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January 16, 2024

African Media Landscape Regional Study Report: The case of Southern Africa

By Dianah Chiyangwa, Zimbabwe. ACRP Southern Africa Network Region Lead 2023.

Journalists preparing for the opening ceremony of the BRICS Summit held at Sandton Convention Centre on 22 August 2023. (Picture Credit: Dianah Chiyangwa)


This report builds on a number of engagements, data and draws from the research that suggests media reforms as the driving processes and transforming the media in the Southern African region. These reforms are centered on the influence media in the region has and their role in the society in terms of narrating, and influencing perceptions on media. Like anywhere in the world, freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom remain a key challenge, and during COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions, governments in the Southern African region, targeted journalists and media houses that were critical of their handling of the pandemic. Governments criminalized journalists and shutted down media outlets that perceived to be calling out poor government responses to COVID-19.  In Eswatini, Eugene Dube was detained for writing about King Mswati’s public health strategy in the face of COVID-19, and in Zambia, authorities closed down the independent television news channel, Prime TV, after cancelling its broadcasting license. The cancellation came after the alleged refusal by the station to air the government’s COVID-19 public awareness campaigns because the station was owed money for airing previous state advertisements different to public awareness.

Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), in 2022, indicated that journalists in the region, who reported and exposed corruption and human rights violations were targeted by governments. Targeting journalists and media houses simply for doing their work sends a wrong message that states are not prepared to uphold their human rights obligations and to be held accountable. In cases where audiences’ views journalism as a luxurious exercise and not a top priority, journalists struggle to hold political power accountable in the face of significant challenges in the environmental, social, political and economic structures at local, regional and global levels. This has been the case in Zimbabwe and South Africa, and other countries in the region.  

The rise of digital communication technologies poses new challenges and opportunities for media and democracy in the region that will require new collaborations and networking strategies. One contributing factor to low trust has been widespread and direct criticism of the news media from a range of different sources. Digital and social media have provided much-needed accountability for news media, with articles and commentaries scrutinized for accuracy, hypocrisy, and bias.  Other criticisms are less fair, influenced by political agendas and often expressed by activists or special interest groups. The divergence of political attitudes has not made it better, and many countries in the region carry examples of verbal abuse, harassment of individual journalists and independent media, and, in some cases, physical attacks against journalists.


This study’s purpose is to document the impact of media coverage in the Southern African region and its best practices, in the process highlighting the gap on how news is consumed, and where news media and journalists are still central to the conversation and how social media networks has influences on journalism. The study responds to the shift from traditional media and impacts of the use of social media for content distribution and how it creates on-going conversations and the intended audiences in backsliding democracies in the region. The study explores how media houses in the region are caught in the horns of a dilemma in adapting their storytelling on these new platforms.

This study examines how local newsrooms in the region are grappling with challenges that are threatening the sustainability of its traditional media, such as the asymmetry between news content and the changing nature of consumer demand, and this has resulted in many job losses and staying ahead of the curve.  These challenges questions whether newsrooms in the region need to find innovative ways to adopt to the global trends and approach to news production such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms and its benefits. Media industry in the Southern Africa region is facing challenges in transitioning to digital platforms-dominated media environment, and currently faces a much more fundamental change driven by generations who have grown up with and rely almost entirely on various digital media platforms. Relying on news wires, editors relying on people’s information, pushing certain agendas by clients, lack of funding, public relations journalism, lack of time to give reporters to do stories, plagiarism, sourcing content from news wires, and celebrity news are some of the challenges faced by many journalists in the region.

This study investigates the creeping and worrying trend in the region, undermining human rights which, has come from the governments, increasingly targeting and deliberately attacking journalists. Media houses and journalists continue to survive amid the growing limiting the rights of freedom of expression in the region especially in countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Eswatini, and highlights the journalist’s experiences in hostile environments, such as age, gender, race and sexuality. For example, women, are more likely to face online harassment than their male counterparts.

Despite the attacks of journalists by politicians, government officials and the general public female journalists continue to face harassment both online and on the ground. The recent case of eNCA’s senior reporter Silindelo Masikane who has been subjected to harassment by politicians.

