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10 minutes | Feb 5, 2017
Combatting 'fake' news in Africa
Although the aftermath of the US elections and the rise of 'fake' news on American social media and the press have caused a stir around the world, African news consumers have had to deal with 'fake' news for some time. RFI's Laura Angela Bagnetto speaks to three media experts on the continent-- Jimmy Kainja, Zumba, Malawi-based media expert and co-editor of Africablogging.org, William Bird, the executive director of Media Monitoring Africa, and Anim Van Wyk, the editor of Africa Check South Africa to find out how readers and listeners can protect themselves.
10 minutes | Dec 28, 2016
The Marriott Cell: How I got through my deepest, darkest moments in Egypt's notorious Scorpion prison
Egyptian-born Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy has published a book about being jailed for collaborating with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The Marriott Cell recounts the story of how he and his Al Jazeera colleagues were branded terrorists and spent more than a year behind bars before he was pardoned by President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi. The case grabbed headlines around the world and marked a key point in Egypt’s changing relationship with press freedom. This week’s African Media spoke to Mohamed Fahmy about his time in a notorious Cairo prison, how he had access to some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and the message he would send to other journalists currently languishing in Egyptian jails. Can you tell us about your book? It basically includes details of my case and how I spent 438 days incarcerated in Egypt and branded as a terrorist while I was only doing my job as a journalist for Al Jazeera. It was interesting to write because it includes interviews with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS [the Islamic State armed group] fighters and Al Qaeda fighters that I conducted and gathered inside prison. It also includes the battle for freedom - what we did to get out of prison - dealing with the courts, the judges, the lawyers. How this fight was complicated and wasn't just an issue of press freedom but also a geopolitical battle between Egypt and Qatar, the owner of Al Jazeera. I also highlight a lot of the mistakes that the network made as well and what they did that made our situation more difficult. What sort of position did Qatari ownership of Al Jazeera put you in? Qatar definitely kept us in the dark on many issues, for example, how Qatar had signed the Riyadh Agreement while we were working. Basically that means that the Qatari emir had promised countries in the Gulf like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain that he would not use the Al Jazeera platform to attack them. Qatar would not meddle in the internal affairs of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many of these countries who were not happy with Al Jazeera. That he [the Qatari emir] would not allow Muslim Brotherhood guests to appear on the channel. However, we as journalists were not informed of these details of the Riyadh Agreement and were kept in the dark. This complicated matters for us. Having said that, I also believe that this trial was flawed with many mistakes. I spoke in court many times against the prosecution, I highlighted how they should differentiate between the responsibilities of the journalists and that of the network. Specifically, we found out in court that the network did not have the proper documents and they were not legally operating in Egypt in the first place. We were also kept in the dark about this issue. So I clearly document what both sides have done that led to our incarceration and it’s not acceptable that any journalist should be thrown in prison. Was writing this book a cathartic experience? It was definitely therapeutic in many ways. But I wrote this book specifically because although journalists like yourself and journalists from all over the world did a great job, there was so much context lost in the coverage of the trial. It’s almost understandable because of the rise of ISIS and the case happened when a lot of breaking news was happening. So much of the context of why we ended up in prison in the first place was not presented in the media. I just felt it was my responsibility to clarify a lot of the misconceptions to the millions of people who supported our case. Especially those related to issues of press freedom and how important it is to fight for that noble cause. But also issues related to the responsibilities of networks towards the journalists and towards the protection of journalists and that is something that Al Jazeera completely failed to do. This includes issues related to the protection of citizens, for example, in Canada. I highlight a little bit of what could have been done in a better way and I feel that this book was my way of sharing a lot of these experiences. To be honest with you, many of us spend our lives trying to get close to terrorists and interview them on the frontlines and many of our friends have lost their lives whilst doing so, like James Foley and Steven Sotloff and the list goes on. Here I was, inside the prison, surrounded by the