Brown envelope journalism in Africa


Introductory text:
by Sarah Bomkapre Kamara

The programme ends with the keynote address as the main highlight. Whilst everyone is leaving the hall and chatting, journalists line-up in front of a table or stand waiting for the Public Relations Officer of the organizers. It is the last ritual before they leave. This is a moment money is shared. 

A familiar scene in many countries in Africa. Brown envelop journalism is slowly polluting the ethical minds of journalists in many African countries. This practice I believe has the potential to water down not only ethics but objective journalism practice on the continent. Scholars have over the past few years turned their spotlight on the study of this practice in the media in Africa.

The 2010 edition of the African Communication Research, a peer reviewed journal published by the St. Augustine University of Tanzania dedicated a whole chapter on Bribery and corruption in the African media. Several theories were opined on what constitutes brown envelop journalism and what has kept the practice alive in many African countries. You want to know what it is? Read the following article by our own Terje Skjerdal.  Gives an interesting academic insight on the practice.

Review article

Research on brown envelope journalism
in the African media

By Terje S. Skjerdal

This article gives an overview of past and contemporary research on the “brown envelope” phenomenon in African journalism and documents local terminology and appropriation. The research literature on the phenomenon is growing, coinciding with the alleged increase of informal incentives in African journalism practice. The article discusses how the research tradition has invariably interpreted brown envelope journalism in light of the professional and societal atmosphere. It is argued that the research body has clustered around four main topics: documentation of brown envelope journalism; consideration of the impact of poor economic conditions; analysis of the political and social influence; and discussion of ethical and professional concerns. Three directions for further research are suggested, encouraging further empirical, anthropological and philosophical studies on brown envelope practices with the view to interrogate the phenomenon as an exemplar of wider professional and ethical issues.

 See full article and publication here

 capture_TerjeDr. Terje Skjerdal is an associate professor at the Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication, Kristiansand, Norway and Adjunct Lecturer at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. His research focuses on Ethiopian and Somali Journalism cultures and on professional conflicts in Ethiopian journalism.



Organizers: The African Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS)

Theme: Security Sector and the Media in National Development: The Role of the media in national development with a focus on national security

By Tonya Musa

The Presentation
The media is a facilitator and monitor of national development functional perspectives; it increases civic consciousness among citizens, political parties, civil society and the government through timely, relevant and accurate information dissemination and interpretation of public policies on government actions to the public which may accelerate social accountability and confidence building in the security sector.

Professional reporting builds public confidence in the security trends which may attract investment locally and internationally. The media is a platform to discuss national security issues, policies and structures democratically.  The media is widely perceived as the watchdog of society through news reporting and commentary.  These social perceptions on the media’s position and its empirical effect on public opinion have rendered the role of the media recognizable in discussing national security in the context of national development.

The media in the era of digitalization and globalization is impacting on both global and national security frameworks tremendously by looking at both public journalism and citizen journalism paradigms. This is evident in the real time media characteristics among others is “raw news” reporting.” This has served as point of conflict for journalists reporting wars, insurrections, and demonstration and state insurgencies. In Sierra Leone journalists have suffered police brutality in attempt to give live coverage or video coverage to students’ riot, strike against mining companies, and demonstrations of traders etc.

The Live coverage of wars, coups, insurrections or insurgencies and above all terrorists’ attacks have made media impact on national security visible right from strong democracies to the fragile types. The proliferation of personal media making gadgets and the diversity of media ownership are visible development indicators in the media landscape of Sierra Leone and most other nations in the world looking at media and national development. Such innovations in democracy have increased citizens’ access to security information, knowledge on security sensitive issues, opportunity for expression or representation in decision-making relating to national security etc.

Sierra Leone is enjoying some of these indicators through electronic news gathering- the use of camcorders, mobile phones, and satellite televisions news and other programs, telecommunication networks, social media and the World Wide Web for the production of and current affairs programs.  We expect development to occur in the area of satellite news gathering too on security related matters when the optical connectivity will be effective right across the country.

