Regional Global Report: Declining Press Freedom in North Africa


Countries such as Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco are becoming increasingly challenging for journalists to cover. Read what difficulties reporters face in this terrain.

By Ruby Winter

The north of Africa is home to many nations, each ranging in size and culture, offering a number of diverse issues for reporters there to navigate. The nations are also spread out across the World Press Freedom Index. Journalists located in Algeria (Rank 134) have been subjected to routine imprisonments or prosecution for their work. Some have also been barred from traveling outside the country. Several news sites have been blocked and many publications are facing financial difficulties. In Morocco (Rank 135), few independent media outlets are operating today. Prominent journalists –Taoufik Bouachrine, Omar Radi, Souleiman Raissouni — are behind bars despite the international journalism community’s pressure on authorities. In Sudan (Rank 151), media outlets are tightly controlled while reporters in Mauritania (Rank 97) have to work with bias and self-censorship in mind. 

Banners in supporter of Omar Radi outside Casablanca Courthouse, Morocco, September 2020. 
Photo courtesy: Abdeljalil Bounhar/ AP

Imprisonment of reporters 

Free, independent and pluralist media is in danger in Morocco. Unfair trials of journalists have become common in Morocco since the imprisonment of Taoufik Bouachrine, the publisher of Akhbar Alyoum, in 2018. One case is of Omar Radi, human rights defender and co-founder of the news website Le Desk. In 2020, Amnesty International reported that the Pegasus spyware was used to hack into Radi’s phone and monitor his activities. Weeks later, he was investigated by authorities based on suspicions of spying and was detained on July 29. Currently he is serving a six-year jail sentence. Souhaieb Khayati, the director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) North Africa bureau said, “The trials of all three journalists – Raissouni, Radi and Stitou – were marred by countless irregularities and their detention is arbitrary.”

Last year, Egypt (Rank 168) was the third worst jailor of media workers globally according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. This was the seventh year that the country ranked in the top three abusers of journalistic freedoms. Often detainees are added to different investigations from the ones they were originally taken into custody for, this means they can be detained by authorities beyond the legal limit for their original detention. Currently 70 reporters are in jail in Egypt according to the Arab Observatory for Media Freedom. In June this year, journalist Ahmed Taha from Al Jazeera was sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of “spreading false news.” 

Once the civil war began in Libya (Rank 143) in 2014, the press freedom in the country declined drastically. Journalists and media outlets have faced a growing number of attacks that include murder, abduction, arrests, disappearances and torture in prisons.

Political unrest puts journalists at risk

Once the civil war began in Libya (Rank 143) in 2014, the press freedom in the country declined drastically. Journalists and media outlets have faced a growing number of attacks that include murder, abduction, arrests, disappearances and torture in prisons. Journalists also face smear campaigns in digital spaces and physical attacks such as sexual harassment. The homes of journalists and their workplaces have also been raided and they have been subjected to more security protocols as a part of their work. 

After a coup occurred in Sudan in the end of 2021, the press has been tightly controlled. Soon after there were internet blackouts and journalists were being arrested regularly. The sanctions on the media means reporters have to work within the strict bounds of censorship. Journalists there are disconnected from using digital tools, which is forcing journalists to severely limit their operations.

Even in the small country of Tunisia, attempts have been made to “tame” media outlets so that they don’t publish criticism. By physically attacking journalists and putting pressure on editors, the coverage is controlled. This has led to widespread protests in the nation led by journalism organizations. While Tunisia was ranked 73rd in the World Press Freedom Index in 2021, this year it fell to the 94th position.

Countries in North Africa, big and small, must get more coverage in mainstream and independent media internationally. The issues of these regions are not widely discussed, so the challenges of journalists working there are not known. Only by directing a fair level of support to media professionals in North Africa, can the press be free. 

Ruby Winter is a research associate with TrollBusters. She can be reached at report(at)troll-busters(dot)com.

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