Leaders from African unions took the lead in representing journalists at the experts meeting of the two-day “Forum on Media in Africa”, organised by the Moroccan government and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation last week in Marrakech.
The Forum which attracted hundreds of journalists, academics, politicians and diplomats discussed in panels and workshops the role of media in Africa in building free and democratic societies and the need to strengthen them by developing access to information, building up the status of journalists and preparing the impact of new technologies on media in Africa.
Speaking at the closing session on behalf of the IFJ affiliates in Africa, Stanis Nkundiye, Treasurer of the Federation of African Journalists, said “Although the transformation of the media landscape is resulting in greater opportunities for exchange and dialogue, and for sharing knowledge and information, it has not translated into stronger respect for fundamental freedoms.”
He reminded the ministers and government officials from Africa that journalists faced increased physical dangers such as targeting, arbitrary arrest and intimidation, just for doing their jobs. He cited the imminent trial in a military tribunal of three journalists in the Cameroon for protecting their sources and urged the trial to be halted and the charges withdrawn.
“Although some progress has been made in some African countries that have put in place freedom of information laws, challenges throughout the continent remain strong, as far too many countries continue to criminalise expression, and journalists continue to be penalised with prison terms for libel or even when they try to protect their sources,” he said.
The IFJ African affiliates presented specific recommendations to the Forum calling for:
1. A fund to be set up to provide humanitarian aid for journalists who suffer intimidation, discrimination or physical violence because of their work, and to their families and to support legal actions in defence of journalists.
2. Action to be taken at regional and international level, including the UN agencies, to enforce the existing mechanisms and procedures;
3. The justice system to be overhauled and decriminalisation of the laws concerning journalists to be removed from statute books;
4. The protection of journalists’ safety and end impunity and the promotion of media self-regulatory mechanisms. They finally called for the Forum to be made an annual event.
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The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries