Saturday, July 25, 2009

African Journalists Oppose Corporate/State Pressures

Thirty-two IFEX members and partners raise concerns about proposed AU-EU Pan African Media Observatory Project

Attn: Habiba Mejri-Cheikh Spokesperson and Head of Information and Communication African Union Commission

Ian Barber Head of Unit Information and Communication Directorate General for Development and relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific States European Commission

Joint Submission On the Pan African Media Observatory Project

The following statement is issued by the under-listed organizations following the invitation by the European Commission (EC) and the African Union (AU) for responses from organizations involved in media development to the Pan-African Media Observatory Project (PAMO). The organizations, which are signatories to this statement, are members or partners of the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO) and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX).

The under-listed organizations welcome the intention of the European Union in partnership with the Africa Union to support and advance media development in Africa. Our support for this policy direction is based on the belief that a strong media sector is critical to Africa’s development as it can promote good governance, provide a platform for open and participatory debates on public policy and provide opportunities for governments and citizens to engage with each other.

Substantive Comments
The under-listed organizations firmly believe that the approach of the Pan-African Media Observatory Project proposed to be adopted by the EU and the AU cannot lead to the realization of the objective of advancing media development in Africa and particularly in ensuring media freedom, independence and professionalism.

Rather, we believe the idea as presently conceived contradicts or violates a number of well-established principles guaranteeing media freedom and independence and would ultimately create further problems for the media and the right of African peoples to independent sources of news and information for personal, professional and political decision-making. The key factors in our position are outlined below:

1. Project Framework Founded on an Erroneous Premise
The consultation document provides the background to the Pan-African Media Observatory in the following terms: "The context was described by the initiators of Media Observatory Global, at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2002, as follows: 'real power is now held by a small group of global economic corporations and enterprises which sometimes appear to have greater influence over the world's affairs than governments and states'. As a result, it is important not to leave Africa at the mercy of one-track thinking, or standardized or imposed offering and content. In short, there is a need to ensure that African media enjoy pluralism, freedom and independence from political and economic powers and from all lobbies including professional lobbies, and that they bear the seal of creativity by developing their own original content, co-productions and thematic series." (See p. 1)

While there may be a few media organizations in Africa that are under the control of global economic corporations, this context is certainly not the dominant reality of the media in Africa. The challenges of media development on the continent are much more wide-ranging, but the real issue for the vast majority of African media players is how to overcome the over-bearing and pervasive influence of the State which invariably seeks to control the media for propaganda purposes, usually to prevent any real public scrutiny and to implement their agenda of self-perpetuation in power.

Although the project document claims subsequently that the background, motivations, needs and realities of the creation of the Pan-African Media Observatory are totally different from those of Media Observatory Global, it fails to explain how or to define a different context or background.

Rather, a significant portion of the framework elaborated in the project document appears geared towards responding to this context by enforcing "media responsibility" in a manner that would pander to the wishes of African leaders and give the Media Observatory "a fair degree of recognition and legitimacy among the Member States" of the AU. (See p. 5)

2. Project Concept Ignores Reality of Brutal Media Repression in Africa
Following from (1) above, it is our view that the project framework ignores a fundamental reality, which is the brutal repression of the media (through obnoxious laws, institutional arrangements and practices) in many countries on the continent.

In many parts of Africa, media enterprises are sometimes shut down by government or security agents while scores of journalists and media workers as well as other citizens are regularly being forced into exile, assassinated, physically assaulted, threatened with death or physical harm; arbitrarily arrested and detained; subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment; harassed through oppressive criminal charges and unfair trials; and subjected to other forms of aggression for exercising their rights to free speech.

This repression, more than anything else, undermines the ability and capacity of the media in the different countries to challenge established authority. Yet, the project document completely ignores this reality in outlining the context and background to the project. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Media Observatory project contains no concrete strategy for addressing this fundamental problem.

3. Project Framework Inconsistent with Established Principle of Independence of Media from Governmental Control or Interference
The project departs from a well established principle that a free, independent and pluralistic media should ideally be free of governmental interference and control in that it seeks to subject African media organizations and media professionals to government control and interference.

By establishing the Pan-African Media Observatory as an institution or organ of the African Union while at the same time empowering it to enforce professional standards and conduct for the media and for media practitioners, whether through mediation or other means, the project is effectively subjecting the media to the control of governments and government institutions.

4. Project Ignores Previous Milestones
Although the project description claims that it is a structure to support and strengthen existing initiatives, organizations and bodies, in reality it fails to recognize or acknowledge landmark principles that have been previously established but whose effectiveness have been undermined by the failure or refusal of national governments to respect and abide by them.

Such milestones include the 1991 Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press, which was subsequently unanimously endorsed by UNESCO and the General Assembly of the United Nations; the African Charter on Broadcasting, which was adopted at an international conference organized by UNESCO in Windhoek, Namibia in 2001 in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration; and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which was adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in 2002.

