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The Role of Media in Promotion of Human Rights and Democratic Development in Africa
Brussels, December 1999
“Press freedom is a cornerstone of human rights. It holds governments responsible for their acts, and serves a warning to all that impunity is an illusion.” Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, International Herald Tribune, June 2, 1999 The link between human rights, democracy and development is a core question for policymakers, not just in the political world, but within the business and finance circles of the global market. It is increasingly recognised that stability, social and cultural cohesion and structures for democracy are essential to strategies for trade, international co-operation and national development. A key element of these strategies concerns independent journalism and free media which provide a bedrock for democratic exchange and respect for human rights. The contribution made by journalists is clear: by exposing violations of rights media can improve the climate of democratic debate and reduce corruption in public life. At the same time, media sensitive to the importance of human rights provide reliable sources of information through which citizens, human rights groups, private organisations and public authorities can work together to promote development and to eliminate arbitrary abuse. ________________________________________________________
African media are important for people to know their rights: A recent study on the impact of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Ghana showed that the largest source of information for the public on the Convention and what it means for them is the media.
Independent-minded journalists in Africa have for many years played a central role in the promotion of democracy. Many have put their lives or freedom at risk in order to promote transparent and accountable governance. The IFJ compiles extensive records of the sacrifice made by journalists and other media professionals. Many journalists have been arrested, prosecuted or condemned to heavy fines or prison terms. There have been many instances of censorship or suspension of publications. Press freedom becomes an issue and independent journalism becomes a target because it is these are conditions without which it is impossible to advance and protect other human rights. Therefore, professionalism among journalists, editors and publishers and quality in sources of information are vital to the defence of human rights for all. This memorandum offers some general reflections on the current conditions in which journalists work and the obstacles to press freedom, it considers the need for an
integrated and strategic approach to support of independent journalism and concludes with some suggestions for further actions.
OBSTACLES TO MEDIA FREEDOM
The single most important obstacle to media freedom in Africa and elsewhere is the failure to recognise the role played by independent journalism in the creation, nourishment and development of democracy. This lack of recognition is reflected in the presence of active censorship or restrictive regulation of journalists, lack of rights of access to official information, a legal landscape which inhibits the ability of journalists to inquire freely (for instance, the application of draconian defamation and sedition laws), and the state administration of essential media services, including broadcasting, printing facilities and distribution systems. It should be noted that a difficult relationship between journalism and the exercise of political power is itself a hallmark of democratic society and the tendency to manipulate news and information or to try to shape the agenda of public debate exists in all societies. But in countries where the democratic culture is not well established and where respect for democratic pluralism and human rights is not firmly entrenched, restrictions on media tend to be explicit and are profoundly damaging to the project of public engagement in democracy and development. However, if human rights are to be respected journalists and the public have to know something about them. Regrettably, in Africa ignorance and lack of awareness abounds. Few journalists or public officials are able to identify with confidence even half a dozen of the basic rights supported by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights or by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. The question of raising awareness, improving training and developing skills for the promotion of democracy remains a potent challenge for media professionals and policymakers alike. The African Charter needs to be more widely known and discussed and needs to be made meaningful to citizens. People need to know what this home grown Charter says, how it can protect them and how they can assert their rights through the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
Awareness is key to the promotion of rights. Citizens must be able to celebrate achievements and successes. Media have a role to play in reporting good examples of tolerance, peace and respect for human rights. It is not all bad-news dominated by conflict and strife.
While it is helpful to identify these obstacles and to work against them a lasting improvement of the rights and status of journalists can only be achieved with a comprehensive, integrated and long-term media strategy aimed at the source of the problem: the lack of recognition of independent journalism free of undue influence from political or economic interests. Journalists in democratic society largely enjoy recognition within civil society because of their scrutiny of those in power. The notion of journalism in the public interest requires that journalists, editors, publishers and broadcasters be independent and that they make common cause with other groups in civil society in defence of democracy. At the same time media must accept scrutiny of their own affairs, for scrutiny is the sanction which journalists hold over others. This scrutiny is not to be directed by the government, but through structures which provide for democratic accountability on behalf of the public for whom they broadcast and publish. The scope and effectiveness of selfregulation is itself a benchmark of public confidence in journalism.
