Windhoek - Governments in several southern African countries are concealing information while at the same time trying to exert their political muscle over media operations, a press watchdog said on Wednesday.
"Contemporary experience in southern Africa shows that governments, including those deemed to be progressive - like South Africa - are increasingly becoming secretive, hindering access to information and expressing more fervent desire to exercise political oversight of the media," the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said in its annual report on media freedom.
MISA singled out regional powerhouse South Africa over its passing of the Protection of Information Bill in November last year, as symbolic of policies elsewhere in the region.
The bill was passed by the National Assembly after the ruling African National Congress hinted it would institute a media appeals tribunal in the country. The bill is still before the upper house of parliament.
"What happens in South Africa is easily a justification for similar policies in the region and elsewhere," the report said.
Focusing on press freedom in 11 countries in the region, the report titled "So this is Democracy?" was published on Wednesday ahead of World Press Freedom day on Thursday.
It cited Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe as having restrictive media laws.
While no journalists died on duty in the past year, MISA said "the environment across southern Africa remains dangerous" with journalists having been physically and verbally assaulted in the course of doing their work.
It said Malawi reporter Isaac Kambwiri suffered police brutality during public protests last July.
South African police admitted to tapping phones of investigative journalists Mzilikazi Wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstetter, who wrote stories on police corruption.