The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) has recognised press freedom as one of the most crucial aspects of human rights, in a statement on the occasion marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2011.
“The right to freedom of the press is one of the most important human rights. It is indeed an integral part of the right to freedom of expression. It is also seen as one of the cornerstones of democracy,” the Pretoria-based Pan-African body said.
However, it lamented that “unfortunately, Africa does not fair very well when it comes to press freedom. In many African countries, authorities have little or no tolerance for press freedom.”
The PAP admitted that the “media legislation” which is in place in many African countries is either inherited from the colonial times, or was instituted by former military and civilian dictatorships to clamp down on criticism and dissenting voices.
The Pan-African body added that this is despite the fact that Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states that “every individual shall have the right to receive information”; and that “every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law”.
It also made reference to the “Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa”, issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 32nd Session, held in October 2002 in Banjul, The Gambia.
The Declaration stated that “freedom of expression and information, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers, is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy” and that “everyone shall have an equal opportunity to exercise the right to freedom of expression and to access information without discrimination”.
The PAP said: “We have witnessed during the current political uprisings in North Africa, how easy access to the media, has enabled ordinary citizens in those countries, to communicate with one another and organise protests, demanding the democratisation of State institutions.”
“Equally, we have seen that the reaction to protests by state officials in countries affected has been the swift muzzling of the media using various methods. Therefore, it is obvious that the media remains vulnerable to state abuse if its freedoms and rights are not entrenched in the constitutions of states.”
To this end, the Pan-African Parliament stated that there is now “evidence” that more and more repressive and automatic states are resorting to the stricter control of the social internet based networks to shut out citizens’ voices that are calling for democratic reforms.
The Pan-African Parliament’s (PAP) mandate and objectives include the promotion of good governance, democracy, transparency, accountability and human rights in Members States of the African Union.
And it has now revealed that it is “planning to launch a continent-wide campaign on media freedom in Africa”. This campaign will focus on the reform of media laws through National and Regional Parliaments.
The 2011 World Press Freedom Day marks the twentieth anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom in Africa; and it further marks the tenth anniversary of the African Broadcasting Charter.
And for the PAP, it is hoped that this campaign will encourage African governments and legislators to continue working towards the “democratization of our continent” and help create a more conducive atmosphere for our journalists to work in.