Independent Journalism and Freedom of Information in Eastern Africa: EAJA Initiatives to Improve the Status of Journalists

Final Statement

Regional Conference

Nairobi, November 9-10, 2000

This meeting of representatives of the IFJ, EAMI, FES Kenya, UNESCO, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Kenya and of journalists' unions and associations from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania having discussed the issue of access to information and the status of journalists in Eastern Africa adopts the following final statement and plan of action:

1) Access to Information

Reports from the region have shown that free access to information held by public authorities is not respected in law or practice. While some countries grant the right to access to information in the constitution, there is no country in the region with an enabling legal framework for the full realization of the citizen's right of access to official information. On the contrary, in all countries of the region laws limiting freedom of expression, such as laws on sedition, official secret acts or criminal defamation, remain on the statute book.

The participants call on national governments to instigate an open review of all laws affecting the media with the aim of repealing restrictive legislation. Such a review must involve the independent organizations of media professionals.

The participants reaffirm their support of the principles outlined in the 1996 IFJ Harare Declaration on the right to know and further defined these principles as follows:

1) There should be a constitutional guarantee for freedom of information without exceptions;

2) Governments must repeal laws that limit freedom of information and to put into place a legal framework that guarantees freedom of information;

3) That everyone has the right to obtain information from public authorities. This right shall apply regardless of the form in which information is held.

4) That in all laws and decisions concerning the right to obtain information, the public interest in having the information shall be the first consideration.

5) That exceptions to the right to obtain information may only apply to clearly and narrowly defined categories of information.

6) That public authorities should establish a central register to enable citizens to locate documents so that information is easily obtainable.

7) That public authorities should create and preserve records on their activities.

8) That if a request for information is denied sufficient reasons should be given immediately in writing. There should be a right of appeal, within a short and defined timescale, against a refusal to disclose information to can independent authority. Upon successful appeal the information should be given, if not, a penalty should be imposed.

9) That no official and no journalist may be prosecuted reprimanded or suffers any loss of status for giving information to the public or to media, when such information is in the public interest.

10) That information directly available must be given immediately and not later than 24 hours.

11) That once information has been made public, any justification for trying to stop further publication and dissemination will be overridden by the public's right to know.

12) That no fee should be charged for providing information other than the minimal costs for copying that information. An independent authority should determine minimum costs charged for copying documents.

Actions by Journalists and Media Professionals

The participating unions and the IFJ agree to launch a freedom of information campaign in Eastern Africa to be co-coordinated by the Media for Democracy Eastern Africa co-coordinator and to work with and support existing local initiatives on freedom for information.

This campaign will be organized over the next 18 months and the participating journalists' associations and unions commit themselves to undertaking the following actions:

  • Assist in the creation of a network at EAJA and EAMI level involving journalists, members of parliament, human rights groups and other groups supporting freedom of information;

  • Raise awareness at all levels with the public on freedom of information by organising at least three public meetings;

  • Organise for media to publicise this declaration and the call for freedom of information;

  • Engage in dialogue with governments on importance of independent journalism and freedom of information;

  • Organise regional conferences on freedom of information and right of journalists, one in Ethiopia on the day of the establishment of the EFJA, December 2001;

  • Send deputations to parliamentarians and government to support freedom of information.

  • It is agreed that unions would send reports on activities every three months to the Eastern Africa co-ordinator.

The IFJ will make a submission on freedom of information to the UNESCO conference on the Windhoek declaration in May in 2001.

The IFJ will submit reports from Eastern Africa to the UN and to the European institutions calling on them to support our call for freedom of information.

2) Status of Journalists

Reports from the region have shown that in many countries governmental system of registration and accreditation are in place, which limit the free exercise of journalism. In some countries the private press is excluded from government events or press conferences. The participants call on national governments to repeal any laws on access and exercise of journalism and to allow for open systems of accreditation and press cards administered by the journalists' unions and media organizations.

The participants agree on the following principles:

On Access to the Profession

  • Minimum standards on the exercise of journalism should be established by national associations free from undue influence by the state. Any such standards set by national associations should not be intended or used to block access to the profession but rather to regulate the conduct of individuals once they have joined the profession.

  • A journalist should be defined as an individual who earns at least 60 percent of his or her income from journalistic activity and spends the majority of his or her working time in its pursuit.

  • While efforts to raise the level of professional training of journalists should be encouraged, lack of professional training should not be used to exclude individuals from practicing.

Access to Press Cards

  • Issuance of Press Card should be controlled by national associations of journalists and renewable at an acceptable frequency.

  • The Press Card should be accessible to anybody who qualifies as a journalist as defined by the national association.

Editorial Independence and Journalists' Ethics

  • Journalists and employers should focus on serving the reader, listener, and viewer as their primary constituency. This should give them the power to resist external influences, especially from advertisers.
  • Unions should at all times seek to improve the material and working conditions of journalists, particularly freelance practitioners.
  • National associations should establish an open and predictable system of appeal to resolve both internal and external conflicts on media content and performance.
  • National associations should strive to publish viable watchdog publications as a way of upholding professionalism through peer criticism.

Actions by Journalists and Media Professionals

  • Journalists unions should be set up where they do not exist and strengthened where they are already in place.
  • Unions and national associations should carry out needs assessment surveys in their territories for inclusion in future EAJA action plans.

3) Re-launch of EAJA

In order to carry out the activities agreed at this conference the participants decide to re-launch the Eastern Africa Journalists Association as a network of journalists' unions and associations in the region.

The EAJA network will be co-coordinated by the Media for Democracy Eastern Africa co-coordinator.

It is agreed that the work of EAJA in the next 18 months should focus on:

  • Co-coordinating the national campaigns for freedom of information and circulating all information received from the national unions and associations on the progress of the campaign;

  • Co-coordinating the publication of a regional report on freedom of information and the status of journalists in Eastern Africa. Each participating organization will submit a report on these issues to the Eastern Africa co-coordinator by the end of December 2000.

  • Organising a regular exchange of information on the conditions of journalists in the EAJA countries. Each national association or union will send a bi-monthly report on new developments in journalism to the Eastern Africa co-coordinator.

  • Promoting co-operation between journalists' unions in the region and to promote joint representation of their members especially in companies that are owned by the same media groups.

The participants agreed to establish national contact points for the EAJA network. The following representatives of the participating organizations have been identified as contact points for the EAJA network:

Ethiopia: Kifle Mulat, EFJA President

Kenya: Denise Kohde, KUJ Executive Committee

Tanzania: Joyce Basira, AJM and TUJ

Uganda: Michael Kanabe, UJU President

The EAJA will co-operate with EAMI and calls on EAMI to support the network of journalists within the larger EAMI structure.

In particular, the participants call on EAMI to support the campaign for freedom of information and to assist its organization. Especially the EAMI secretariat in Uganda should play a leading role.

Nairobi, November 10th, 2000

With the financial support of the European Commission