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Pan African Parliament Press freedom campaign

The SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) welcomes the decision of the Pan African Parliament at a meeting at Midrand on May 15 to launch a continent-wide campaign to promote and protect press freedom and persuade African governments to abolish criminal defamation and “insult” laws as well as other laws which restrict access to information and its publication in the public interest.

Sanef regards this as a major move by a governmental institution to combat the growing secrecy adopted by most African governments in the conduct of affairs which should be open to the public, the promulgation of new laws to restrict journalists in their news gathering and the continuing persecution by many repressive African governments of journalists. Attacks on journalists have resulted in many deaths and serious injury, long prison sentences almost entirely on trumped up charges or charges that would not be countenanced in a democratic state and often imprisonment without trial, all to prevent critical reporting.

The resolution announcing the campaign, titled, “Press Freedom for Development and Governance; Need for Reform”, encourages African leaders to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain. The Declaration, drawn up by African editors during the annual world newspaper congress of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ (WAN-IFRA) in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007, is a continent-wide campaign to repeal criminal defamation and “insult” laws and calls on countries to place press freedom on a higher agenda and repeal media restrictive laws.

“The resolution is a major step to securing freedom of expression in Africa,” said Alison Meston, Director of Press Freedom for WAN-IFRA. “The Declaration of Table Mountain has been gaining steady influence and raising press freedom to the top of the discussion, and with the Parliament’s endorsement we hope to see a number of heads of state committing to the principles of a free press.”

Only two African countries – Liberia and Niger – have so far signed the Declaration, despite wide support for it by media rights groups and civil society organisations around the globe.  One signatory is Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Sanef acclaims the resolution by the Pan African Parliament and commends it to the South African government which has begun to excel in cloaking activities – in particular the R206-m “security upgrade” of President Jacob Zuma’s estate at Nkandla in Natal—with a mantle of legislative secrecy and passing laws such as the Protection of State Information Bill which will enable it to classify as secret a wide range of information.

With the press in only five of Africa’s 54 countries rated free by international monitoring organisations, the resolution is timely and the Pan African Parliament is urged to call on members to bring pressure to bear on their home governments to adopt legislation which upholds the objectives of the campaign.

Issued by the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF)
16 May 2013