Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World Press Freedom Day Statement: Media in Africa 20 Years On: Our Past, Present and Future – May 4-6, 2011

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Government of the Republic of Namibia, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN/IFRA) are honored to host the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration, which culminated in 03 May 1991, being declared World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations General Assembly.
On 5 and 6 May 2011, the Windhoek +20 Conference, under the theme: Media in Africa 20 Years On: Our Past, Present and Future, will bring together media practitioners from across the continent to reflect on the past 20 years, but also discuss current developments and how to overcome envisaged future challenges.

The Windhoek +20 Conference is a milestone to measure the role that the media plays as a conduit for information dissemination as well as whistleblowers for the evils of democracy that have continued to eat at the core of the continent’s social fabric. We therefore applaud those African governments that have in their developmental roles endeavored to value the media as agents of democracy and catalyst of developments in their own countries.

Throughout the previous years and since the enactment of the Windhoek declaration, the media has proved to be a valuable entity that have sparked a platform of developmental debates, exposed corruption and advocated for the fundamental rights of citizen on basic needs such as access to health facilities, education, food and sanitation.

However, MISA cannot be provoked to dispel the fact that such roles can only be fully exercised once governments appreciates and pledges their support towards the work of the media in their respective countries.

MISA is therefore disturbed by the continuous repression and violations such as murder, harassment and detention that the media still continue to face in some African countries, 20 years after the Windhoek Declaration.

We therefore pay tribute to all African journalists and media workers who have being killed in the line of duty as well as those undergoing persecution on the hand of tyrant leaders in North, East and West Africa.

Having said this, we now take you through a brief journey into the media environment in Southern African countries, which though seems promising, has failed to achieve a purely shinning media freedom example in Africa. In the last 12 months, MISA issued 109 alerts. The alerts document media and freedom of expression violations and developments in Southern Africa. Zimbabwe for the sixth consecutive year had the highest number of alerts at 27, with Zambia and Swaziland in tow.

However, it is also of much concern to note that fatal clouds darkened the media sphere in region in 2010 following killing incidents of journalists recorded in Angola. Just in 2010 alone, two journalists were killed in the line of duty in Angola and the killers are still at large. Alberto Graves Chakussanga, a Radio Journalist with Radio Despertar was gunned down by unknown assassin at his house in Luanda on 5 September 2010. Media reports also cited police sources saying, Chakusanga was killed after a long conversation with unknown assassins regarding his journalistic work. Few months before that, a Togolese Journalist was shot dead in Kabinda, Angola just upon the arrival of the Togolese Soccer Team to participate in the 2010 African Cup of Nations.

The killing of these journalists is a violent artillery on democracy. MISA therefore calls on the Angola government to investigate the murder of these journalists and arrest the killers as a sign that journalists cannot be killed like dogs while in the lines of duty.

MISA also witnessed a number of repressive media legislations being proposed and enacted in Malawi, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, a sign of deteriorating democratic values in these countries. The Media practitioners Act in Botswana, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in Zimbabwe, the proposed Media appeals Tribunal in South African, proposed Media Council Bill in Swaziland as well as the deadlock in the establishment of the Media Council of Zambia are major examples of how those governments are attempting to control the media by statutes.

We therefore calls on those government to respect the media’s call for self regulation in those country and stop asserting to such legislation which sends a slap in the face of media freedom.

The recent assertion to the amendment of Section 46 of the Penal Code in Malawi by President Bingu wa Mutharika sent a backlash to the prevailing media freedom in that country. The Bill, which gives the Minister of Information power to ban publications and publication materials he or she views as not in the public interest was signed into law by President Wa Mutharika without further stakeholder consultations.

We therefore, remind the Malawi government that the issues of what is public interest or not are matters that must be decided upon by the media self-regulative mechanism that exists in Malawi. MISA calls on the Malawi government to give a second thought to the act and consider repealing that law before it rapes the principles of media freedom in that country.

MISA has also witnessed a number of harassments and detention of several journalists in Zimbabwe during 2010. Zimbabwe still ranks the worst offender of Media Freedom in the region. Of the 27 alerts recorded in Zimbabwe in 2010 alone, 13 relates to arrests and detention of journalists in Zimbabwe, compared to 7 cases of detention in 2009, a sign that the coalition government has completely failed to protect media freedom in that country.

The government of Zimbabwe has gone further to establish a statutory Zimbabwe Media Commission to control the media by statute thereby violating principles of independent and free media that was supposed to exist in Zimbabwe.

Since its establishment in 2009, the commission has done nothing, than to illegally impose a fee for journalists who wants to operate in Zimbabwe as well as delaying issuing of broadcasting licenses to private players while at the sometime promoting state monopoly of the broadcasting industry.

In Zambia, we call upon the government to drop contempt of court charges against the The Post Editor, Fred M’membe as well as ensure that the government dispel its continuous position to stifle the ongoing process of establishing a self regulatory mechanism in that country. MISA acknowledges that the ongoing process to establish the Media Council of Zambia will be a milestone that will ensure that media disputes are resolved via a respected self-regulatory mechanism established by the media and other Zambians in the interest of democracy.

These cases and many others, speaks volume of why 20 years after Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom the media in Africa are still far from free and independent. We however commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration commending the sacrifices of journalists, media organizations and communities in defending media and freedom of expression often under serious threats. MISA commends the few governments that continue to maintain a healthy, interactive and consultative relationship with the media and civic society. MISA further commends the donor community without whose financial support, much of our work will come to a stand still.

Also having noted the need for Access to Information legislations in furthering the free flow of information, MISA calls for legislation that guarantees citizens their right to information. Laws that restrict access to information such as Official Secret Acts and Zimbabwe’s AIPPA should have no place in democratic Africa.

MISA calls upon the AU and UNESCO to adopt an African Platform on Access to Information at the upcoming conference in September 2011. //End//

Kaitira Kandjii,
MISA Regional Director
Windhoek, Namibia
May 4-6, 2011

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