African Media Lawyers Network Unveils Framework for Advancing Press Freedom

Donald Omondi Deya, Chief Executive Officer, Pan African Lawyers Union

The Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), in partnership with the Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) and the UNESCO Liaison Office to the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), has unveiled the official framework of the African Media Lawyers Network (AMLN) at a stakeholders’ validation meeting held on January 31, 2024.

The validation meeting which was held virtually was attended by over 60 key stakeholders, including media, civil society, lawyers, and other experts on freedom of expression and human rights from across the continent.

The AMLN is a network of media lawyers that operates across the entire continent. Its primary objectives are safeguarding and advancing press freedom, offering legal guidance and assistance, and helping journalists and media organizations promote a legal framework that supports independent and responsible journalism within the African Union Member States.

The African Media Lawyers Network (AMLN) will use a team of skilled lawyers to respond to threats and harassment of journalists. They will also provide legal support by reviewing media laws and policies. The AMLN will promote collaboration and knowledge sharing among legal actors, media partners, and stakeholders to protect journalists and promote press freedom across the continent.

At the validation meeting, the stakeholders evaluated the framework and praised the initiative as “a significant achievement for the continent in the battle to ensure the safety of journalists.” They stressed the importance of ongoing training for young journalists and lawyers, the need for transparency at all levels and stages, and the necessity of sustainability to enable the network to fulfill its potential and continue to do so.

“This review by stakeholders of the AMLN framework is a crucial component in the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the issue of impunity in Africa,” said Sarah Peeters, PALU Programme Officer who led in the development of the document.

Mr. Christopher Isiguzo, the CAJ President, said in his opening remarks that: “The establishment of the African Media Lawyers Network has benefited from the collaboration and endorsement of key stakeholders in the continent and our global partners. We shall carry on in this wonderful spirit and leave no one behind in our efforts at implementing this significant milestone aimed at providing legal support and protection of journalists in the course of their work in Africa.”

The African Media Leadership Network (AMLN) is currently being hosted by PALU at its continental offices in Arusha, Tanzania. It will be launched during the third Africa Media Convention (AMC), a continental gathering of African and global media stakeholders and partners, scheduled to take place in May 2024 in Accra, Ghana.

In preparation for its launch, the AMLN will organize a capacity building workshop for a select number of journalists and lawyers. This workshop aims to educate them on media litigation, media freedom, media defence, safety of journalists, and access to information in Africa. The goal is to promote and create an environment where freedom of expression can be truly and freely exercised.

AMLN is the result of a series of consultations with stakeholders from across Africa which culminated in the High-Level International Multi-Stakeholder Conference, “Safety of Journalists: Protecting Media to Protect Democracy”, which was held on November 3 and 4, 2022 at Victoria Falls in Zambia. The AMLN has been recognized as the first regional initiative by legal experts and has received their support.

Toby Mendel, the Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and former Senior Director for Law at ARTICLE 19, congratulated CAJ and PALU for their excellent document, saying, “It is a really strong document, and I would like to mention that it is the first such network in the world. Africa is truly leading the way.”

The Conference recommended the establishment of an AMLN as one of the crucial components in the implementation of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity to promote and enable a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers online and offline, both in conflict and non-conflict situations.

Dr. Rita Bissoonauth, the Director of the UNESCO, Addis Ababa Liaison Office to AU and UNECA, said “The African Media Lawyers Network is a much-needed intervention that will provide support to media professionals in litigation and analysis, and raise awareness about repressive laws. She urged all journalists’ associations, unions, civil society organizations, academia, and other development partners to work together to make the media space on the continent conducive for journalists.

The process of establishing AMLN has been funded by UNESCO’s International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC) and the Multi-donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists.