The Media and COVID-19 in West Africa (April 6 – April 12, 2020)

This week the world began to see a glimmer of hope with the steady reductionin the number of COVID-19 infections in the worst hit regions. West Africa however, recorded a surge in its number of cases taking the region’s total count to 3,629 people infected with the virus.

As frontline workers exempted from the lockdown, media practitioners are increasingly being hit by the virus as seven journalists in Guinea Conakry tested positive to the coronavirus and are in quarantine.

Draconian measures implemented by some governments across the region to contain the pandemic are increasingly having a toll on the media as journalists’ rights are being infringed upon in some countries.

 In Sierra Leonne, a journalist for the Standards Times newspaper was assaulted by soldiers for taking pictures of a Covid-19 quarantine centre. A week earlier, a correspondent for the Leadership newspaper in Nigeria was attacked while reporting on the COVID-19. As a result of these increasing attacks, the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) released a statement to caution security agencies from using the Coronavirus lockdown as an alibi to harass media practitioners.

As part of the measures to limit the spread of the virus, governments across the world are releasing prisoners who committed minor offences, or served most of their sentence. The aim of this approach is to decongest jails and allow prisoners to observe the social distancing measure. It is against this background that the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) joined Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and over 81 media organisations to call on governments including those of Nigeria and Benin to release journalists currently in Jail.

As the lockdowns imposed by governments are beginning to influence citizens way of life, and have disrupted several activities including formal education, the government of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana partnered with the media organisations to provide on Television classes to students during the lockdown period.