……Demands Investigations into Killings in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Cameroon. The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of African freedom of expression and media development organisations, has called on governments in the continent to ensure the safety of journalists against the backdrop of incessant attacks. Rising from its meeting in Accra,
……Demands Investigations into Killings in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Cameroon.
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of African freedom of expression and media development organisations, has called on governments in the continent to ensure the safety of journalists against the backdrop of incessant attacks. Rising from its meeting in Accra, Ghana, it also decries the spiralling cases of impunity meted to journalists.
“We are deeply concerned about the growing wave of attacks against journalists and the media in general across the African continent, especially during elections. We are further disturbed by the widespread increase in the level of insecurity in journalism practice, arising from the unchecked acts of violence against media professionals and media organizations,” it says.
Disturbed by the numerous cases of unresolved killings and other crimes against journalists that have not been properly investigated in many countries, including Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Cameroon, AFEX says, “the failure of African governments to live up to their responsibility of protecting journalists as well as other members of the public is exacerbating this problem.”
Frowning at the growing abridgement of freedom of expression on the continent, AFEX which is a member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), says that “Given the well-established norm that the ability of citizens to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression underpins democratic practice in any country, we are of the view that the deteriorating state of freedom of expression on the African continent is a clear signal of the decline in the quality of democracy in Africa.”
“We find it ironic and contradictory that although African Union (AU) leaders have launched 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year, its members are actively hounding the media and media professionals in many countries for reporting and exposing official corruption.”
AFEX calls on African countries “to establish multi-stakeholder national mechanisms, ideally backed by law, to promote the safety of journalists and other actors who are often targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression and through which a range of activities in this regard can be coordinated and implemented.”
“Such activities could potentially include the reform of media laws, the monitoring of threats and attacks to freedom of expression, as well as the training of members of different stakeholder groups such as the military, law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies; legislators, and member of the Judiciary. The mechanism could also serve as an avenue for the provision of protection for persons at risk and for responding to the problem of impunity,” the organisation says.
Concerned about the increasing attacks on digital rights and Internet freedoms by governments and their intelligence services in some parts of Africa, AFEX is particularly irked by events in Uganda and Zambia, where social media taxes have recently been introduced, as well as Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mali, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Togo, where the Internet or social media services have been shut down from time to time.
“We are convinced that such acts only serve to worsen the digital divide which has already seen Africa lagging behind other regions of the world in the availability, affordability and use of the Internet and digital tools. Besides, they subvert the creativity and resourcefulness of African youths who are thereby deprived of opportunities to innovate in the digital age while undermining the potential of African countries to achieve economic, social and political development,” it says.
Decrying the awry practice where most countries in Africa continue to use criminal law to undermine the right to freedom of expression and to punish journalistic activities and other forms of expressions, including non-verbal expression, AFEX is of the view that “in most of these circumstances, such laws serve no useful purpose other than to suppress criticism of public officials and official wrongdoing, reporting that exposes corruption or in some cases, to prevent the publication of politically embarrassing materials.”
“There are also numerous examples on the continent where such laws have been used to prevent public scrutiny of political authorities, public institutions, and senior government officials, among others,” it says.
The organisation calls on all countries in Africa “to undertake a comprehensive reform of their media laws to decriminalize media practice, promote and create a conducive and enabling legal environment for freedom of expression in the respective countries, consistent with international standards.”
It also calls on media professionals and media professional bodies in Africa “to take urgent steps to check and counteract the spread of “fake news” which is now regarded as one of the greatest threats to democracy around the world.”
While acknowledging that “the deliberate falsification of information and the dissemination of such information is not necessarily the handiwork of professional journalists,” the organisation says, “we are nonetheless convinced that professional journalists have a major role to play in checking this phenomenon by providing the public with accurate and reliable information and constantly establishing through their reporting the falsity or unreliability of fake news.”
Hosted by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), and presided, over by AFEX Steering Committee Chairperson, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, the sixth general meeting was attended by representatives of all AFEX member organisations from West, East, Central and Southern Africa. The meeting was also attended by two representatives from ARTICLE 19 Brazil and ARTICLE 19 Mexico as well as journalists from Ghana.
The meeting discussed institutional issues concerning AFEX as well as the current state of freedom of expression in Africa and strategies for addressing the threats to freedom of expression and media freedom on the continent, particularly, the issues of the safety of journalists and how to confront the challenge of impunity for crimes against journalists.
Participants resolved to develop a plan of action on the safety of journalists in Africa which will guide advocacy interventions by members of the AFEX Network and other press freedom organisations.
Members re-elected Mr. Edetaen Ojo, also executive director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Nigeria, to serve as chair of the AFEX Steering Committee for a further period of two years. They also elected to the Steering Committee, Ms. Rea Simigiannis, acting executive director, Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) in South Africa; Mr. Moses Magoola, programmes manager at the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-U) in Uganda; and Mr. Sulemana Braimah, executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Ghana.