifle press freedom was detrimental to their people as such tendencies made their societies lack access to different sources of information leaving room for the circulation of rumours, disinformation and false information.

Menard cited Cote d'Ivoire where several international Media organizations including RFI, BBC, French TV5 and Africa No One radio were chopped off the air in Abidjan leaving Ivorian people with limited access to alternative news sources.

"Governments in Africa should not declare that they were committed to human rights, democracy, civil rights but at the same time attack the Media, there is no way democracy can grow without a free press," Menard warned.

His remarks were shared by the President, Director General of Radio France International Jean Paul Cluzel who recognised the difficult conditions under which African journalists worked.

"African journalists do a very good job in very difficult conditions, they earn low salaries, work in a difficult political environment and sometimes they work at the cost of their freedom and even their lives," he said.

For Cluzel, it was imperative that endowed Media institutions such as Radio France International in collaboration with other international organs concerned about the growth of a free Press worldwide such as RSF, combined efforts to help promote journalistic talent in Africa.

"It would be a real pity if we did not do it," he added

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