| The Courier N°139 May- June 1993- Dossier: Factors and development - Country Reports: Trinidad and Tobago : Zimbabwe |
This was the subject of a conference which the Commission of the European Communities and Reporters sans FrontiÃ¨res ran for African and Haitian journalists and professional and non-governmental press organisations in North and South in Brussels on 25 March 1993. The idea was to set up and monitor a practical, operational programme of action (see the final declaration which is reproduced at the end of this article).
In an Africa on the road to democracy, what are the challenges facing the press? They are of three kinds - political, ethical and economic.
The political challenge
At the top of the agenda is the harder line being taken by some authoritarian regimes. Eight journalists were killed and ten imprisoned in sub-Saharan Africa in 1992. Torture is everyday practice and journalists are regularly harassed in their private lives. The State runs broadcasting in 31 of the 45 countries.
Tackling this means ensuring better (North-South and South-South) dissemination of information - and this includes details of attacks on journalists and their means of expression. Practical solidarity has to be better organised and public opinion mobilised more often. One of the main problems is the impunity with which the freedom of the press is violated. International surveys must be run, regional self-defence networks organised and information channelled from the countries of the South to the countries of the North, so that international pressure can be brought to bear. Freedom of the press is still one of the best yardsticks for measuring human rights.
Both the role of the international and domestic media in triggering the democratic process and the journalists' contribution to making African citizens aware of the culture of democracy were highlighted during the conference.
One participant said how important the press was in crisis situations, insisting that information had to circulate in a democratic, competitive and pluralist context. One example of this, which he had seen in Kenya, Ethiopia and India, was the link between famine and freedom of the press, for as he said, 'countries with active free presses have rarely experienced famine'. Famine is not inevitable in fact. It is foreseeable and the media have a vital part to play in making people realise this.
It is especially important to take up this particular challenge, because, if the press loses credibility, when, say, journalists are not properly trained or corrupt practices occur, there may be irregularities on which those in power may capitalise.
Laws and regulations are necessary but not sufficient. Those in power do not always abide by their own laws or respect the confidentiality of sources of information. 'We don't just need legal guarantees. We need the authorities to respect them.' A better definition of the notion of public order is required and a campaign must be waged against both censorship in general and, where it exists, any subjectivity in the criteria it applies. The important thing is to create an area of freedom, not forgetting that a legal framework is very different from real professional ethics.
Training in professional ethics has to be offered by schools of journalism or provided by the profession itself.
The economic challenge
What is to be done? There were some answers. Do not despise market forces, for example, assist with training in general, and in terms of administration and management too, and help with capitalisation. The conference also highlighted the need to set up national aid systems for the media.
Some African participants felt that the press in Africa 'belongs in the informal sector. It's a cottage industry.' When it came to paper supplies and printing and distribution, there was still a great deal to do. And the last two sectors were 'often monopolised by foreign companies'.
It ought not to take a miracle to run a newspaper in Africa any longer. But how can it be done? With a proper legal framework, trained and honest journalists and businessmen who are able to attract limited advertising resources.
The difficulty of obtaining information stemmed from the existence of national news agencies and from States which often declined to put out information which they in fact originated. Economic and financial information was rarely transparent in Africa, even in the democracies, and it was sometimes easier to obtain it through people in the North.
'Journalist or militant?' This was the title of a discussion of the crisis in the press seen from European and African points of view. Competition from cinema and television had spurred the European press to be elitist about the written word and see journalism as instructions for using reality. The same is happening in Africa, where readers' requests for information often focused on health, education and the environment - which meant, in particular, that journalists had to have specialised training in specific fields if the press was not to be confined to politics.
In conclusion, everyone thought that the press would never be independent unless it was economically independent first. It was the same for private press and State press alike, for the public sector had to be independent, even if laws were required to ensure economic competition between the State organs and the others.
What answers to what challenges ?
The final declaration analyses the answers on training courses, the development of regional professional structures, the defence of the freedom of the press, access to information and the legal and ethical framework.
Manuel Marin, Member of the Commission of the European Communities responsible for Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid, told the meeting of the Community's political response.
'Today, we can say, quite clearly', he asserted, 'that human rights, democracy and therefore freedom of information are vital aspects of any development policy... The Community now has specific budget resources with which to promote human rights in the developing nations. But once again, the basic contribution has to come from the people concerned themselves. And that is where the press comes in.... A look at even the most advanced of democracies shows that, in any society, the existence of a free and independent press is an essential and irreplaceable element in the balance of power.