A CLIMATE FOR PROFESSIONALISM AND RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Journalists need to work in professional and social conditions where they are free to resolve ethical dilemmas alone and where they can make professional decisions on editorial content. This is a prerequisite for good journalism not just in Africa, but the world over. This type of editorial independence should exist both in publicly owned and privately owned media, irrespective of ownership. Actions to support independent journalism should build on the following principles: • public scrutiny of the exercise of power is essential in a democracy; • law related to journalism and media should be consistent with international standards and only elaborated after the fullest consultation with journalists; • independent organisations of journalists are best able to defend media freedom; • media professionals have a duty to work to the highest standards and should accept responsibility to set up structures for effective self-regulation. With these principles in mind, the IFJ believes support for democracy and development in Africa requires a media dimension according to the following standards: Respect for International Standards of Press Freedom Increasing concerns over the need for ethical and democratic principles to apply in all aspects of international trade and assistance requires that the international
community should ensure that political and economic support to governments in Africa is made conditional upon respect for human rights including freedom of expression. This requires a thorough-going analysis of existing obstacles and the introduction of structures for dialogue whereby media professionals and journalists organisations are able to discuss with authorities the need for change and how change can be introduced. Strengthening Media Professional Organisations Media professionals (journalists, publishers, broadcasters) in Africa have the expertise, the talent and commitment to build new and lasting structures in all media. They are best able to identify obstacles to press freedom, to define solutions to media problems and to implement strategies for media development. African media professionals must be closely involved in the implementation of media training and assistance programmes. Too often, well-intentioned interest groups, particularly in the field of human rights and development seek to represent the needs of media. Journalists must be able to speak for themselves. A Comprehensive, Integrated and Accountable Strategy Strategies for media development and assistance in the region must be long term, they must tackle all obstacles to media freedom (covering legal conditions, professional and social organisation, training and media development) and they must involve all media professionals. In addition, the allocation and disbursement of public funds must adhere to the principles of transparency and accountability. Rapid Assistance to Media in Crisis A fast-track approach must be taken to support African media in trouble. Where there is instability and abuse of human rights journalists are usually among the first victims. It is vital to provide small-scale support quickly and without lengthy bureaucratic procedures. Transparent guidelines for assistance such as those as developed for the IFJ International Safety Fund should be applicable.
PROPOSALS FOR FURTHER ACTIONS
The IFJ alone cannot provide all assistance that is needed to change the political, legal and professional restrictions independent journalism in facing in Africa. But the IFJ is well placed to elaborate programmes of assistance that tackle the problem of widespread lack of respect of independent journalism in Africa. Such a comprehensive and long-term programme is required to address three issues:
Objective 1: Identifying and removing practical obstacles to press freedom and independent journalism In this area of work programmes of research and monitoring must identify changes which are required at national level to create a legal and professional framework for media. Such work should be based upon respect for international standards governing: 1. Laws and regulations affecting access to journalism and the exercise of journalism; 2. Regulation of information and communication technologies; 3. Operation of public service broadcasting; 4. Allocation of technical and financial resources (for instance, distribution systems and public advertising). Methods: ! review of existing laws by national journalists’ organisations, national and international media law experts; ! establishment of parliamentary committees to consult with organisations of media professionals and other relevant groups on law reform; ! review of existing rules and regulations governing state broadcasting; ! establishment of public service broadcasting reform committees under the auspices of independent media commissions where they exist or by parliament which will consult with all groups representing journalists and other media workers employed in state broadcasting; ! public campaign for the reform of public service broadcasting with the support of national journalists’ organisations, media rights groups and international organisations representing journalists and public service broadcasters; ! review of existing distribution systems and bodies responsible for allocation of public advertising by national associations of publishers and international organisations of media professionals; Indicators: ! short-term: analysis and critique of existing laws affecting the exercise of journalism to be widely circulated at national level; ! medium term: reports from parliamentary committees showing a clear commitment to media law reform and supported by the profession; ! long-term: repeal of restrictive laws, establishment of legal framework in line with international standards of freedom of expression; ! short-term: analysis and critique of existing rules governing state broadcasting highlighting areas of reform to be widely circulated at national level;