What are the opportunities?
The operating environment – self regulation approach using the IMC as the institution. The legal framework for effective self regulation is very important here. This covers the right to access information and the room created to freely express opinion on state matters without hindrance or molestation. The right to access information by journalists and the public on national development is fundamental in every democratic society. Moves have been made in this direction by enacting the Right to Access information Law.  Generally speaking public access to information keeps government accountable to its citizens “…freedom of information laws allow citizens to find out “what the government is up to” in the present, and what it did in the past. By helping to check improper conduct, access serves as a valuable anticorruption tool and helps build public trust.

The Right of access to Information- Article 19 of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption a treaty signed by 40 of the 53 members of the AU, says, “Each State Party shall adopt such legislation and other measures to give effect to the right of access to any information that is required to assist in the fight against corruption and related offences.”

Apart from security alertness, media reporting can reduce corruption in the security sector. Reporting what is happening within the ranks and file of the police and military is very sensitive. In Sierra Leone some journalists have complained being intimidated for promoting dialogue on matters relating to social accountability regarding to those serving in the peace missions as police or soldiers. Arguably, when journalists can obtain public records, they need not rely on the whims of a government source to report on government actions and activities, and they can better disclose if there alternative sources.

The second factor is the collaborative mechanisms among civil society organizations on national security. Through community policing, police partnership board, the National Security Council etc the media engagement has been made visible by articulating security trends in Sierra Leone.

The third advantage is the proliferation of ICTs, which is making content gathering and access possible by journalists and the security personnel including the general public.

What are the Hindrances?
The existence of criminal libel law Incriminating free speech and opinion is said to be undemocratic. This law is described by many critics as draconian and dictatorial. Many scholars view criminal libel law as outdated (its original purpose was to protect the monarchy or aristocracy from criticism or insults.) Many countries have abolished seditious libel and prohibit government entities from suing for defamatory statement, even though individual officials may be permitted to do so.

This is a weapon in Sierra Leone use on many occasions to silence journalists and impede investigative stories on sensitive security matters and most other sensitive matters pertaining to social accountability.  This is a threat to the media globally, as research says that even some mature democracies, including the United States, retain criminal libel statues on their books, although are rarely used. pg29

Are journalists to be neutral in giving security reports?
Public journalism requires journalists to inform and influence the public opinion positively by a way of increasing accountability and confidence building.  There are problems on neutrality in reporting security trends.  Here is an example, “At the root of the Washington Post’s objection is the supposed bedrock of the journalists’ profession: neutrality,” he wrote. “I believe that there are times in history …that neutrality is not neutral but complicit in the crime…The court needs reporters to stand by their stories on oath.” Pg21.

Another case in point is the Iraq invasion in 2003. George Bush counted more on the CNN framing and priming of security issues than the CIA reports. When asked he told the CIA that he is watching the CNN. The truthfulness of the report by the CNN might be another concern but the effect was very obvious on the advancement of Bush’s foreign policy.

Journalists are often being raided by police that intimidates the news production and expose confidential information to them, which is arbitrary in nature. It might even be confidential reports about them for accountability. There is lacuna in the law in Sierra Leone context. The US Congress for instance enacted the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 which protect from seizing documentary, or work product, materials in possession intending to disseminate them to the public (i.e. journalists).
This is not strange in Africa alone as observed by the Bureau of International Information program “…although the European Court of Human Rights holds that newsroom searches violate Article 10 of European Convention on Human Rights, many European countries still permit them.” Pg 21

Public good is an essential justification in most cases for instance the Antiterrorism laws adopted in much of the world since 2001 September 9/11 have expanded law enforcement and intelligence authority to intercept communications through wiretapping and similar means.  Sierra Leone was recently threatened by online information on ALSHABAB threat as a result of sending troupes to Somalia. It was posted on the social media and there were diverse reactions to the subject. Recklessly, some newspapers framed the issue sensitively which further scared the public.

Politicking the police is very crucial in this presentation. Politicians using police to intimidate journalists could also undermine the effort of strengthening national security.  They instruct the arrest and search of premises of news production without following the due process of the law.

Interventions on the way forward
Media partnership should be revived with the national security sector for reporting and to build public confidence in the national security as one of significant measures.

Confidence building in the operations of the police, the army and judiciary is very important in mobilizing national support for the security sector.

Information flow is a very important measure to social accountability. This process can reduce corruption in the forces and improve their efficiency.

More development in the legal framework is required for strengthening the partnership. One is repealing the criminal libel law and enforcing the Right to Access of information Law.

At the same time increasing the capacity of the Independent Media Commission and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists is very fundamental to sustaining the self regulating framework.

Awareness raising among journalists on security operations and mandate is very timely.

Tonya Musa is a lecturer at the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He holds an M.Phil, MA, BA(HONS), diploma & certificate in Mass Communication from Fourah Bay College. He is also the Acting Coordinator Postgraduate Studies in Mass Communication at FBC, and a media commentator and researcher in Sierra Leone

Journalism, journalists and media in West Africa

Capture023By Gbanabom Hallowell

Because all of West Africa share common political and social challenges, it is possible, to a large extent, to generalize the operations of the West African media.  Ghana and Nigeria for instance have provided many interregional training for a good number of West African journalists; as well, there is a growing cross-media employment network among West African media.  At least two Nigerian-owned newspapers operate in Sierra Leone; a dozen Sierra Leonean journalists live and work in the Gambia; Ghanaian columnists contribute to the Nigerian and Sierra Leonean media; and several West African media pull their stories from all around West Africa.  And although it is easy to determine that the media organization of one West African country is more advanced than another, yet the socio-political challenges facing the media in Guinea are not, for instance, different from those inundating the Nigerian media.

In determining which media among television, radio and print, have the highest presence, it is easy to say the radio, since many more people, all over West Africa, in urban as well as in rural communities, listen to the radio than read the newspaper or watch television—a large chunk of radio programs are not only done in local languages, but are equally free to access; however, politically speaking, the print media not only have ubiquitous presence, but also the tendency to create a legacy of information of affairs as conducted especially by political leaders for posterity to judge and for the wider international community to peruse.  So, in equal terms, the radio and the print media have the highest presences.  The arrival of the Internet and its several uses as media outlet has added more challenges to the democratic and human rights processes in West Africa.

Media landscape in West Africa faces challenge
The West African media are therefore equally inundated with challenges.  As political West Africa is transitioning from dictatorship to democracy, Journalists are expected to operate in an increasingly democratic and secured atmosphere, while exhibiting a high degree of professionalism in their reporting.  But this picture is not always so rosy everywhere in West Africa.  In many cases, if it is not the journalist abusing the profession, it is the authority abusing the journalist.  In March 2009, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) met in Accra, Ghana to discuss legal national and regional mechanisms they want to put in place to protect the media from political repression.  The meeting established that:

Many of the West African countries have repressive and unlawful legislation on media and freedom of expression. They are used by governments to silence journalists and citizens. Several journalists are jailed for defamation, false news, sedition and offence against the head of state among others.[i]

Open to this organization are the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the newly established African Court of Justice and Human Rights based in Tanzania.  True to MFWA’s resolve, the organization has recently sued the Gambian Government in the ECOWAS court, for the repression of the Gambian media, in what has been widely considered an unlawful jailing and torturing of Musa Saidykhan, a Gambian journalist with The Independent, newspaper in March of 2009[ii]. 

However, in addition to political repression, there are religious and cultural repressions as well, which are not usually given equal weights, but in many instances, can be more harmful to journalists, as in the case of Isioma Daniel, a Nigerian journalist in the This Day newspaper, who in 2002 dared to make a general comment about the prophet Mohamed, whom she said would probably have chosen a wife from among an expected group of beauty pageants for the first time contesting in Nigeria for the beauty of the universe award.  Instantly, Nigeria was gripped by a religious anger as Moslems and Christians engaged in a fratricidal conflict.  Daniel herself later described events that followed her going into hiding:

When I browsed through the Google news site I read the fatwa by the Zamfara state government through their spokesperson, Mamuda Aliyu Shinkaf. “Like Salman Rushdie, the blood of Isioma Daniel can be shed. It is abiding on all Muslims wherever they are to consider the killing of the writer as a religious duty.” I felt calm. It was then I realised that there was no going back to Nigeria. This was no longer a lie-low-until-it-all-blows-over-then-you-can-come-back scenario. Two hundred people dead; in the name of religion.[iii]

A second abuse I noted is that done by people in the media, whom much has been said about not always acting professionally, thus, not only endangering their own lives, but allowing others to cast aspersion on the profession of journalism.  Wherever in West Africa, governments and ordinary citizens have continually complained that the media have been acting recklessly—flouting the ethics of the profession, or not doing their homework well before disseminating news—and that in the process, decent people and institutions are regularly maligned.  In many instances, the international media, like the BBC, are considered more credible than are their West African counterparts.