Subsequent to the adoption of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa by the African Commission, an organ of the AU, the Commission has established a monitoring mechanism for Freedom of Expression in Africa in the form of a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa with a mandate to, among other things, monitor the compliance of member States of the AU with freedom of expression standards in general and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in particular.

The project document gives no indication of awareness of these instruments and mechanisms. No consideration appears to have been given to their potential for advancing media freedom, independence and professionalism on the continent. There is also no indication of how the Pan-African Media Observatory might seek to reinforce them or ensure their effective implementation, for instance, by ensuring that States bring their laws and practices into conformity with the standards outlined in the documents.

5. Project Ignores Existing Initiatives
The project appears to ignore ongoing initiatives in the region in which significant and far-reaching consultations have been carried out over the last several years. Some of these initiatives include the very detailed consultation conducted under the Strengthening Africa's Media (STREAM) process, which was coordinated by the UN Economic Commission for Africa(UNECA) as well as the African Media Development Initiative (AMDI), coordinated by the BBC World Service Trust, both of which received significant support from the UK government.

The STREAM process involved extensive online consultations in different stages among various stakeholder groups across the entire continent with several hundred respondents as well as at least five sub-regional consultations in the form of physical meetings and conferences of media practitioners, media owners, media trainers and media support organizations throughout the regions of Africa. In addition, a separate consultation for Francophone countries was also held.
The AMDI process involved primary and secondary research to gather data about the media landscape, media conditions, legal and regulatory framework, etc. in 17 African countries which were then analysed and published in reports. Both processes have now merged into the African Media Initiative (AMI), which has itself conducted further consultations and research to agree on strategies for intervention under various strands of media development in Africa. AMI has now established a secretariat in Nairobi, Kenya.

Other platforms, including the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organizations (NAFEO) and its global partner, the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) as well as the Africa Forum on Media Development (AFMD) and its international umbrella network, the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), have been involved in these efforts and remain active in other spheres and initiatives with regard to media development in Africa. As well, the Declaration of Table Mountain, adopted in Cape Town in June 2007 at the conference of the World Association of Newspapers (including 16,000 member newspapers throughout the world) called for the elimination of all laws restricting the operations of free and independent media, including "insult'' and criminal defamation laws, which still exist and are often invoked in 48 (of the 53) countries of Africa.

It seems logical that any fresh initiative should seek to build on these previous efforts in order to avoid duplication, waste and the possibility of contradictory approaches.

We respectfully urge the European Commission and the African Union Commission not to implement the Pan-African Media Observatory project as presently conceived.

We are not encouraged by the apparent lack of political will on the part of many African leaders to give effect to the decisions of existing mechanisms in Africa, including the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Tribunal. For this and other reasons outlined above, we donot believe that the Media Observatory, as presently proposed, represents a framework for bringing about positive changes for the media in Africa.

It is our view that the objective of ensuring media freedom, independence, pluralism and professionalism would be more likely achieved through clear recognition and respect for a more conscientious implementation and enforcement of existing documents, charters, principles and mechanisms, in addition to other internationally recognized instruments.

We therefore urge that African leaders make a clear commitment to effectively implement relevant existing African instruments and principles, including the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press; the African Charter on Broadcasting; the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa; as well as the relevant provisions of international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

We recommend that the EC and the AU Commission work together to strengthen the office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

We further recommend that the EC and the AU Commission further support and advance media development in Africa by supporting the work of media associations and media support organizations which provide a range of services and assistance to the media sector, including in the area of training and capacity building, research and advocacy, litigation and legal support, and monitoring and campaigning.

Signed by:
Africa Free Media Trust, Kenya
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egypt
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), U.S.A.
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Liberia
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA), in exile
Exiled Journalists Network (EJN), U.K.
FAMEDEV-Inter Africa Network for Women, Media, Gender and Development/LeRéseau Inter Africain Des Femmes, Médias, Genre et Développement, Senegal
Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), South Africa
Freedom House, U.S.A.
Ghana Journalists Association (GJA), Ghana
Human Rights Network-Uganda (HURINET), Uganda
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRJN), Uganda
Index on Censorship, U.K.
Institute for Media and Society, Nigeria
International Press Centre (IPC), Nigeria
International Federation of Journalists - Africa Regional Office, Senegal
Journaliste en danger (Journalist in Danger, JED), Democratic Republic ofCongo
Liberia Media Center, Liberia
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Ghana
Media Institute (MI), Kenya
Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Nigeria
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création (OLPEC),Tunisia
Radio Alternative Voice For Gambians- Radio AVG, Senegal
Somali Coalition for Freedom of Expression (SOCFEX), Somalia
South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF), South Africa
West African Journalists Association (Union des Journalistes de l'Afriquede l'Ouest, WAJA/UJAO), Senegal
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Kenya/Canada
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), U.S.A.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), France
Diallo Souleymane, Le Lynx, Conakry, Guinea
Jeanette Minnie, Zambezi FoX: (International Freedom of Expression andMedia Consultant), South Africa

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