! medium term: reports of public service broadcasting reform committees showing a clear commitment to reform and supported by the profession; ! medium term: Coalition for public service broadcasting reform whose initiatives are widely reported in the media and have the support of relevant groups in society including parliament; ! long-term: adoption of new broadcast laws establishing genuine public service broadcasting institutions in line with international standards as set jointly by the European Broadcasting Union and the IFJ; ! short term: analysis and critique of existing distribution systems and structures for allocation of public advertising to be widely circulated and debated at national level; ! medium-term: establishment of joint review committee by parliament, government and publishers’ associations; ! Long-term: private distribution and advertising allocation structures where possible, public distribution and advertising allocation structures that are administered independently and that operate according to market principles not political considerations. Objective 2: Building awareness of human rights issues among journalists and policy makers and strengthening public confidence in the role of media in democracy Public confidence in the role of media as a bulwark of democracy will only grow when the political and media agenda gives adequate priority to human rights and development issues. Therefore, programmes of work in this area must combat ignorance, promote greater awareness and stimulate public debate. In particular, the EU can contribute by supporting: 1. Campaigns developed by journalists’ organisations in co-operation with other groups in civil society in defence of media freedom (for instance: campaign for freedom of information); 2. Structures for dialogue at a national level between journalists, civil society and the authorities on human rights and development issues and the media contribution to improving standards; 3. Initiatives developed by the journalists’ organisations in co-operation with other groups in civil society in support of key issues of human rights – for instance, media and the rights of the child, tolerance, rights of indigenous peoples, social and cultural issues. Methods: ! Establishment of coalition of journalists’ organisations, other groups representing media professionals, civil and human rights group to agree proposals for a national freedom of information act based on internationally agreed principles;
! Launch of national and regional freedom of information campaigns; ! Establishment of regular media encounters analysing media performance in promotion human rights involving relevant groups of civil society; ! Launch of media in school initiatives with the support of teachers’ organisations, UNICEF and others; ! Special short-term training programmes developed by journalists’ organisations and other relevant national and international groups focusing on key human rights issues. Indicators: ! Short-term: coalition agrees joint campaign policy and draft for freedom of information legislation and practice; ! Short-term: launch event at national and regional level involving all relevant groups, campaign statements and activities; ! Medium-term: draft freedom of information act debated in parliament, committee to consult media professionals; ! Long-term: adoption of freedom of information act in line with agreed international standards; ! Short-term: first series of media encounters take place at press houses or media observatories involving key representatives of relevant groups in civil society; ! Long-term: government and parliament established structures for consultation with journalists’ organisations and other human rights groups on policies in support of human rights and media development; ! Short-term: introduction of media in school programmes organised by journalists’ and teachers’ organisations with the support of national governments and international agencies such as UNICEF; ! Long-term: media literacy becomes an integral part of school education; ! Short-term: journalists’ organisations, training institutions where they exist, other bodies supporting journalism training agree integrated programme for short-term courses on key issues of human rights; ! Short-term: first series of training courses is carried out, existing training materials are reviewed, up-dated and circulated to the journalists’ organisations, media houses and training institutions; ! Long-term: Human rights issues and the materials developed in the short-term courses become an integral part of national journalism training. Objective 3: Improving conditions for independence and professionalism in African journalism 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 and include in the curriculum training modules covering human rights reporting, investigative journalism, election coverage, and media law. 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. Methods:
! Launch of recruitment drive by the existing journalists’ organisation, discussions between the different journalists’ organisation where there are more than one;
! Review of existing independent media observatories, preparation of guidelines for establishing respected and efficient systems of self-regulation; ! Seminars and meetings to agree one code of ethics by the journalists’ organisations, the editors and publishers; ! Establishment of independent media observatories administered by the media professionals themselves; ! Review and report on existing journalism training institutions, their curriculum and resources; ! Establishment of joint committee involving government, the journalists’ organisation, the publishers’ and broadcasters’ associations and journalism trainers to draw up a plan for the creation or strengthening of journalism training schools, preparation of a business plan and budget for the journalism school, preparation of a draft curriculum covering human rights reporting, investigative journalism, media law etc; ! Creation or strengthening of national press houses with outside and government support administered by the media professionals themselves, preparation of a plan for self-sufficiency. Indicators: ! Short-term: recruitment campaign undertaken by journalists’ organisation, negotiations with other groups representing journalists or other media professionals; ! Medium-term: increase in membership in journalists’ organisation, establishment of committees for joint representation by different journalists’ organisations; ! Long-term: one journalists’ organisations representing more than 80% of working journalists, umbrella body unifying all organisations representing more than 80% of working journalists; ! Short-term: agreed guidelines for establishment of respected and efficient media observatories; ! medium-term: code of ethics agreed by media professionals; ! medium-term: establishment of media observatory administered by the journalists themselves which publishes regular reports on media performance and violations of press freedom; ! long-term: media observatory becomes the country’s recognised system of selfregulation similar to the press councils existing in parts of Europe; ! short-term: analysis and critique of existing training institutions, identification of needs where no national training structure exists; ! medium-term: joint committee is established and there is a clear commitment from the government to support independent national training institutions;
! medium-term: joint committees agrees business plan and budget, draft curriculum and strategies for short-term and long-term funding; ! long-term: national journalism training structures are established and train journalists to receive recognised qualifications; ! short-term: journalists’ organisations and publishers agree establishment of press house, staffing and funding strategy; ! medium-term: establishment of press house; ! long-term: the national press house is self-sufficient and has become the main resource and meeting point for journalists in the capital and beyond.
