AFEX Calls on African Governments to Promote Safety of Journalists and Combat Impunity

Mr. Edetaen Ojo, AFEX Steering Committee Chairperson
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, AFEX Steering Committee Chairperson

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of African freedom of expression and media development organisations, has called on African Governments to promote the safety of journalists and combat impunity for crimes against journalists.

To achieve this, the group, among other things, called on African countries to establish multi-stakeholder national mechanisms, ideally backed by Law, to promote the safety of journalists and other actors who are often targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression and through which a range of activities in this regard can be coordinated and implemented.

AFEX also urged all countries in Africa to undertake a comprehensive reform of their media laws to decriminalize media practice, promote and create a conducive and enabling legal environment for freedom of expression in the respective countries, consistent with international standards.

These calls were contained in the resolution adopted at the end of its Sixth General Meeting held in Accra, Ghana, on November 7 and 8, 2018.

The meeting discussed among other things, the current state of freedom of expression in Africa and strategies for addressing the threats to freedom of expression and media freedom on the continent, particularly, the issues of the safety of journalists and how to confront the challenge of impunity for crimes against journalists.

Participants resolved to develop a plan of action on the safety of journalists in Africa which will guide advocacy interventions by members of the AFEX Network and other press freedom organisations.

The networks expressed deep concern over the growing wave of attacks against journalists and the media in general across the African continent, especially during elections as well as the widespread increase in the level of insecurity in journalism practice, arising from the unchecked acts of violence against media professionals and media organizations.

The group attributed this to the failure of African governments to live up to their responsibility of protecting journalists as well as other members of the public which it added is exacerbating this problem with numerous cases of unresolved killings of journalists and other crimes against journalists that have not been properly investigated in many countries, including Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, and Cameroon.

Expatiating further on its call on African governments to establish multi-stakeholder national mechanisms backed by law to promote freedom of expression with a range of activities, it suggested that such could include the reform of media laws, the monitoring of threats and attacks to freedom of expression, as well as the training of members of different stakeholder groups such as the military, law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies, legislators, and member of the Judiciary.

AFEX equally expressed concern about the increasing attacks on digital rights and Internet freedoms by governments and their intelligence services in some parts of Africa, including in countries like Uganda and Zambia, where social media taxes have recently been introduced, as well as in other countries like Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mali, Burundi, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo and Togo, where the Internet or social media services are shut down from time to time.

The Meeting noted that most countries in Africa continue to use criminal law to undermine the right to freedom of expression and to punish journalistic activities and other forms of expressions, including non-verbal expression. It said it was of the view that in most of these circumstances, such laws serve no useful purpose other than to suppress criticism of public officials and official wrongdoing, reporting that exposes corruption or in some cases, to prevent the publication of politically embarrassing materials. It added there are also numerous examples on the continent where such laws have been used to prevent public scrutiny of political authorities, public institutions, and senior government officials, among others.

It called on media professionals and media professional bodies in Africa to take urgent steps to check and counteract the spread of “fake news” which, it said, is now regarded as one of the greatest threats to democracy around the world.

AFEX members re-elected Mr. Edetaen Ojo to serve as Chair of the AFEX Steering Committee for a further two years period. They also elected Ms. Rea Simigiannis, Acting Executive Director of Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) in South Africa; Mr. Moses Magoola, Programmes Manager at the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ-U) in Uganda; and Mr. Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Ghana to the Steering Committee.

The meeting which was hosted by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), and presided over by AFEX Steering Committee Chairperson, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, who is the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), was attended by representatives of all AFEX member organisations from West, East, Central and Southern Africa and two representatives from ARTICLE 19 Brazil and ARTICLE 19 Mexico as well as journalists from Ghana.