The media and elections: 26 years of World Press Freedom Day
For 25 years, May 3 has been observed as World Press Freedom Day all over the world.
Namibia, through the Windhoek Declaration, has played an integral part in the foundations of this International day. Signed in 1991, the declaration has been widely viewed as immensely influential, as it is the first in a series of such declarations around the world. In essence, the declaration paved the way for “the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press”, essential to the development and maintenance of democracy, firstly in Namibia, but also, with time, across the globe.
When World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed in December 1993 by the UN General Assembly, it set out with the major objective of celebrating the fundamental human right of free speech, epitomised by a free press. More than celebrating press freedom where it is explicitly guaranteed, it also set out to weigh the state of press freedom in parts of the world where people are persecuted for airing their opinions, and pay tribute to the journalists, editors and media workers who risk their lives in defence of the public’s right to know.
Since then, there have been many successes to report on in terms of legislation around media and impunity against its workers. There, however, have been just as many steps taken back in the same regard. Africa can point to Ghana becoming only the twenty-second country on the continent to pass an Access to Information (ATI) law, as early as March of this year, as one of those successes. Yet, the fact that it took nearly three decades for it to be passed by parliament shows how difficult it still is to float the boat of crucial aspects of democracy, especially on the continent, such as ATI. Half of Africa still holding out for ATI law, Namibia included.
Meanwhile, the Community to Protect Journalist’s (CPJ) online database shows that 255 journalists have been killed in Africa since 1992, around the time both the Windhoek Declaration and World Press Freedom Day came into existence. The swollen figure far from instils confidence in the continent’s democratic process and valuation of free speech. Neither does the upsurge of violence against journalists seen across the continent.
Mozambican Journalist Amade Abubarcar has been on pre-trial detention and awaiting a trial date to be set since January 5 this year, significantly more than the 90 days the Mozambican constitution says cannot be exceeded in a case of pre-trial detention. He is accused of “public incitement using electronic media” and “violation of State secrecy”. His case represents hundreds of journalists being subjected to violence from authorities, or arbitrary arrests, or both.
This year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations focus on Elections in times of the so-called fake news, and have been aptly titled “Media for Democracy: Journalism in times of Disinformation”. It presents an opportunity to explore and discuss new issues and obstacles facing the press in electoral times, the media’s capacity to help build a culture of peace and reconciliation, as well as the safety of journalists both online and offline.
The main event will be in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from March 1-3, with a platform for multiple actors to exchange on current issues, threats and achievements concerning freedom of the press around the overall theme of the role of media in elections and democracy.