Tuesday, August 23, 2011
‘Media freedom Is An Essential Ingredient of Democracy’
At the commonwealth forum held in Banjul from 1 and 2 August, 2011, Article 19’s Regional Representative, Madam Fatou Jagnge Senghore told her audience comprising government and Commonwealth officials, media practitioners and the civil society, that media freedom is an essential ingredient of democracy in today’s society.
She was presenting a paper on West Africa Regulatory Framework: Drawing Lessons.
According to her, profound and real changes have taken place in many African countries over the past two decades, noting that this year, Africa celebrates Windhoek +20.
Regulating the media, she said, presents specific challenges, and added that the media is an attractive target for control by governments in power due to its potential and power to influence public opinion.
“The temptation is large for governments to seek to transform the media’s role from that of watchdog to a ‘lapdog’, by making the work of independent journalists illegal or impossible,” Jagne-Senghore cautioned.
During the last 20 years, she admitted, some countries have managed to create frameworks to enable the media sector to grow relatively well, while other countries are still lacking behind. According to her, there are many unfinished businesses and unfulfilled promises, including stalled legal reforms, limited media pluralism and a lack of political will to move from the rhetoric of free media to it reality.
Given a good example, she said The Gambia has many laws with ‘vague and undue restrictions’ that criminalise a wide range of expression, and thereby undermine constitutional commitments.
She said that The Gambia has instituted a series of legal restrictions on the media.
According to Jagne Senghore, Article 19 (3) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the ICCPR set the standards on freedom of expression and clearly define how restrictions should be carved.
She outlined her points on restriction, saying restrictions must meet a strict three part test: the restriction must be provided by law, must pursue one of the legitimate aims listed in Article 19 (3) and must be necessary to secure that aim. African states, Article 19 Regional Representative noted, are fast in ratifying international treaties but paradoxically they are not determined to engage frankly in their implementation.
In her view, the existence of attempts to regulate the sector of media and freedom of expression have failed woefully due to emphasis on repression, saying these are lessons to be learnt in the continent
Regulation in many countries especially in the African continent, she said, have also been developed without consultations with the stakeholders.
She spoke of lack of effective and independent regulatory mechanism and judiciary to provide remedies, adding that limited human and financial resources in the media sector and lack of accountability mechanism that is self regulation, media ownership among others.
Also a paper was presented by Mr. Oluwatoyin Job (Adviser West) Commonwealth Secretariat on leadership, Accountability, Ethic and Media Responsibility. Job said no single definition could adequately capture what leadership. He put it to the audience that that leadership has become a major contemporary issue in the context of new pressures for change, and a new quest for results or the failure to achieve results.
“A leader is the person who guides the efforts of a group toward a result beyond its current reach.
Human qualities-not position or title- make a leader,” he said was the definition given by Jocelyne Bourgon, in his annual report to PM Canada,1998.
Good leaders, he told the gathering, are made not born. And he described these good leaders as political leaders- Head of State and government ministers, parliamentarians and members of the opposition.
Good leader, he added, could also be public service leadership including local and government, private sector, civil society and traditional leadership.
According to him, leaders are accountable for results and to their citizens for what they do in their work.
Leadership accountability, he noted, is the processes by which those who exercise power show that they have exercised their powers and discharged their duties.
He continued to say they acknowledge and take on responsibility for actions, including the obligation to report and be answerable for resulting consequences.
He quoted Fox Meyer (1995) who defines accountability as the “responsibility of government and its agents towards the public to achieve previously set objectives and to account them in public”.
Ethics, Job said, are the standards of behaviour, adding that ethics and ethical standards apply to individuals, organisations and society as a whole.
Simply put, ethics is generally concerned with what ought to be done, and that have to be done in the right way, proper, fair and good, adding that are the ethical terms.
According to him, ethics reflect the sense of obligation to people. On what are the responsibilities of journalists in national development, the official pointed to informing citizens about national development agenda and reporting progress in achievement of the milestones and goals in the national development agenda, as key to journalists.