The Board of Directors of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has expressed concerns over the slow pace of digital migration among many of the countries in West Africa. The Board is worried about the potential massive implications for access to information and right to freedom of expression as the cut off date for digital migration looms near with nearly all countries in West Africa yet to put concrete plans and structures in place to make for seamless switch from analogue to digital.
This concern was expressed at the just concluded meeting of the Board on October 17 and 18, 2014 in Accra, Ghana. The Board had met to discuss and review a number of strategic issues relating to the operations of the organisation as well as the broader issues of freedom of expression and the Ebola outbreak in the West African sub-region.
The meeting which was presided over by the Board Chairman, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, who is also the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) unanimously adopted and issued a resolution in which it expressed its dismay that there is no public awareness about the impending digital migration deadline. It said: “Mindful of the fact that digital migration will require policy, legal and regulatory reforms, the Board calls on governments to adopt a multi-stakeholder and consultative approach in all policy, legal and regulatory reform processes associated with digital migration so that all critical stakeholders can be effectively engaged.” It also urges governments to protect citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information in the digital migration process, including by providing them with adequate information about the potential impact on them, its cost implications for them and important timelines.
The Board also showed concern about the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa with its severe toll on lives, the economy and overall development of the sub-region. It therefore called on the international community, national governments and civil society groups to intensify efforts aimed at containing the disease. In view of the crucial role of access to information and public education to ongoing efforts to prevent and contain the disease, the Board is concerned about restrictive measures being adopted by governments, particularly in the affected countries, limiting the media’s ability and freedom to cover the issue. The Board views these measures as unhelpful and indeed, counter-productive and called on national governments in the region to respect and protect media freedom, and guarantee access to information about the disease among citizens so that they are better informed about areas to avoid and other preventive measures to take as well as what to do if they suspect that they have been infected.
On a positive note, the Board welcomed the generally noticeable decline in the most atrocious forms of attacks on journalists and the media in the region and the progress made in the number of countries in the region that have passed Right to Information (RTI) Laws. The Board notes with satisfaction that within the last four years, West Africa has shot ahead of all other sub-regions on the continent as more countries in West Africa currently have RTI laws than any other sub-region. The Board commends the MFWA Secretariat and its national partners in the region for the significant contributions towards achieving the current generally improved conditions of freedom of expression and for the continuous increase in the number of countries with RTI laws in West Africa.
Regardless of these positive outcomes, “the Board remains mindful of the complexity of the emerging freedom of expression and access to information issues in the era of information society – digitalisation and internet revolution – and calls on rights groups and media professionals to re-strategise on how to effectively respond to the complexities of the current realities.”
Furthermore, the Board called on ECOWAS leaders and relevant organs of ECOWAS to ensure compliance with and the enforcement of the decisions of the Regional Court of Justice in order to discourage acts of impunity within the region as the world marks the first anniversary of the UN Resolution on the Safety of Journalists and the issue of Impunity. It also called on national governments and regional bodies in West Africa to prioritise investment in ICTs and work collaboratively to promote internet rights and freedoms in the region.
The Board welcomed its newest member Mrs Sophie Ly Sow during the meeting. Mrs Sow, a Senegalese, has several years of experience leading and managing non-profits and media related projects.