Clearly, there can be no real development in a State where law does not prevail and where there is no democracy. Equally clearly, there can be no democracy without freedom of expression.
This is why the donors and the international organisations involved in development should in future give far greater priority to the means of communication in the developing countries, particularly in Africa.'
Speaking for the Commision Mr Marin drew the following conclusions.
'What we in the Commission have learnt from this meeting will no doubt enable us to make the action we take in defence of freedom of information more consistent and more effective.
In the future, we must reflect on the best way of incorporating support for the consolidation of a democratic, independent press into our cooperation programmes with the developing countries.
FINAL DECLARATION FRIDAY 5 MARCH 1993
The Commission of the European Communities, anxious to help develop Africa's independent press, brought African and Haitian editors and journalists and professional and non-government organisations from the press in North and South together in Brussels on 25 March. The participants at this conference reaffirm their belief that the process of democratisation and development cannot be envisaged without an independent, pluralist press.
It is therefore vital for the international organisations to take the freedom of the press into account when granting their aid, a principle which the European Community has already applied in freezing its aid to some particularly repressive regimes. The principle must be applied more strictly. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, 13 States regularly violate their own people's right to honest and credible information, often violently.
International organisations, starting with the European Community, have to strengthen the independent media, which have a professional approach and on whose existence and development the process of democratisation depends. The point of this aid should be to enable the media to achieve a stable enough position to carry out their mission.
Freedom of the press ought not remain the privilege of the few. It is universal. No nation should be deprived of it. Genuine solidarity is essential every day.
Aid provided for the African media should depend less on their status, private or public, than on their respect for various principles of independence and professional ethics, in accordance with the Windhoek declaration.
The nature and volume of this aid have to be adjusted to the specific features of the nation or region. The degree of freedom of the press and the economic potential of each country are important criteria here.
The proposals set out below demand that provision be made now for structures to monitor the policies adopted.
1. Training courses
Management training for press undertakings has to be geared to: - rationalising day-to-day operation; - boosting advertising income; - developing and improving the control of the distribution network; - ensuring continuity in relations with the funders.
Management training programmes could be coordinated (reception and monitoring of projects) by the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers.
As a first stage, the Commission of the European Communities could pursue some of these objectives by undertaking to finance a compilation of existing data on the audiences for African media and by commissioning an independent organisation to carry out a more systematic survey of these audiences.
Various priorities have been identified as regards journalists' training:
- specialisation (the environment, economic issues, the workings of States where the law prevails etc.);
- training for young journalists with little or no training;
- professional ethics.
They could be coordinated by the International Federation of Journalists.
Journalists have to be trained in the environment in which they are to work, so it is preferable for training courses to be run in the sub-regions (Western Africa, Southern Africa etc.) themselves, in conjunction with regional professional organisations (Union des Journalistes de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (UJAO), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) etc.).
Alongside this, exchanges between media in North and South and between media in the South could be organised in the form of "winnings, of the sort already set up by the FIEJ and Reporters sans Frontieres.
All training schemes could be financed, in particular, by the Commission of the European Communities and the Communication Assistance Foundation in the Netherlands.
2. Development of regional professional structures
Several regions of Africa already have associations - the Federation of East African Journalists (FEAJ), MISA, the Societe des Editeurs de la Presse Privee (SEPP), UJAO etc - to improve the dissemination of information, defend the freedom of the press, assist local organisations in their negotiations with the authorities etc.
These associations often find everyday operation difficult and they could be helped by means of projects for which they themselves would be responsible. The dossier on attacks on freedom of the press in Africa, to be presented at the Vienna Conference in June 1993, is one example of a project for which financial assistance could be provided.
Alongside this, an economic interest group of independent press publishers could be given help if it was entirely responsible for independent studies of improvements to printing, distribution, computer-assisted publishing, distribution techniques etc.
There are two great advantages to economic interest groups. They put responsibility directly on to their members' shoulders and enable them to protect themselves in group activity from any undesirable involvement on the part of professionals who are too close to authoritarian regimes.
Such groups could also set up paper purchasing co-operatives and, lastly, benefit from the European Community's financial machinery for profit-making organisations (industrial development centres) and industrial cooperation.
3. Defending freedom of the press
Even today, organisations working to defend the freedom of the press all too often do not know, or find out too late, about violations of freedom of expression in Africa.
This could be countered in two ways, by:
- increasing the number of commissions of enquiry in the field;
- setting up a system to compile and disseminate data on the subject.
Reporters sans Frontieres could be invited to coordinate these schemes, in conjunction with the other international and regional organisations concerned with freedom of the press, and to manage a fund to finance legal assistance (for court cases involving journalists or freedom of the press) and particularly symbolic solidarity schemes.
All these operations could be covered by a financing programme set up by the Commission of the European Communities.
4. Sources of information
A desire to see the media have proper documentary services and correspondents in a position to cover events relating, primarily, to the countries of Africa has been emphasised on a number of occasions.
Although, for the time being, it seems difficult to mobilise the resources to create such documentary services in all organs of the press which need them, two types of operation are possible:
- support for structures specialising in the production of information on the continent of Africa. The idea of offering support for the transformation of the Pan-African Press Agency (PANA), for example, has been mentioned;
- recommendations to the Community Member States and the Commission to make their documentation centres in the various African capitals available to the independent press and to make more resources available to agencies such as MFI.
5. The legal framework and professional ethics
Professional ethics and problems related to the legal set-up have to be separated, in particular because they involve different people. Ethics are a matter for the profession alone, whereas any action related to the legal framework involves the authorities. Legislative action may relate both to legal provisions and to the regulations governing the economic environment of the press.
Whether priority is on one or the other (professional ethics or the legal framework) depends on the country, and the type of action to be taken depends directly on the state of freedom of the press in each country.
In countries where the freedom of the press is most seriously threatened, priority should go to political action to condemn laws and regulations which throttle freedom.
In countries where a process of democratisation is under way, the profession must be given what it needs to make an effective contribution to the establishment of laws and regulations to enhance the freedom of the press. In countries where the situation is good, the priority is on professional ethics.
Action in these areas could be coordinated by the Institut Panos and Article 19. UNESCO and the Commission of the European Communities could finance it jointly.
Lorenzo Natali Prize awarded
Manuel Marin, Member of the Commission, presented the first Lorenzo Natali Prize in 1992, during the Press and Democratisation in Africa conference. The prize, for journalism, honours the memory of Lorenzo Natali, a former vice-president of the Commission who was responsible for development cooperation.
The judges for the 1992 prize awarded it to the newsletter of Reporters sans Frontieres, an organisation which has done outstanding work for the defence of human rights and democracy in the developing countries. They also decided to give special commendation to Nicoue Brochm for his article on deliberate servitude and human rights in Africa, which appeared in the first issue of Droits et Libertes, the journal of the Ligue Togolaise des Droits de l'Homme. In doing this, they were paying tribute to an article and a journal representing the movement for rights and freedoms which is a feature of so many developing countries.
Robert Menard, who runs Reporters sans Frontieres, received the prize and Nicoue Broohm his special mention on 5 March.
At the prize-giving, Manuel Marin said this:
'I should just like to say that, on this first occasion, the judges wanted to pay tribute to the work of a non-governmental organisation which performs the essential function of monitoring and surveillance of the violation of the human rights of journalists the world over.
'The Reporters sans Frontieres' newsletter and the organisation's famous annual report on freedom of the press in the world are a valuable reference in the development of the struggle for rights and freedoms.
'But, of course, Reporters sans Frontieres was not the only worthy candidate. We received more than 50 entries, most of them of a very high standard, and the judges therefore took the unanimous decision also to give special commendation to Nicoue Broohm.
'Mr Broohm, who is with us today, is a Doctor of Philosophy of the Sorbonne and is currently teaching at the University of Benin. He wrote a remarkable article in the Revue Togolaise des Droits de l'Homme and I should like to quote this passage from it. It is particularly significant.
'We are all responsible for African policy. It is up to us to see that it is law abiding, that it becomes more humane and that, ultimately, it works for its authentic aim - free men.'
'This is a message full of courage and hope.
'Mr Broohm represents a whole generation of Africans who believe in democracy and who are fighting in what are sometimes extremely difficult conditions. In awarding this special commendation, the Commission wished to emphasise the importance of the move to democracy in Africa, for the call for freedom derives from the courage and the commitment of the people themselves - of whom Mr Broohm is a fine example'.