Southern African editors join freedom crusade

New Media, Old Media

AS SOUTHERN African countries continue with reforms aimed at strengthening democracy the role of the media has become more important than ever before.
In Zambia the government and the media have since 2012 been working together to make the environment more favourable for journalists to do that which they know best – informing, educating, entertaining and, unfortunately, shaming the public.
There media is enjoying more operating space than ever before. The Patriotic Front (PF) government has scored some admirable goals on this particular pitch.
However, Zambia is still stuck with such oppressive laws as the Defamation Act and some sections of the Penal Code on its statute books, which the PF inherited from its predecessor, the MMD.
They need to be addressed as well.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is increasingly demanding good governance – the rule of law, protection of human rights, credible, free and fair elections and accountability – among its member states.
The regional bloc played the leading role in ensuring the recent harmonised elections in Zimbabwe met some basic international parameters of a credible poll.
But there are still many black sheep within SADC, which are reluctant to move with the rest of the region.
This is putting more pressure on the media to strengthen its motoring role and hold governments more accountable to the people.
But for the media to perform this mandate effectively it must operate in a favourable political, economic and legal environment. There are still numerous laws that are a constant threat to the freedom of the media on the statute books of many a SADC member state.
Without pressure and constant engagement few of these governments have the will to repeal or amend these draconian laws on their own. This was the clarion call of the Southern African Editor’s Forum (SAEF)’s regional council meeting held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, on August 30, 2013.
SAEF, whose regional office is in Windhoek, Namibia, is the umbrella body of national editors’ forums in 10 SADC countries including Zambia.
The organisation has vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to lobby governments to remove from their statute books laws that are inimical to media freedom.
“The SAEF leadership will work with national editors’ organisations in the 10 member countries for the implementation of, among others, the Table Mountain Declaration,” the forum said in a press release shortly after the council meeting.
The Table Mountain Declaration, amongst other things, calls on governments to:
Recognise the indivisibility of media freedom and the states’ responsibility to respect their commitments to African and international protocols upholding the freedom, independence and safety of the media.
To abolish, as a matter of urgency, insult and criminal defamation laws which have led to the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of editors and journalists in many countries
To remove all other laws inimical to media freedom
Free journalists jailed for their professional activities.
There will surely be no honeymoon for the new executive committee of Jovial Rantao, editor of the Sunday Tribune in South Africa, who was elected SAEF chairperson to be deputised by Mpho Dibeela, managing editor of The Guardian Sun in Botswana.
Willie Mponda, editor of The Sun in Zimbabwe, is the new secretary general while Tangeni Amupadhi, editor of The Namibian, was co-opted into the management committee.
The SAEF management council appointed Elizabeth M’ule, who has been running SAEF’s regional secretariat in Namibia, as the executive director of the organisation.
The Zambia National Editors Forum (ZANEF) will play its part by participating in the ongoing engagement between the media and the government to add impetus to the reforms.
It is clear that southern African editors are poised to contribute to the promotion of media freedom in their respective countries as well as the region.
The author is general secretary of the Zambia National Editors Forum (ZANEF).


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