possibility of these long exclusive interviews, being able to speak to many of these terrorists and not worry about my own security because there's bars between us. So I document a lot of these interviews in the book. What was the Scorpion prison like? Scorpion prison is one of the worst prisons in the Middle East and as a journalist and aid worker I've been to many prisons. There is no sunlight, it is filled with cockroaches, mosquitos and you’re sleeping on the floor in the cold weather. The guards are very manipulative and you have a very hard time getting goods in during the family visits. Your family could wait for hours before they get to see you for half an hour. It is extremely tough to be inside Scorpion prison. Many prisoners have lost their lives due to medical negligence, etc. However, our situation got a little better after the international outrage and the three journalists, including myself, were moved to a better prison. We lived together in one very small cell and the only reason we were able to survive was the support of our families, embassies and journalists outside. That kept our morale going and it kept us alive. Before you were moved into a cell with the other journalists, what was your deepest, darkest moment? For any prisoner the darkest moment is to assume that you are going to spend years and years in that dirty, filthy cell surrounded by terrorists. You don't know what is going to happen to you, that feeling of uncertainty, that's the main problem. Your mind can be your most dangerous enemy. Until the final verdict I was still hopeful that things could go our way, but throughout my incarceration, the darkest moment was definitely being sentenced to seven years for a crime I didn't commit. That's the moment I broke down and I started getting really worried for my wellbeing. How did you ensure that you kept your mind focused? How did you occupy your mind, so that you didn't find yourself in that dark place too frequently? I had to balance my physical being, my mental being, my spiritual being in any way possible. Jogging on the spot, finding ways to keep time, although I didn't have a watch, and so on. But when things got better and we were allowed books - it’s very ironic the thinnest book in the stack was called Man's Search for Meaning written by Viktor Frankl. He's a survivor of the Holocaust during the Nazi era in Germany. He speaks of a concept called tragic opportunism, how you can turn human suffering into a human achievement. How do you say yes when you're facing death, pain and injustice - that's exactly what I was going through. This book helped me a lot and I still think about it and I read it again when I was outside. I still believe that trying to rise above this madness of the incarceration and helping others ensures that your imprisonment is not arbitrary. That's what I'm doing now - by writing the book, by hoping it helps others, by speaking about the ordeal - fighting for what we believe in as journalists and human rights defenders. And I hope it does help people who are in similar situations. If you could send a message to other journalists who currently languish in Egyptian jails, for example photojournalist Shawkan, what would you say to them? It’s very easy for someone to give advice when they're sitting in the comfort of their bedroom. In Shawkan's case, I have been speaking about him in the media, lobbying and calling for his release. He's a photojournalist who’s been inside for three years, he's not committed any crimes. I've read his file and I’ve spoken with his family and visited them at home. All I can tell Shawkan is that his incarceration will not be in vain, he's now well-known in the world, in New York, in Europe. Everyone has seen his photos, when he comes out he needs to be stronger than ever because he's more famous than ever. I've sent messages to him in prison, I told him, 'when you come out, you're going to be able to get the job of your dreams and hopefully leave Egypt, go and do whatever you want'. But it is hard because false hope is a prisoner’s worst nightmare and I felt that many times, when people would say, 'you'll be pardoned' or 'you'll be released’. You get so excited but then when it doesn't happen it hits you even more. I hope that Shawkan is included on the next list of people who'll be pardoned.
10 minutes | Dec 6, 2016
Refunite, the technology that reunites refugee families
This week, African Media looks at an online technology, Refunite, that helps migrants and refugees to locate their loved ones, wherever they are. But first we go to Morocco, where a TV show sparked outrage on a lot of social media this week. In the first part of our magazine, Rothna Begum from the Women's Rights in North Africa for Human Rights Watch, explains why a make-up video sparked outrage in Morocco. On the morning show Sabahiyat, on Morocco’s state television, a make-up artist gave the audience some beauty tips to help them quote-unquote "carry on with daily life". But this was no usual make-up advice: she was showing women how to cover up bruises from domestic violence. This sequence from the show was then shared widely on social media. In the second part of the magazine, we spoke to the founders of Refunite, brothers David and Christopher Mikkelsen.
10 minutes | Nov 29, 2016
Egypt’s media crackdown: targeting of journalists union and continued detention of reporters
The head of an Egyptian journalists union and two board members have in recent weeks been given suspended two year jail sentences and fined for harbouring fugitives. The charges against Yehia Kalash, president of the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate, Gamal Abdel Rahim and Khaled Elbalshy stem from a police raid on the union’s building in May. Two journalists, wanted by police over protests against the transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, had taken refuge at the building. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said the charges against members of the Journalists’ Syndicate was not an issue of freedom of speech. However, press freedom advocates such as the Committee to Protect Journalists have said the journalists union is being punished for working to protect journalists from harassment, threats and arrests. Meanwhile, a number of journalists continue to be held behind bars in Egypt often without charge. One such case is photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid ‘Shawkan’ who has spent more than 1,000 days in jail following his arrest during the Rabaa protests in 2013. This week’s African Media speaks to an expert on Egyptian media to discuss the significance of the charges against members of the journalists union and a lawyer who is representing Shawkan in Geneva, petitioning to have his case recognised by the UN. Fatima el-Issawi, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics, on targeting of Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate "This is unprecedented in the history of Egyptian media, but it’s part of a wider crackdown on civil liberties, civil society groups, lawyers and human rights groups. Definitely the crackdown on journalists is stronger than on other groups, it’s unprecedented. What we used to see under [former President Hosni] Mubarak was form of co-optation, intimidation, but we had a much higher margin of manoeuvre for expressing dissent in media. Since the military coup most of the media are singing the song of the military regime with only very few media and very few journalists who are trying to send a critical message about what's going on now in Egypt. They have to face retaliation - some of them are forbidden from traveling, some of them have seen assets in banks frozen - so it’s really a very fierce attack on journalists." Toby Cadman, international human rights lawyer, on case of detained photojournalist Shawkan "He has been brought before a judge, on the last occasion he was actually allowed to address the judge for the first time. My role has been working in highlight his situation with the United Nations. The UN in Geneva has a number of special rapporteurs and working groups that deal with particular instances of human rights violations. We filed a communication earlier this year with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Egypt declined to respond and the UN working group recently, in the last couple of weeks, issued a ruling upholding our complaint saying that he should be released, he should be offered compensation. The matter has also been referred to the Special Rapporteur on torture because of his deteriorating health situation and the refusal to provide him with adequate medical care or to release him from custody constitutes inhuman, degrading treatment and may constitute torture."
11 minutes | Nov 12, 2016
Radio silence in Kinshasa as RFI cut drags on; How “Somali Faces” shares stories to counter negative perceptions of Somalis
In this week's edition of African Media, we go to the DRC, where RFI broadcasts have been cut for over a week. Then, we talk to a young photographer who is challenging negative perceptions about Somalis. RFI has been unable to broadcast in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, since authorities cut its signal over a week ago. In this edition of African Media, we bring you the latest on the case and talk to a local media rights activist about the worsening situation for journalists as political tensions increase. Then, we speak to one of the founders of “Somali Faces”, a project that aims to share the extraordinary stories of Somalis all over the world to counter negative media perceptions. Mohammed Ibrahim Shire talks about the people he’s met and how it has changed him personally.
10 minutes | Oct 24, 2016
Ethiopia is fighting the people, not a rebel group: Berhanu Nega on State of Emergency
The Ethiopian government has declared a six-month state of emergency after protests in the capital, Addis Ababa, and around the country resulted in extrajudicial killings of at least 500 people, according to protesters. RFI spoke to Berhanu Nega, the head of Patriotic Ginbot 7, a new group formed by the merger of Patriotic Front and Ginbot 7. Speaking from Eritrea, he says that the Ethiopian government-imposed State of Emergency will not work on the people because these are tactics used for guerilla warfare.
