Addis Ababa, 2nd September 2010 – The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Mr. Erastus Mwencha, urged the African Journalists to be objective in their reports and to join force in the promotion of peace within the continent, calling on them to effectively play their role as “watchdogs” of the society. Mr, Mwencha was speaking while presiding at the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop on the safety and protection of African journalists that opened on 2nd September 2010, at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
According to the Deputy Chairperson of the AUC, “We live in a society where information is key; Journalism is crucial for the development of good governance on the continent. That’s why the African Union is so committed to looking at this issue in a holistic manner”. He reiterated the AU Commission’s commitment to ensure a safe and good working condition for the journalists. “We must find the means to institute good ethics in journalism and protect journalists working in conflict areas like in Somalia”, he said, while commending the Division of Communication and Information (DCI) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) for organizing this important workshop.
The opening ceremony took place in the presence of Mr. Bereket Simon, Minister of Communication of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Mr. Norman Ling, British Ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent Representative to the African Union (AU). It was coordinated by the Head of the Division of Communication and Information, Mrs. Habiba Mejri-Cheikh.
Some of the key speakers at the workshop included Mr. Omar Faruk Osman, President, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ); Mr. Jim Boumelha, President, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Mr. Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa).
Speaking earlier, the president of FAJ, stressed on the safety of the African journalists, saying: “Without free expression there will be no good governance and healthy democracy … the will be no freedom of expression if there is no safety for journalists”. He further underscored that the safety of journalists is an issue that concerns everybody including the political leaders, the civil society, and academician amongst others.
According to Mr. Faruk, journalists are the messengers and the communicators of the African people. Journalist safety therefore is paramount in ensuring a democratic societies and good governance. “Every aggression against journalists is an attack on our fundamental freedoms and press freedom”, he noted.
The British Ambassador to Addis Ababa lauded the initiative of FAJ to jointly organize with the African Union Commission a workshop that addresses the crucial issue as the safety of the journalists in Africa. “I am pleased this workshop has the support of the British National Union of Journalists and the Trades Union Congress…I warmly welcome the African Union’s support for the Federation of African Journalists which has taken the initiative to organize this event” he said.
Ambassador Norman Ling, expressed satisfaction to the partnership between the “We are ready to work with African governments to formulate laws to protect journalists from intimidation or repression, to ensure the media can express itself freely, and to assert the importance of editorial independence.”
Communication Minister Bereket highlighted the importance of a free press in democratic nations. He said the Ethiopian government recognizes that neither democracy nor development can be ensured without a professional, robust and free media. “We in the Ethiopian leadership are fully aware that press freedom is inseparably linked with the safety and protection of the individual journalist”. “We encourage all stakeholders to do more in terms of sensitizing government and non-governmental actors about the legitimacy of the demand for greater safety to media workers” he added.
The President of the International Federation of Journalists, on his part, outlined the critical situation facing journalists working across Africa and the importance of African states taking collective action to halt the violence against journalists. “We all know that there is no greater threat to press freedom than violence committed against journalists. Journalism is the oxygen of democracy and development and killing a journalist is the ultimate form of censorship”, he noted. Mr. Boumelha added that, “Having declarations on paper, however important, is not always enough…It is crucial that the African Union spearheads the issue of safety and security of journalists.
Mr. Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) pointed out that democracy has no future in Africa as long as the safety of African journalists is not secured. “In Africa the environment for journalists has become increasingly precarious – journalists are harassed, intimidated, kidnapped, arrested, shot, bombed and killed. Freedom of expression is the mother of all other rights”, he said, adding reiterating that, the ITUC will join hands with the Federation of African Journalists to secure the safety and protection of journalists and other working people.
The two-day event organised by the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) in collaboration with the Division of Communication and Information (DCI) of the African Union Commission, brings together over 35 journalist unions, African Union officials, advocacy organisations and press freedom groups.
Participants at the first day of the workshop discussed the responsibilities of member states, legislators and law enforcement agencies to improve the safety and protection of journalists. The workshop ends on 3rd September 2010.
For more information consult the African Union Website: www.africa-union.org