"Media polarisation is a threat to the freedom and stability of Mali and Ethiopia"

Bruce Mutsvairo in The Guardian

Polarisatie. Twee leiders staan tegenover elkaar met elk een groep eigen aanhangers © iStockphoto.com/bakhtiar_zein
© iStockphoto.com/bakhtiar_zein

The twentieth edition of the World Press Freedom Index showed that media polarisation creates more false information and conflicts than ever before. Associate professor of Media and Performance Studies Bruce Mutsvairo and Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Kristin Skare Orgeret (Oslo Metropolitan University) note a sharp decline in press freedom in Mali and Ethiopia as well, with all the consequences this entails.


In August 2020, Malian President Ibrahim Keïta, supported by France, was ousted from the throne by a military coup led by Colonel Assimi Goita. Since then, the two countries have accused one another of spreading misinformation and the Malian authorities have taken French news channels RFI and France 24 off the air.

These are symptoms of a larger problem, Mutsvairo and Skare Orgeret note: "In a region already blighted by military coups in Guinea and Burkina Faso, the current social and political tensions in the west African nation are sustained by disinformation and inflammatory content, which have proven difficult to stamp out."

Human rights at stake

Meanwhile, in Ethiopia, a war between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) has been raging since November 2020. Human rights organisations report that the population is plagued by mass killings and other brutal violence.

"Ahmed made a promising start when he took power in April 2018, but the Nobel peace prize-winner’s war in Tigray has meant a rapid reversal of positive developments, including in the area of press freedom", Mutsvairo and Skare Orgeret write. "This year’s index show that new freedoms are severely threatened." Media polarisation continues to grow, in Africa and in the West, and it is proving increasingly difficult to tackle this development in a structural way.