10 minutes | Oct 9, 2016
Exploring Kampala's "Little Mogadishu" through photography; revisiting RFI Hausa correspondent court case
This week's African Media talks to Anne Ackermann, whose evocative photo series, "Behind Veils and Walls" on the Somali community in Kampala, Uganda is being showcased at the Bay St Brieuc International Photo Reporer Festival in France. We also look at press freedom issues in Liberia, Western Sahara, Sudan, and the trial of RFI Hausa's Cameroon correspondent, Ahmed Abba.
13 minutes | Jul 28, 2016
Battling censorship in Lesotho and South Africa
A newspaper editor is recovering from surgery after being nearly assassinated in Lesotho for an article he published about a high profile army commander. Meanwhile in South Africa, journalists claim victory in their censorship row with the state broadcaster, the SABC. The truth is mightier than the guns of darkness, a top rights group has hit out in condemning an assassination attempt on the editor of the Lesotho Times and Sunday Express. Lloyd Mutungamiri was attacked by two unknown gunmen on 9 July, in apparent retaliation for his article about an alleged exit package for the country’s army commander, Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. His shooting came after a tough week for him and his company. Earlier he and his colleague, Keiso Mohloboli were arrested by police and urged to reveal their sources. Mohloboli has now fled Lesotho and gone into exile. "This is a matter that we urge our government to investigate thoroughly," Tsebo Matsasa, the director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Lesotho told RFI. "In the absence of an investigation, there's a lot of uncertainty in our country, especially among media practitioners.” Those practicing the art of irreverence are the most worried, which happens to be the case of the Lesotho Times. For years, the independent paper has openly criticized the government and army, but now its irreverent tone is under scrutiny. "When you get to the point of assassination it says that you've rattled the bars a little too much," William Bird, the director of the NGO, Media Monitoring Africa, told RFI on the phone from South Africa. It rattled the US State Department, which issued a sharp warning to the Lesotho government to refrain from intimidation. The country's laws however make that difficult. Colonial hangover "One of the things common to the Southern African region is that despite many countries having legitimate and democratic governments coming into place as they acquired independence at various times, what is common among most of them is that they've retained former colonial laws," explains Bird. "So what we're dealing with very often are still colonial hangovers." The CEO of the Lesotho Times, Basildon Peta, would know a thing or two about headaches. He's been charged with criminal defamation andcrimen injuria because of a column he wrote. "These laws were last used in 1912!" says Tsebo Matsasa. "When it comes to a charge like crimen injuria [committing a crime], the challenge we have is that we don't establish the nature of the charge." "And it's clear why, criminal defamation is a useful tool to keep people in check,” says Bird. He welcomes recent moves by the ruling ANC party to remove criminal defamation from South Africa’s laws. "We're making slow progress, but it always seems like it's two steps forward, and sometimes three steps back." Censorship This frustration is equally felt among journalists in South Africa. Eight employees of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, SABC, have been engaged in a long-standing dispute with their corporation over a controversial decision to ban footage of violent protests. "Our Chief Operating Officer [Hlaudi Motsoeneng] began issuing verbal orders, and one of them was that we're not allowed to report negatively on president Zuma anymore,” Suna Venter, a senior producer at SABC told RFI. Venter and seven of her colleagues were sacked for not towing the line. But she says that self-censorship would have been counter-productive: "When 21 million people rely on the SABC exclusively for their news, if you censor that, you're in big trouble. And if you censor that with one week to go before the elections, you're in even deeper trouble." On Wednesday, SABC dropped its appeal against a Labour court forcing it to take back Venter and her colleagues, meaning they should be available to cover the 3 August elections.
10 minutes | Jul 19, 2016
Zimbabwe: Social media show anger at ecnomic woes
This week's African Media goes to Ethiopia and Zimbabwe to talk about social media networks but for very different reasons. In Ethiopia the government has imposed a ban on social networks supposedly to help students focus on their exams. And in Zimbabwe discontent expressed online has been growing since April after Zimbabwean pastor Evan Mawarire posted a video rant about his economic struggles using the hashtag #ThisFlag.
