WJEC2 and Highway Africa conferences kicked off with the realisation that countries in Africa are still grappling with problems related to freedom of expression and information. Whereas the consolidation of democracy in many African states has expanded political space, and enhanced media developments, there are huge differences between countries that have adopted freedom of information and those that have not.
This was the exposition made by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula. Tlakula posited that while the media has made significant contributions to democracy, it still suffers serious impediments as a consequence of laws that hinder press freedom. This became even clearer when Mathatha Tsedu, head of Media24 Training Academy in South Africa, recounted the recent killing of Rwandese journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage by people alleged to be state security operatives or close to those in power. Although the claim is yet to be verified, Tsedu asked Rwandan president Paul Kagame to expedite investigation into the murder which has recently shocked the media fraternity not only in Rwanda but also in countries where journalists are increasingly in danger especially because of their investigative work.
So far, the conference has been a rich ground for discussions into the application of media in democratic processes, and whether journalism is a boon or indeed a danger to democracy. In the Democracy and Media Innovations in Africa syndicate, for instance, it was noted that media information may not always aid democracy. In some instances, it may lead to apathy where citizens feel demotivated from engage with politics or politicians. What’s more it may create a disconnect between the consumers of information as voters and the producers of information. This is based on the notion that the elite seek to hog power by using the media for their own selfish interests.