STRATEGIES FOR ASSISTANCE: EMPOWERMENT AND CO-ORDINATION
Any programme in support of independent journalism in Africa can only succeed if it involves journalists in the country or region through their representative journalists’ association or union. Assistance programmes must also be cohesive and co-ordinated. This can only happen if there is co-operation between the representative organisations of journalists at international, regional and national level. Many initiatives are strengthened if they can build on expertise from international and regional level. However, no assistance programmes should be developed without the co-operation of national journalists’ organisations which should also be closely involved in implementation of activities.. The Media for Democracy in Africa programme developed the following structure: At international level the IFJ has acted as a source of technical assistance providing overall supervision and co-ordination of work and installing systems for reporting and assessment of project proposals while providing links to other organisations active in the field. At regional level existing regional structures such as the West Africa Journalists Association and the East Africa Journalists Association provide regional co-ordination and organisation of activities at regional level. At national level a network of journalists’ organisations implement all national components of the overall programme. The operational structure of the programme has had important advantages, not least being that local partners propose activities and are responsible for organisation of activity. As a result the skills journalists’ associations have acquired during the programme, means that most of them are quite capable of running their own projects. At the same time, the Media for Democracy programme provides the overall framework both on the level of content as well as the practical organisation is concerned. For instance, many local partners would not be able to organise the kinds of activities they do organise within the MFD programme, simply because they would not be in a position to pre-finance the necessary 20% of the activity. In addition, organising regional activities with
international expertise would be more costly for them if they were not part of a larger framework programme. Without an overall strategic framework activities would not benefit from the international link and would suffer from the financial constraints imposed. A comprehensive programme for Africa needs to draw on specific areas of expertise and should be co-ordinated with other relevant actors in the field. The IFJ believes that the core of a media programme designed to promote human rights must be run by the journalists themselves. At the same time, journalists’ organisations should work with other relevant groups for the advancement of human rights and media freedom. The crucial partnership base is provided by representative professional organisations in media involving the national journalists’ associations in Africa, the regional journalists’ organisations and international professional organisations representing media professionals including the International Federation of Journalists, the International Press Institute, and the World Association of Newspapers. In addition, partners are required for specific activities. For instance, • Campaigns for freedom of expression require the participation of relevant nongovernmental organisations such as the national International Freedom of Expression Exchange members in Africa, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Reporters sans frontiéres, and Article 19. • National training activities involve African journalism training and research institutions and where appropriate other NGOs active in the training field such as the Commonwealth Broadcasting Union and the Thomson Foundation. • Promoting human rights require close contact with other NGOs active in areas covered by the programme such as Womens’ media associations, child rights groups, human rights leagues and numerous other international human rights groups. At a governmental level a network of partners exists involving major European government donors active in Africa such as Danida, Sida, Norad, Finnida, Co-operation Française, and governmental agencies from Belgium, the UK, Germany and Portugal. International governmental organisations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Human Rights Commission and the World Bank also play an important role.
CONCLUSION AND NEXT STEPS
1. We believe it is essential to prepare strategies which will be comprehensive, integrated and provide for realistic long-term objectives. This paper has pointed out the key areas of concern which should be addressed by such a strategy:
! Identifying and removing practical obstacles to press freedom and independent journalism; ! 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 professionalism in African journalism. We believe that a new programme should be launched in support of human rights and independent journalism that will: ! Promote respect for international standards of press freedom; ! Strengthen media professionals organisations; ! Be comprehensive, integrated and accountable; ! Provide rapid assistance to media in crisis.
International Federation of Journalists Project Division Brussels, December 1999