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West African governments must prioritise safety of journalists, access to information

A newscaster reads the news during a broadcast of Guinea-Bissau's national television in the capital, Bissau, 29 October 2012
A newscaster reads the news during a broadcast of Guinea-Bissau's national television in the capital, Bissau, 29 October 2012

REUTERS/Joe Penney

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on 22 March 2016.

Leading media development and free expression organisations in West Africa have called on governments in the region to prioritise the safety of journalists and access to information. At the just-ended West Africa Conference on Media and Participatory Governance, participants deplored the continuous attacks on journalists and the impunity with which such crimes are committed. Participants also noted with concern that many more countries in the region have yet to pass right to information laws to guarantee access to information for citizens.

This was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of the conference, which was organized by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Accra on March 15, 2016.

The conference brought together representatives from freedom of expression and media development organisations from 15 countries in West Africa, ECOWAS, UN agencies, diplomats and other civil society stakeholders with the aim of identifying key challenges in the areas of freedom of expression and the role of the media to promote good governance, regional integration and peace in West Africa.

The conference was carried out with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), fesmedia Africa, the Embassy of the United States of America in Ghana and Global Partners Digital.

Below is the full communiqué that was issued by participants at the conference:

Communiqué

We, the representatives of leading press freedom and media development organisations from West Africa who participated in the West Africa Conference on Media and Participatory Governance held in Accra on March 15, 2016, after deliberating on press freedom, professional journalism and good governance issues in West Africa, adopt the following resolutions:

  • We call on all governments in West Africa to create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for journalists, media professionals and associated personnel to perform their work professionally without attacks and undue interference.
  • We urge governments in the region to take steps to tackle impunity for crimes against journalists by prosecuting and punishing perpetrators of such crimes.
  • We urge the ECOWAS to take necessary steps to ensure compliance of member states with the human rights decisions of the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.
  • We call on journalists unions, all media owners, managers, editors, journalists and media development organisations in the region to take steps to improve professional standards among the media.
  • We call on the ECOWAS to prioritise the adoption and national level implementation of the pending regional frameworks on Access to Information and Freedom of Expression in line with the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
  • We urge governments of countries that are yet to adopt Right to Information (RTI) Law to prioritise processes for the passage of such laws to guarantee access to information for all citizens.
  • We commend the West African governments that have guaranteed citizens’ access to information through the adoption of RTI Law; and urge these governments to adopt appropriate mechanisms for the effective implementation of their respective RTI laws.
  • We acknowledge that the right to freedom of expression is as important online as offline and we urge all governments to ensure that the rights of citizens are respected and protected online in accordance with the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution which reaffirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”.

Adopted in Accra on March 15, 2016.

The Media Foundation for West Africa is the biggest and most influential media development and freedom of expression advocacy organisation in West Africa.

Visit our website: www.mfwa.org

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