A study conducted by GMMP reports that 28% of female reporters in Africa cover major topics like crime and violence. In South Africa, there is an increase of 58% of female reporters compared to men, however, online attacks on female reporters remain a huge concern. Cyberbullying of Women Journalists globally has been on the rise. This is evident in the report commissioned by UNESCO in 2021 and carried out by International Centre for Journalists, that examined more than 900 females’ journalists from 125 countries, shows that three quarters of them experienced online abuse. This has led to many of them to stop using online platforms to update their stories, and some have stopped working. Another report from International Women’s Media Foundation provides a clear examination of professional dangers of being a female journalist in the news today.

Many stories exist in local media but trend when they are published in international news, this contributes media facing considerable challenges in providing regular and enlivening coverage of situations like the one faced by the marginalised communities in the region. In all probability, few editors in cities and towns would dispute the importance of the plight faced by different societies, but this does not appear to have occasioned frequent deployment of journalists to report on these developments in many places across the region. An anticipation of bad things around societies contributes to news fatigue, and telling stories with impact brings positive change on how news is consumed every day. In most cases, this is due to editors determining what is important and decision making within editors as well as news organisations being typically drawn more to investing on stories with promise of a concentrated readership with its associated advertising revenue. “Celebrity journalism” compromising journalism as a profession, failing to differentiate between content creators and newsrooms and less conversation on journalism content are other contributing factors in audiences losing trust in the media.

For South Africa, a country that has emerged from the horrors of apartheid, with hopes, prospects of future but which remains unequal played by poverty, crime and gender-based violence and politics of the stomach which has resulted in corruption, media is playing a huge role in shifting the narrative in a South African perspective and to influence South Africa’s storytelling. Despite the controversies that centres South Africa as a country, there is a fascination of multilingualism associated with the spirit of “Ubuntu”, rich heritage, culture and these inspirational stories that has helped to shape South Africa today. 

Journalists and media houses in the region, see the need to shift the narrative without compromising the editorial content and it is possible by telling stories responsible, bringing solution driven stories, providing balanced storytelling and reporting fairness, reporting stories that brings impact to the community and have power to shape the perception, and driving investment stories in the country. is every journalist’s mandate. Verifying information from credible sources, verifying type of sources, to be quick to apologise, and taking accountability, consistency in producing high quality work, to give right of reply, and transparency are ways in which journalists in the region identified as ways to regain trust within the public.

Unlike other countries in the region, social cultural issues hinder progress in Angola with Christianity playing an influential role in Angolan society. Subjects related to religion, the catholic church or sexuality are either ignored or treated with caution. Women have a limited role within news organisations, while ethnic minorities poorly represented in the media and in coverage of issues concerning them.

How media can play a role in disseminating information on initiatives, is highlighted by Tony Tendai Manyangadze  2021, in his article “Investigating the Sustainability Strategies of Independent Online Media Startups in Harare, Zimbabwe”. Manyangadze explained that there is lack of alternative media platforms arguably created a void that these mushrooming online media startups are now occupying. However, due to Zimbabwe's harsh socio-economic and political conditions, most media startups find it difficult to survive. Manyangadze further highlighted the dynamics in the media industry in Zimbabwe, the legislation, the challenges and how these factors have contributed to the rise of independent media startups.

The sustainability of journalism in the region has been crucial for both the society and the media. The two are both connected in relation to sustainability. Many publications in the region still do traditional journalism and on the verge of bankruptcy, and the need to rethink journalism, on how they engage their audiences, and revenue income streams is needed.

 Reuters Institute report on the subject showed (Newman 2022), about half top publishers are now creating content for TikTok, even as others are holding back over concerns about Chinese government influences as well as the lack monetization. A collective of journalists in the Southern region believe that solutions to deal with threats to media sustainability and freedom in the digital era need to be adopted. For example, Compelling media giants like Facebook and Google to pay local taxes on locally-generated advertising, new media business model and strict laws governing who can be a journalist, response measures and programming that focuses on newsroom policies, renewed efforts in decriminalizing libel and defamation online and offline and limiting the power of law enforcers to interpret the laws, safety mechanism, and psychological support.

The safety of journalists and the implementation of contentious cybersecurity laws in the SADC region saw on 18 June 2021, MISA writing to the Chairperson of the SADC, President Filipe J Nyusi of the Republic of Mozambique, citing that media had not been included in the SADC regional development framework, Vision 2050.  These contentious cybersecurity crimes raised great concerns for MISA pertaining to the disappearance of Azory Gwanda of Tanzania, Ibrahimo Mbaruco of Mozambique: the continued persecution of Hopewell Chin’ono in Zimbabwe and the persecution of Eswatini journalists Eugene Dube and Zweli Dlamini and the general targeting of journalists in that country, and the state of insecurity in the northern Mozambique was published on Amnesty International’s “Media freedom on ashes: Repression of freedom of expression in Mozambique” documented several cases of being arrested for politically motivated reasons.

