Tanzania: MISA prays for good journalism, better informed citizenry in Africa

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - While there has been a dramatic increase in the number of access to information laws in Africa, the right to access information on issues that affect people’s livelihoods remains beyond the grasp of the majority of African people, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said on World Press Freedom Day, observed annually on 3 May.

"It is heartening to note, however, that the Sustainable Development Goals formally recognize the need to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements,” MISA stated, saluting all the champions of media freedom and freedom of expression across the world who have assumed the risks associated with such an effort.

MISA is a non-governmental organisation with members in 11 of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries.

Noting that World Press Freedom Day each year presents an opportunity to evaluate press freedom around the world, MISA said it was doing this evaluation this year through the release of its annual state of the media in southern Africa publication entitled 'So This Is Democracy? 2015'.

The publication pays special tribute to the journalists who drew up the Windhoek Declaration, stating that "they set up a beacon that illuminates the goal of conveying stories for honourable reasons, rather than for the narrow pursuit of power, wealth or religious orientation".

MISA further said that "information is power only when it can be productively used by the public and gives citizens the greatest opportunity to make decisions that enable them to question the sincerity and honesty of those who have been trusted with positions of power".

Turning to its home region, MISA said it was extremely apprehensive about media policy developments in South Africa.

This includes the Broadcasting Amendment Bill, the Films and Publications Amendment Bill, the Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill and the hotly debated Protection of State Information Bill (dubbed the Secrecy Bill).

On Zimbabwe, MISA said that despite the adoption of a progressive Constitution in 2013 that guaranteed media freedom and freedom of expression, the country has not seen any meaningful shifts in its media legislation or policies.

"Rather President Mugabe is hinting at plans to introduce more stringent monitoring of the internet and other social media platforms, in attempts to reduce the so-called abuse of the technology by Zimbabweans."

According to the media watchdog, free expression in Angola has been heavily curtailed. Despite worldwide condemnation, 17 young activists were jailed, some for more than eight years, for rebelling against the government after they organised a reading of US academic Gene Sharp’s book entitled 'From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation'.

"The airwaves too, continue to be a contested terrain with an ever-growing reluctance to open up to alternative voices and players," it said.

It observed that the situation was inconsistent with, for example, the African Charter on Broadcasting which clearly states that “the legal framework for broadcasting should include a clear statement of the principles underpinning broadcast regulation. This includes respect for freedom of expression, diversity, and the free flow of information and ideas, as well as a three-tier system of broadcasting: public service, commercial and community.”

Presently the Parliament of Botswana has before it a proposed Whistle blower Bill that is aimed at "criminalising" whistle blowing to the media or any other person besides those directed in the Bill.

In Namibia, the highest-ranking African country on press freedom indices, the Minister of Information and Communication Technologies (MICT) has offered an access to information law as a trade-off for increased media regulation.

According to MISA, even more worrying is the political rhetoric that has accompanied discussions on the role of the internet in publishing.

It said that the majority of governments on the continent have branded the internet as a tool for regime change. "From Burundi to Uganda, Ethiopia to Egypt access to the internet and/or telecommunications networks is summarily blocked and at critical times when public dialogue and access is most important," it said. "These actions, in our view, represent, a profound lack of understanding of what the internet is, especially its democratising function."

MISA expressed optimism that on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, all introspection, discussions and debates would result in the good of journalism, greater freedom for journalists and ultimately a better informed and knowledgeable citizenry.
-0- PANA AR/MA 3May2016

03 may 2016 11:20:35

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