Trends on the African media scene a decade after the Windhoek Declaration by S. T. Kwame Boafo, Chief, Executive Office, Communication and Information Sector, unesco introduction

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Trends on the African media scene a decade after the Windhoek Declaration
by S.T. Kwame Boafo, Chief, Executive Office, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO

The seminar on promoting an independent and pluralistic African press, held in Windhoek, Namibia (29 April – 3 May 1991) started a process of media liberalization in the continent. This process is inspired by the principles underpinning the Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press which was adopted by the seminar. The seminar also paved the way for the UN General Assembly Decision of 20 December 1993 to establish 3 May as World Press Freedom Day. Windhoek was the first of five major regional seminars on the same theme organized by UNESCO and the United Nations Department of Public Information with the active collaboration of a number of press freedom organizations between 1991 and 1997 all over the world.

At least five main trends have been observed on the African media scene since the Windhoek seminar: (i) a growing awareness about the links between freedom of speech, free press and democracy; (ii) reinforcement of independent and pluralistic newspapers; (iii) liberalization of the airwaves; (iv) development and reinforcement of regional organizations of media professionals; and (v) training and human resources development for the media in Africa.

Awareness about the links between freedom of speech, free press and democracy

For several years now, there has been a growing consciousness of the need for free and independent media and of their key role in the democratic process. The Windhoek Declaration inter alia affirmed that “the creation, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press are essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development”.

The celebration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May offers the opportunity for media and human rights organizations in African countries to carry out activities which highlight the importance of press freedom in democratic governance. Such activities have included open forums; “press freedom” walks; workshops on promoting dialogue between media and the government; feature articles, symposia and broadcast media discussion programmes on the theme of press freedom. Such events have helped to create, or raise, consciousness within the body politic of several nations and their populations about the relationship between freedom of expression and free, independent and pluralistic media, on the one hand, and the democratic process, on the other.
Also contributing to this growing awareness on the post-Windhoek media scene is the work of freedom of expression organizations, human rights groups and organizations of media professionals in the form of “alerts” and publications relating to press freedom, freedom of expression and their violations in African countries. The work of such groups as Article 19, International Freedom of Expression Exchange Network (IFEX), Reporters Sans Frontières and their collaborating agencies in Africa such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the East African Media Institute (EAMI), the Network for the Defence of Independent Media in Africa (NDIMA) and the West African Journalists Association (WAJA) in sounding the alarm whenever and wherever there is violation of press freedom or freedom of expression has grown tremendously in Africa, especially since the second half of the 1990s.
Development of independent and pluralistic newspapers
The past few years have seen a rapid development in many African countries of more independent and private-sector newspapers and magazines, especially in those countries where these did not exist before. Since the 1990s, the political landscape in several African countries has undergone gradual but profound changes from monolithism to pluralism, from less to greater tolerance of different and at times opposing viewpoints and ideas. These changes have no doubt contributed to the emergence and nourishing of pluralistic and independent media. There have been a number of projects designed to support the development of media independence and pluralism in some African countries. Thus, in 1992, UNESCO launched a regional project on the development of independent press in Africa. It aimed to promote a pluralistic and independent press and improve the professional level of independent newspapers in media management, professional codes of practice for journalists, news production and distribution.
That project, along with many other operational activities supported by UNESCO and other international and regional funding organizations such as the European Union, the international organization of la Francophonie, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Ford Foundation, has helped to foster the growth and stability of independent and pluralistic media systems in African countries.
Liberalization of the airwaves

There has also been an increase in the number of African countries which favour media pluralism, including the liberalisation of the airwaves and the creation of independent, private, commercial and community-oriented radio stations. Such countries as Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia have adopted policies ending the state monopoly on the broadcast media. Individuals, groups and civil society organizations are now allowed to establish and operate radio stations. This trend seems to have been strengthened, or kept in motion, by a number of major regional conferences which focused on broadcast pluralism and deregulation in Africa, notably: the International Conference on Radio Pluralism held in Bamako, Mali (1993); the International Conference on Deregulation of Broadcasting in Africa, Abuja, Nigeria (1996); the First Conference of the West African Independent Broadcasters Association, Banjul, Gambia (1996); and meetings of the African section of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC).

Development and reinforcement of regional organizations of media professionals

The 10-year period following the Windhoek seminar has equally been marked by the development of a number of regional media professional organizations in Africa, the most notable being the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the East Africa Media Institute, the Federation of African Women Media; and the West African Journalists Association. The principal objectives of these organizations include:

  1. strengthening regional links among media professionals with the view to facilitating training, exchanging information and enhancing the free flow of information;

  2. strengthening the capacity of independent media to be self-sustainable through effective marketing, financial management and production/distribution skills;

  3. raising and reinforcing the professional standards and performance of media practitioners

  4. ensuring the advancement of women in the media and increasing their involvement in management.

Linked to the strengthening of regional professional bodies, has been the establishment of press centres and observatories, especially in French-speaking countries. These press centres and observatories have received considerable financial and technical support from, among others, UNESCO, the European Union, the Ford Foundation, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. From October 26 to 29, 1999, thirteen of these press centres, resource centres and observatories of press practice and ethics in Africa came together in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, to discuss their work, objectives and problems. The meeting decided to set up a Forum for African press centres and observatories for members to be able to share information and support. The Forum also intends to establish press centres and observatories in countries where they do not yet exist.

Media Training and human resource development in Africa

There has been a clear increase in the number of training programmes organized and/or supported by different funding sources to help develop human resources for the media in African countries. Such projects have been carried out in a number of countries in Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. The post-Windhoek period has witnessed an increased focus on projects and activities which deal with media, democracy, human rights and good governance. Some noteworthy projects are those implemented by UNESCO with funding from major donors like BMZ (Germany), Denmark and Finland, including projects focusing on (i) communication and good governance in West and Central Africa; and (ii) strengthening democracy and governance through development of the media in Mozambique.

In general, these projects seek to:

1. raise awareness among media professionals about the role of communication media in democracy, human rights and good governance;

2. increase the knowledge and skills of media professionals in the use of communication in support of good governance in African countries;

3. increase the knowledge and skills and strengthen the capacity of media trainers in the use of communication to support good governance;

  1. help strengthen democracy and good governance in African countries through coverage by pluralistic and well-informed media.

Projects supported by other organizations include the media and democracy programme implemented by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in collaboration with national and regional media associations in several East, Southern and West African countries. Funded by the European Union, the project seeks to enhance the skills and knowledge of media professionals - especially journalists- and promote democracy and the values of responsible governance. Also worth mentioning here is the Open Society Initiative in Southern Africa, which supports the development of independent media in that region with a view to strengthening democratic trends.

Much of the enthusiasm and drive for many of these activities have been locally generated. However, it is worth noting that the greater proportion of the financial and technical support for the drive has come from external sources. Such external support has been beneficial but the continued growth and sustainability of an independent and pluralistic media environment in African societies will have to be supported endogenously.

The projects implemented reflect the conceptual premise that improved media professionalism, increased access to communication media and enhanced quality of information gathering and dissemination are vital to the defence of press freedom, democracy and human rights.

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