Need for journalism training
It is important then that we say a word or two about human rights reporting in West Africa.  There are several reasons for which it is important that the West African media both increases and monitors human rights reporting.  Among the reasons are that (1) most of West Africa is experiencing transitioning democracies, therefore, the media constantly need to be vigilant in reporting the processes of democratization, (2) and, tied to it is the fact that much of West Africa depends on donor funding, to be used for the common good.  Are there issues of social justice both in terms of equity distribution and issues of corruption in the use of these funds and other national opportunities?  Through a journalism of civic, political, and socio-economic rights, the media are able to document and evaluate human rights performance.

Given that in all of West Africa and even beyond, the process of becoming a media professional is very relaxed both legally and professionally, there are many a time when, at least, one in every three reporters needs extensive training in understanding content materials, human rights and responsibilities, and the ethics of the profession.  And although there are growing numbers of media departments in West African universities, yet they do not usually provide the practical needs of practicing journalists who sometimes don’t have the requirements to enroll in such schools.  At times even, the professors at these universities have not themselves first been practicing journalists, thus ensuring only a heavy dose of theoretic disciplinary schooling for those who go through these media schools, and who eventually aim for high paying UN and other attractive places.

The backbone of journalism is the reporter.  In West Africa, many of those who become reporters are high school graduates or dropouts, with only the ability to construct ‘immediate’ sentences here and there.  It is these people that the bulk of the media training has to attract.  As investigative journalism has begun experiencing discourses in West Africa, both because repressive governments and citizens accuse people in the media of not digging too deep to be too sure of what they write about, and because the reporters themselves complain about legally impeded access to information, and about investigative reporting being expensive, the need for further and continuous on-the-ground training cannot be overemphasized.

[i] Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)’s network of lawyers meets in Accra.  March 31, 2009. (retrieved September 2, 2009).

[ii] Press Statement: ECOWAS Court dismisses Gambian government objection.  June 30, 2009. (retrieved September 2, 2009).

[iii] Daniel, Isioma, “I Lit the Match” in The Guardian.  Monday February 17, 2003. (retrieved September 2, 2009).

Capture GbanabomGbanabom Hallowell is the D.G. (Director General) Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) – Africa’s second public broadcaster. Founder and Executive Director, Save Heritage and Rehabilitate the Environment (SHARE). He has over twenty years experience in the media. Writer, Poet, Musician, Activist, Lecturer and Political Commentator. Author of Drumbeats of War (poems), My Immigrant Blood (poems), and Manscape of the Sierra: New & Collected Poems 1991-2011 and Leoneanthology: Contemporary Short Stories & Poems From Sierra Leone, The Dinning Table.

Changing landscape, changing voices

Photo RadarBy Damon van der Linde

There is a certain irony that in a world of increasing globalisation, traditional international journalism is facing difficult times. When it’s time for media outlets to tighten their belts, full-time foreign correspondent jobs are often the first cut, and clearly this can pose risks to the quality of reporting.

One alternative to this is “parachute journalism,” where a reporter will fly in, cover an event, and get out when they have what they need.

While many experienced journalists do this well, in many places — including Sub-Saharan Africa — this practice does nothing to discourage reporting on events from a foreign perspective, with all the post-colonial stereotypes of war, corruption and famine that go along with them.

On the other hand, there are some arguments that perhaps even big African media outlets and local reporters aren’t doing a much better job of reporting on the continent.

I’m not suggesting there is one solution to change everything in the African media landscape and create sustainable, inclusive and objective coverage — just as I couldn’t do that for the very uncertain Canadian media landscape.

Citizen journalism a positive move
I do, however, think there are some ways that journalism could be better for everyone, and particularly those who are actually the subjects of the reporting and the communities most affected by the events.