Although there has been an improvement in most of the region in regards to media freedom, concerns around certain laws such as the NGO Act in Malawi, the proposed NGO Bill in Mozambique and the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill in Zimbabwe continue to haunt media spaces and journalists as a whole. In addition, a layer of cybersecurity laws in countries such as Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe pose a serious threat to freedom of expression in the region.

Southern African countries recorded improved rankings according to the Reporters Without Borders 2023 World Press Freedom Index. These improvements as indicated by MISA provides the latest rankings per country with Botswana halted the slide it recorded in 2022, improving from a ranking of 95 to 65 in 2023. Zambia continued its impressive improvement on the World Press Freedom Index, moving from 109 to 87. Zimbabwe, which had recorded successive declines in the past three years, also recorded an improvement, moving from 137 in 2022 to 126 in 2023. Eswatini, recorded gains by moving to 111 from 131, Lesotho from 88 to 67 and Mozambique from 116 to 102. South Africa also improved from 35 to 25.

Despite these improvements, few countries recorded declines. Namibia, which has been the torch bearer in terms of freedom of expression in Southern Africa fell from 18 to 22 in 2023. However, Namibia reclaimed its spot as Africa’s leading country in terms of press freedom from Seychelles. Malawi, which was ranked 80th in 2022, declined slightly to 82. Angola fell from 99 to 125, the worst decline of a Southern African country. The countries are ranked on several indicators among them politics, economics, legislative social and security. A total of 180 countries were ranked. MISA Regional Director Tabani Moyo said that there was need to sustain the quest for media freedom and build on the improvements over the past year “This is just the beginning, there is need to continue on this trajectory and ensure improvement in the media environment across the region,” he said.

Access to information has increased and self-censorship has declined in most of the countries in the region, however a study by Reporters Without Borders, indicates that the media landscape is exhibiting an encouraging increase in diversity but remains dominated by state-controlled media, of which the national companies in countries like Zimbabwe with 70% of print and broadcast media outlets are still under its control.

In Botswana and South Africa, there has been a decline in the most serious abuses against journalists in recent years, and journalists are rarely arrested in South Africa but the police sometimes fail to protect them when they are exposed to violence. The safety of journalists who expose the endemic corruption is threatened by the politicians involved, their associates and their supporters. On 3 July 2023, the South African High Court’s judgement Monday stroked down a gag order against the amaBhungane Center for Investigative Journalism, the Committee to Protect Journalists the original injunction against amaBhungane on June 1—following a secret application by the Moti Group, the subject of the outlet’s coverage—and the action was widely condemned as a threat to media freedom in the country. The injunction ordered the outlet to return leaked documents and refrain from publishing further articles based on them. Campaign for Freedom of Expression, Media Monitoring Africa, and the South African National Editors’ Forum released a joint statement welcoming the “resounding victory for media freedom” in the Moti-amaBhungane judgment.

Journalists, media professionals and media scholars in the region require resources to be skilled in different forms of journalism,

  • press freedom and safety
  • reporting opportunities and fellowships
  • resources to combat online violence, and threats that comes with internet: Online safety is important
  • Empowerment is needed on how to use the technology responsibly, critically and creatively
  • safe space for journalists by training and mentoring more members
  • funding


This study report was carried in ten countries in Southern Africa region which is the Republic of Angola, Republic of Botswana, Kingdom of Eswatini, Kingdom of Lesotho, Republic of Malawi, Republic of Mozambique, Republic of Namibia, Republic of South Africa, Republic of Zambia, and Republic of Zimbabwe. The study was conducted by using literature reviews from scholars as refences, citing what has been said in the past and now, the research used reports as references by difference organisations. Online engagements with journalists, individual interviews, round table discussions with journalists in Zimbabwe and South Africa, a survey was also sent to networks within the region such as scholars, lecturers, researchers and journalists’ WhatsApp groups and some of them have been involved in different projects with Africa China Reporting Projects, and the data was collected as part of this study.  

