The Media for Democracy in Africa programme (MFDA) is a concerted, long- term and comprehensive programme, which forms part of Media Strategy for the role of independent journalism in promotion of human rights and democratic development in Africa. The programme was originally conceived at a conference of journalists' organisations from all over Africa, which took place in Harare in 1993. It aims to tackle the single most important obstacle to media freedom in Africa: the failure to recognise the role played by independent journalism in the creation, nourishment and development of democracy.
MFDA is sponsored by the European Commission, and is built on the IFJ’s extensive experience with activities in Africa. It aims to promote independent journalism and media, democratic media structures, good governance, journalism training and respect for human rights.
The programme is built on the principles that public scrutiny in the exercise of power is essential in a democracy, that independent organisations of journalists are best able to defend media freedom and that media professionals have a duty to work to the highest standards and should accept responsibility to set up structures for effective self-regulation.
The purpose of the project is therefore twofold:
· Building awareness of human rights issues among journalists and policy makers and strengthening public confidence in the role of media in democracy.
· Improving conditions for independence and high standards in African journalism.
The project involves all journalists and media organisations in West Africa as represented by the West Africa Journalists’ Association (WAJA) and in East Africa as represented by the Eastern Africa Journalist’s Association (EAJA). Specific target countries include Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ivory Coast, Niger, Chad, Gambia, Togo, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia. The project is linked to a separate programme launched in 2001 establishing the Southern Africa Journalists’ Association (SAJA), focusing on the following countries: Angola, Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As independent journalism is key to achieving the first two objectives a media strategy in support of press freedom and human rights must make improving the conditions for independence and professionalism in African journalism a priority. The numerous activities of the Media for Democracy in Africa programme have done much to pinpoint areas where new initiatives are required to further strengthen the role of journalists and other media professionals. These include:
1. Unifying the profession
Journalists in both government-owned and privately owned media should be supported in initiatives to strengthen awareness of and actions to promote basic standards of professional conduct and ethics. In particular, structural and political support should be provided for the creation and strengthening of representative and independent journalists’ organisations which play an instrumental role in formulation of media policy so that journalists are integrated in the process of media development
2. Creating Systems of Media Accountability
Systems of self-regulation should be developed and run by the media professionals themselves. This should include media observatories that monitor media performance and violations of press freedom, which are established by media professionals and are free of government control. These can ensure well-respected, independent and efficient media accountability to the public.
3. Journalism Training
Action is required to promote national structures of journalism training (financed by national governments, publishers and students with initial support from abroad). These must be administered by journalists, media owners and journalism trainers and must provide training in journalism skills while promoting awareness of ethical and professional issues. Training modules covering human rights reporting, investigative journalism, election coverage, and media law should be included in the curriculum.
4. Media Resources
Follow-up work is needed to continue to provide resources (access to internet, training materials, key reference documents, national and international media) accessible to all journalists through support for press houses administered by the journalists’ organisations in partnership with publishers and other relevant professional groups.
5. Promoting diversity in audiovisual media
Taking a regional approach, this initiative launched within the SAJA framework aims to produce training and resource materials on diversity issues for broadcast journalists which will help to improve professional standards and challenge existing stereotypes in television.
6. Promoting Professional Journalism in Conflict and human Rights reporting
This initiative will also focus on Southern Africa, and aims to raise the visibility of human right issues not only in conflict but also in daily reporting. There is a lack of knowledge among journalists in the region on the relevance of basic human rights standards and how to promote respect for human rights in daily news coverage. The IFJ Human Rights Reporting Handbook and Reporting Ethnic Diversity Handbook will be translated into Portuguese and are to be distributed widely in Angola and Mozambique.
At the same time, the journalists in the region have to meet the challenge of meeting the highest standards when reporting conflicts or tensions between different ethnic groups in the region. The IFJ intends to develop an innovative training model in this respect, which challenges sensationalist and over-simplified approach to covering conflict.