For me that has been one of the most positive aspects of a move towards citizen journalism.

Large media outlets have started to embrace citizen journalism, including CNN’s iReport.

It allows viewers to contribute to coverage by sending in text, video and photos as supplements to CNN’s “standard” coverage.

“Radar” building collaborations
One organization that takes a slightly different approach is Radar, a London-based organization that uses existing technology like mobile phones to find citizen journalism from marginalized communities, then works with established media like the Guardian and the BBC to produce collaborative pieces.

What this organization does address is the often-present gap between those who are producing the news and those who actually live in the communities reflected in the reporting. As a not-for-profit organization, Radar does focus on a particular type of journalism that promotes social issues, rather than everyday sports entertainment and politics.

Right now Radar is working in Sierra Leone, Kenya, as well as the UK.

For media outlets looking for this type of content, it offers on-the-ground coverage and compelling stories from communities that would not be as accessible to the average foreign correspondent. Radar’s pilot project during the 2012 presidential elections in Sierra Leone was a perfect example of how powerful and effective a network of local reporters can be in painting a more holistic picture of a complex situation.

It also increases the possibility of getting breaking news faster using social media than it would take to send a reporter to the scene, as they showed by coordinating their reporting during the Westgate Mall attacks in Kenya.

“Citizen journalists” the beneficiaries
For the citizen journalists, Radar provides an opportunity to receive better pay than they would reporting for most local media and creates other outlets for aspiring news-gatherers. What Radar does not change is who pays the wages.

It still means local reporters have to rely on foreign media outlets for financial support and does not shift the long-standing power imbalances between donor and recipient.

For instance, with all the funding coming from the UK, it would be difficult for employees in Sierra Leone to feel like they have agency in the financial future of the organization.

I admit that is is a difficult problem to address because the money has to come from somewhere and though it would be more sustainable to have it locally sourced and managed, it is rarely available.

This relationship between citizen journalist and foreign media outlet also doesn’t address who the journalism is being created for. Is an article in the Guardian about something happening in Freetown created for Sierra Leonean readers or British ones? Whose values will be reflected in the reporting?

However, the solution to this problem may be the same technology that helps to create the journalism in the first place. Because of infrastructure needs, cost and logistics, television and newspapers are not an option in many places, especially rural areas. For these reasons, radio has been by far the most popular form of media.

But this is changing.

Though internet cafes and home internet certainly exist in most places around the world these days, it’s mobile technology that is bringing information to people at an astonishing speed.

Now, anyone with a phone and some data can read an article from anywhere in the world. And if these international news outlets are aware of who their new audience is, hopefully they will do whatever they can to better reflect their readership, no matter what country they live in.

Capture DamonDamon van der Linde is a journalist and writer based in Montreal Canada. He has a vast experience practicing journalism and writing from several African countries including Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Malawi. He has reported for a variety of print,television, radio and online media outlets. He also worked as a journalism mentor and trainer for local journalists in Sierra Leone through the organisation Journalists for Human Rights.

Title image: Radar training in Kabala, Sierra Leone’s poorest district where there is little power and often no access to the internet
Image credits:Radar

The Free Press Under Attack in Africa

Press FreedomBy Aroun Rashid Deen

New governments often come into office touting their intent to be media-friendly. But such announcements are frequently followed by efforts to undermine the freedom and independence of the press for officials’ own benefit, creating an atmosphere in which journalists who refuse to succumb become targets for harassment and intimidation.

Kenya‘s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, last July invited members of the Editors Guild of that country to a media breakfast at the State House. He told journalists the “relationship between government and the media need not be adversarial.” Yet five months later, Kenya’s Parliament passed anti-press legislation, the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Act and the Media Council Act, a move designed to effectively silence critical reporting, says the Committee to Protect Journalists. The new anti-press freedom bill “will enable a new government-controlled regulatory board to fine journalists up to US$5,500 and media companies up to US$230,000 if the board finds them in breach of a government-dictated code of conduct …”

Media friendly promises

The Sierra Leone All People’s Congress Government came into office in 2007 promising to be the most media-friendly government the country has ever had. Notwithstanding that, journalists who are deemed to be critical of the government have come under intense scrutiny including arrests and detentions.

Law enforcement personnel, weeks ago, ransacked the offices of the Independent Observer newspaper, arrested one of its reporters and took away computers. This followed the arrests of the managing editor of Premier Media Consultancy, Julius Spencer, and the editor of his Premier News newspaper, Alusine Sesay. The police raids and arrests came after the publication of articles relating to the Information Minister, Alpha Kanu’s, dealings with some of the country’s Internet service providers.

Be it a standard democracy or not, no government should be in the good books of journalists, nor should journalists be seen establishing any such relationship with authorities. Even though journalists would have an opinion on a government, it isn’t their duty to express such opinion by way of performance evaluation and grading.

The press, though, can report the failures and accomplishments of government or someone occupying or seeking election or re-election. This isn’t the same as expressing personal opinion as news reporting. So a desire by any government or politician to entice the press is suspect.

Of course, journalists must establish some contact or connection with those they report on, particularly those occupying public office, but such connections must not be extended beyond what is reported. An independent press is sure to report accurately because responsible journalists and the media organizations they represent have a standard to uphold and wouldn’t want to tarnish their credibility.

Press freedom still a challenge

Press freedom organizations have been busy since the first week of January addressing attacks on the media and on journalists themselves in many countries.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Jan. 13 sent a letter to Adly Mahmoud Mansour, the acting President of Egypt, expressing concern about the climate of press freedom in the country and requesting the release of all journalists held behind bars.

At the start of the Syrian peace talks in Geneva last month, the Global Forum for Media Development issued a statement calling on participants to include the protection of media freedom and development of a free and independent media as central in finding a solution to the crisis in that country. Some 60 journalists have been killed and about 80 abducted since the war began in 2011.  

Such organizations have reason to be concerned. In January alone four press workers were killed, three in Karachi, Pakistan, where gunmen on motorcycles shot at a TV crew, and one in Iraq, in a roadside bomb explosion in Anbar province.

From the United States where broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists and New Zealand where the government has been tracking the phone records and movement of at least one journalist following an article he wrote about probable illegal government surveillance, to the Ukraine, where at least two international journalists have been abducted, and the equipment of others damaged by government agents following a rally to protest attacks on the press, to Venezuela, where the government instructs Internet service providers to act as Internet police in an effort to curtail press freedom, attacks on the free press have become a daily occurrence.

This article is not to decry what has become the practice of particularly in-coming governments in many parts to the world to appoint members of the press to cabinet or diplomatic positions. Many such appointees have performed diligently. Some though become their government’s torchbearers of attacks on the press.

Journalists to be blamed?

With financial support from politicians, the power of the propaganda press could not be underestimated. Nonetheless, a credible independent press is what captures the public’s attention rather than government or politicians’ editorials.

When journalists allow themselves to be trapped in politicians’ structured government-media-friendly gestures, they are allowing the government to entice at least some of them into becoming its mouthpiece. By offering wayward press payroll “packages” for favorable reporting, politicians inevitably elevate themselves into directing editorial decisions.

In countries where the press struggles to operate and where some journalists are not adequately trained, such an attempt on the part of those in authority comes as a blessing. When this happens, politicians become both corrupt and complacent and pay little heed to the public’s call for accountability.

Journalists who refuse to accede to the so-called media-friendly gesture, on the other hand, are regarded as enemies of the government and the people. They are likely to face constant harassment, intimidation and detention, as well as attacks of vitriolic fabrications tweaked in lies and character assassinations by those media practitioners on the government payroll.

While officials may think otherwise, independent reporters view themselves as neither favorable nor unfavorable to government activities. They seek neither to build friendships with government officials nor act antagonistically. Their objective is merely to report the news accurately and impartially. Politicians and officeholders likewise should focus less on trying to win over journalists. Any such attempt is a recipe for journalists to go yellow and for the government to muzzle the press.

Capture ArounAroun Rashid Deen is a freelance journalist based in New York. He holds a BSC and MSC in International and Global affairs. He has reported for several media organisations including Africa Online news, Africa Bulletin, Morocco World News, Shout Africa, the Liberia Journal and Gambia Voice.

 Image credits: African arguments