Data Results & Findings

The data collected from the survey indicates that 46 participants completed the questionnaire and among them are journalists, editors, researchers, media scholars, journalism students, journalism lecturers, producers, public relations officers, project coordinators and bloggers. 73.9% were male respondents and 26,1 % were female respondents.

The survey also received responses from eight countries in the region. The highest number of respondents was 34,1 % from Zimbabwe and 25, % from Malawi, 18,2% from South Africa, 11,4 % from Zambia, 4,5% from Botswana, and the less than 2% of the responses were from countries like Lesotho, Namibia and Eswatini and no response from Angola and Mozambique.

The data findings suggests that 28,9% of journalists in the region cover investigative topics, and 20% cover climate change topics, and 13,3 cover business topics, 11, 1% precent cover politics, and less than 2% cover topics such as health, agriculture, environmental and human rights related topics.

The findings indicates that 34,8% of journalists in the region are in the print, 19,6 % multimedia, 26,1% online and 13,% are in broadcast.

Discussion & Analysis of Data

This research focused on three keys areas which is media landscape in each country in the region, journalists challenges and content distribution. 60.9% of journalists in the region believes that informing, educating, and empowering citizens, promoting good governance, transparency, social cohesion, developing a new generation of media professionals who are skilled, knowledgeable, and equipped to navigate and succeed in the landscape are the driving processes required to transform the media landscape in the region. Misinformation (54,3%) and fake news (52,2%) are the current challenges faced by the media landscape in many countries in the region. The data shows that 69,6% reflects the impact of social media on traditional media for content distribution in many countries in the region. The impact has created new opportunities and challenges for content creators and publishers to reach a massive audience, and also a decline in traditional advertising revenue, and a rise of influencer marketing.

The study concludes that media houses and journalists in the region need to adopt the concept of Sustainable Journalism, in order to upscale growth within media industry, to push limitations on how media may influence policy making processes and the importance of gender diversity in newsrooms. Mainstream media should partner with community media to bring solution driven stories.


  1. Marina Adami: Reuters Institute; How to keep doing journalism under siege: five tips from editors in India and Hungary:
  2. Melody Chironda: Africa: Working Towards Doing More Sustainable, Constructive Journalism Grounded in Africa:
  3. Aarti Bhana: An attack on media freedom in Zimbabwe is an attack on its democracy:
  4. Zipporah Musau: A new era for African media:
  5. Ammina Kothari and Sally Ann Cruikshank 01 Dec 2021 Artificial Intelligence and Journalism: An Agenda for Journalism Research in Africa
  6. Reporters Without Borders:
  7. Tania Broughton: Daily Maverick: Media freedom organisations unite in accusing Moti Group of bringing Slapp suit against amaBhungane;
  8. Sam Sol: The Hindu: Investigative outlet sets key test for media freedom in South Africa.
  9. Tania Broughton GroundUp
  10. The 6th Global Media Monitoring Projects 2021:
  11. Amnesty International Mozambique: Media freedom in ashes 2021:
  12. Columbus Mavhunga/VOA: Arrest of Zimbabwe Journalists ‘Out of Sync’ With Press Freedom Norms:
  13. Dianah Chiyangwa: TalkAfrika: Cyber Bullying: Attacks On Female Journalists Rise As Xenophobic Tensions Escalates In South Africa:
  14. Manyangadze, Tony Tendai: Nov-2021 Investigating the sustainability strategies of independent online media start-ups in Harare, Zimbabwe:
  15. MISA Regional 2023: Southern Africa improves on media rankings but more needs to be done:

The full report can be downloaded here.

About the Author:

Dianah Chiyangwa is a Zimbabwean born photojournalist, writer, and curator based in Johannesburg South Africa. Her work focuses on women and children, migration, health, gender justice, climate change and environmental issues. Through Wits-Journalism/Africa China Reporting Project, Chiyangwa, has been awarded with Digital Identity in Africa 2019 and the Climate Crisis 2022 reporting grants.  Dianah has also participated in the ACRP Wildlife Poaching & Trafficking Journalism Training Workshop, 9-12 July 2019, and the ACRP Workshop on Digital Identity, Data & Technology in Africa, 28-31 October 2019.  The Africa-China Reporting Project, has featured one of Dianah’s publication in the New Book on Digital Identity, Data and Technology in Africa, 2022

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