#Article (Archive)

Statement by chairperson of the African Union Commission on World Press Freedom Day

May 11, 2011, 1:38 PM

Africa is experiencing an unprecedented change in its media landscape with remarkable entry into the social media universe hitherto reserved for the press, broadcasters and other news agencies. This context which constitutes a big challenge to the continent and the world as a whole, is at the same time, expanding the boundaries for new opportunities as promising as those that occurred in the past with the advent of printing. The 2011 edition of the World Press Freedom Day, under the theme “21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers”, is not going to be celebrated just as a simple commemoration of an anniversary, but as a very important event.

In view of the rapid changes in the world, my first reflex is to call for a bigger debate on what these innovations mean to Africa. What usage is made of this, what is the impact and what are the prospects? Contrary to what has been the usual practice, Africa has quickly become conversant with the multiple web applications of the planet. This can be testified to by the Cyber activism that propelled thousands of people in the streets of Tunis, leading to the rally that gathered several thousands of people who converged at the

Tahrir Square
, in Cairo.

The use of the Internet in areas that sometimes do not have access to basic services is another unequivocal evidence to show the vivacity of Africans to be part of the global village.

However, despite the promises and the progress made in many countries in favour of the emancipation of the media and freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the liberty to information still has some cloudy areas. Information is still considered as a symbol of intoxication and misinformation in many countries. After the Windhoek Declaration, the African Press has certainly gained some independence, but more still has to be done in order for the Press to play its rightful role in the African society Since May 3, 1991, the questions we might want to ask are whether Africa has sufficiently funded the media sector to enable its actors be trained well, to ensure the credibility of Press organs and whether appropriate national laws have been established to guide the media landscape. My conclusion is that, twenty years after the Windhoek Declaration, Africa still needs to take concrete steps to empower its press and expand its scope for press freedom.

In this respect, I wish to emphasize that the African Union Commission has undertaken to make press freedom in the continent a tangible and irreversible reality; an undeniable right. We will continue on this path. We recognize the need to regulate the sector, however, we believe that the systems adopted should, in no way, be an obstacle to Press Freedom. We have also committed ourselves to continue the work we have started with respect to the protection of the journalists from undue intimidation and harassment, ensuring their safety, their physical and moral integrity while encouraging the practice of freedom of expression and free access to information as a fundamental right enshrined in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This is reaffirmed in the Declaration on Freedom of Expression adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights at its 32nd Ordinary Session, held in October 2002 in Banjul, The Gambia.

It is very important that we do this for the good of all Africans, given that the benefits of a well-informed citizenry are enormous. But, this can only be achieved when we work hand in hand as one; including journalists, owners of media institutions, governments, development organizations, media practitioners, civil society organizations, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations and the international community, to guarantee the exercise of this inalienable right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.