African Media Convention Declares Freedom of Expression Crucial for Human Rights

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The Second African Media Convention (AMC)  held in Lusaka, Zambia, from May 11 to 13, 2023, to commemorate this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on the continent has adopted the Lusaka Declaration, in which media stakeholders in Africa and beyond emphasised the significance of freedom of expression as a fundamental driver for all other human rights, in alignment with the 2023 WPFD  theme.

The convention, attended by media stakeholders, civil society representatives, UNESCO, and the African Union, highlighted the concerning state of media in Africa, including violations against press freedom and rising cases of violations against journalists.

The declaration expressed deep concern about the continued violations against freedom of the press, even 30 years after the establishment of World Press Freedom Day by the UN General Assembly. It also acknowledged the erosion of various rights, such as freedom of expression, opinion, access to information, assembly and association, and political participation due to impunity and restrictive measures imposed on journalists and media workers in Africa.

Of particular concern was the criminalization of journalistic practices through the adoption of cybercrime laws, leading to limitations on the dissemination of news and the rise of misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech on social media. The declaration also raised alarms about the enactment of laws and policies aimed at controlling and limiting the digital civic space, surveillance, interception of communication, and registering and licensing of online content creators.

To address these challenges, the declaration called for enhanced collaboration between media organizations, governments, internet intermediaries, academia, civil society, human rights bodies, and researchers to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers. It urged African governments to repeal laws impinging on freedom of expression and media freedom, and to comply with international standards on human and constitutional rights.

The declaration also highlighted the unique challenges faced by women journalists and emphasized the need for provisions that adequately address their concerns, including online violence, sexual harassment, and the gender pay gap. It recommended the establishment of initiatives to safeguard the safety, security, and mental well-being of journalists across Africa.

Furthermore, the declaration proposed the creation of a Steering Committee comprising media, civil society, UNESCO, the African Union, and academia representatives to guide the strategic evolution of the annual African Media Convention. It also called for the establishment of an annual Africa Media Review Journal to document media developments and the convention’s outcomes.

The Lusaka Declaration reinforced support for Aspiration three (3) of Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which envisions an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice, and the rule of law. It also encouraged AU member states to assess progress towards SDG target 16.10, which focuses on public access to information and fundamental freedoms.

The convention participants endorsed the continued organization of the African Media Convention as an annual event, co-hosted by UNESCO, the African Union, its bodies, and regional economic commissions. The convention would rotate among different African locations, serving as a platform to advocate for press freedom and advance human rights.

The Lusaka Declaration served as a pledge from African media stakeholders to rekindle the vitality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on its 75th anniversary, reaffirming the commitment to freedom of expression and press freedom in Africa. It urged various stakeholders, including media development partners and the international community, to collaborate and support efforts to protect and promote an enabling and safe environment for journalists in Africa.

The declaration marked a significant step toward ensuring the rights of journalists and media workers in Africa and called for urgent action to address the challenges faced by the media industry in the continent.