10 minutes | Jun 29, 2016
Refugee Radio, by and for refugees; Zambia Post newspaper seized by government
In this week's African Media, we take a special look at World Refugee Day by speaking to Larry Moore Macaulay, Nigerian founder and editor-in-chief of Germany-based Refugee Radio; and RFI's Daniel Finnan speaks to Zambia Post's News Editor Joseph Mwenda on the govenrment shutting down production of the independent newspaper in Lusaka.
11 minutes | Jun 13, 2016
RFI Ghana correspondent wins US fellowship for data journalism project
RFI's Ghana correspondent Nana Boakye-Yiadom talks to African Media about his new fellowship in the US, and his quest to educate journalists around the continent about data journalism with his new venture iJournoAfrica. We'll also be sharing news and views on journalism and journalists around the continent, including Somalia, Botswana, and Senegal.
10 minutes | Jun 9, 2016
Rights group asks Ugandan President Musevini to safeguard freedom of expression
In this week's African Media, RFI takes a look at freedom of speech violations in Uganda.We will speak with a rights activist who signed a letter asking the Ugandan President to put an end to freedom of speech violations. Also we will take a look at Burundi and Egypt where the authorities are cracking down on press freedom.
10 minutes | Jun 2, 2016
South African translation app aims to bring communities together
In this week's African Media, RFI takes a look at what's making the headlines on the African continent. Our main interview of the week will focus on a smartphone app aiming, through language, to bring different South African communities together. We’ll speak to Glenn Stein, the 27 year old creator of Aweza. .
10 minutes | May 25, 2016
"Gifted Mom" app helps save lives in Cameroon
We take a look at an app for mothers-to-be that's been developed in Cameroon and we go to Sudan, where the escalation in censorship comes as a committee formed by the justice ministry is preparing to discuss a new press law.
10 minutes | May 25, 2016
In South Africa, Civics Academy talks to young people about democracy
We take a look at Uganda where the government shut down social networks this week, Burundi, a year after radios were shut down during a failed coup and at a new website about democracy in South Africa.
10 minutes | May 8, 2016
World Press Freedom Day in Africa
In this week's African Media we take a closer look at how World Press Freedom Day has its roots on the continent. We'll also hear about a new report on female journalists, Egyptian reporter arrests and Afrobarometer's poll on the most used medium for news across Africa.
10 minutes | Apr 23, 2016
China's trade ties with Africa
China dominates the goods trade with Africa, becoming the continent’s largest trading partner. In this week’s African Media, our correspondent Nancy Fleming has been looking at how some of the continent’s journalists cover China’s ever-increasing interests in Africa.
10 minutes | Apr 22, 2016
Violence against journalists on the rise in South Africa
South Africa’s violent crime rate is notoriously high, with an average of 50 people murdered in the country every day. Journalists are not immune from such violent attacks. In fact, they have even become a target, with a number of cases in just the past few weeks alleging that police officers are complicit in some of these attacks. In this week’s look at the media in Africa, RFI's correspondent Nancy Fleming talks to some of the targeted journalists to find out more.
10 minutes | Apr 12, 2016
Freelance Gaborone journalist recounts his time in prison; African journalists and Panama Papers
In this week’s African Media, we look at how African journalists worked on the Panama Papers; and we hear about one journalist's prison experience in Botswana. Being thrown in prison became a "blessing in disguise" for Sonny Serite, a freelance investigative journalist in Gaborone, Botswana, arrested for almost receiving classified government documents. RFI talks to Serite about his experience and why the President Ian Khama government does not support freedom of speech. Why were you arrested? I was arrested on suspicion I was going to receive a confidential file from the office of the president. It was suspicious that someone waiting in the office of the president was going to give me a file that was why I was arrested. That was the official reason, but you have written a number of articles criticizing President Ian Khama’s government. Do you think that came into play? Did you know the person who was giving you this file? First of all, let me start by admitting that there is a hostile relationship between the government and the private media. There is no cordial relationship. Yes, I’ve been writing a lot of articles about the presidency and the ruling government. So, I don’t know what led to their suspicions that this guy was going to give me this file. And I must say that this guy has been my personal friend since 1997. He’s not just an employee in the office of the president, he was, he is my personal friend first and employee of the office of the president second. There has been some speculation in the media that part of this issue is because of some articles you wrote about Transnet,[ a South African company and Botswana Railways who reportedly violated procurement regulations when signing the deal]? Yes, because on the same week that I was arrested, actually a day before I was arrested, I did an investigative report exposing the alleged corruption between Transnet and Botswana Railways. It had acquired some coaches and locomotives from the Transnet, a South African company, and there were some alleged corrupt practices in the acquisition of these coaches. So I had exposed some of the deal. You were arrested, about to receive these documents but you don’t know what was in them, and you were taken to prison. You wrote about this for the Sunday Standard in Botswana. It’s a pretty harrowing description of your days in prison. Can you give insight into how that was? It was bad, it was bad. If you look in that article, I explained that the holding capacity of that prison is 170, but it has 421 inmates as we speak. So that’s more than double the holding capacity. You can imagine the hygiene it’s despicable. The sleeping space is very small to accommodate a lot of people there. So, it’s not a nice place to be, I want to tell you the truth. It’s quite interesting that you actually could as a journalist would pick out some of the people who had been on trial previously and were doing major time for heinous crimes. Exactly it’s dangerous. As you can imagine, I was remanded; you know, I haven’t been convicted of anything, but I was there with some people who are serving 60 years in prison. First, people can be dangerous, because they have nothing to lose. They can just fight with anyone. There’s some people there who have given up on life, so for you to be mingling with such people is a very dangerous situation. Have you ever been to prison? This was my first time in prison. I’m a law-abiding citizen. You’ve described this in such detail and you’ve also talked about this on social media. It sounds like you have, perhaps, a new investigative piece that will be coming out. Oh yes, yes. In a way, going there was a blessing in disguise. Because as a journalist, the good thing about journalism is that you take your work with you wherever you go. So, if they were locking me in to stop me from writing what was in that file from the office of the president, I went in there, I met people who gave me different information that is worth writing about. And I’ll be writing about it very soon. So you said previously that the relationship between the private media in Botswana and the government’s office and with President Ian Khama is not a great one. Has this degenerated since he came into office, or has this always been the case in Botswana? I’m sorry to say it only started with him. I’ll give you an example. President Ian Khama has been at the helm since 2008. He has never held a press conference or press briefing with the private media, not even once, since 2008. So you can imagine. There are so many issues that the private media want to engage him on, but he has always made it clear [by saying], “No, I have no business talking to the private media.” He’d rather give the state media private interviews but not the private media. So you can imagine there must be something wrong with the working relationship between the two. Why is this the case? Did something happen early on in his campaign before he came to power? I think the problem is here: the private media is doing what it has been doing all along with the previous president. But now what came to light since President Ian Khama came on board is that he doesn’t tolerate dissent, he doesn’t tolerate what may be perceived as negative reporting. If you say, “There’s something bad going on here,” he thinks you are attacking him, or you are attacking his government. That is the problem. The media is not supposed to write anything negative. In as far as he’s concerned, if you write something negative, then in his own words, he says, “Private media are unpatriotic, in that they let the whole world know what is happening in Botswana.”
9 minutes | Apr 4, 2016
Girls' empowerment in Sierra Leone; media news from Congo and Uganda
In this week's African Media, we talk to a Sierra Leonean feminist and professor who gives back to women through her Girls Empowerment Summit, and Women Change Africa blog; and media news in Congo Brazzaville and Uganda.
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