Thursday, 08 July 2010 17:39

Tutu endorses media freedom declaration

Africa's campaign against Insult Laws has won the endorsement of Archishop Tutu at the closing events of Highway Africa and the World Journalism Education Congress on Wednesday, 7 July.

The campaign centres around the Table Mountain Declaration, adopted in Cape Town in 2007 at the conferences of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum.

Top of the campaign's targets is the need to scrap a series of hangover colonial laws which prohibit any criticism of people in high places.  These laws date back to an era when the dignity of a public office was conflated with the incumbent of that office. That clearly runs contrary to the nature of democratic accountability, and has served only to harrass journalists and chill their work in many African countries.

The Declaration also calls on governments to scrap dispensations where defamation is treated as a criminal, rather than civil, offence. Again, it's an issue of laws that belong to a different era, and of getting African countries to align their legal regimes with modern times.

Participating at the Grahamstown media events ahead of Tutu's endorsement, retired Ghanian President John Kufour told how his administration had acted on these contraints early in its term of office... which is one reason why Ghana today gets the highest media freedom ratings around the continent.

In attracting Tutu and Kufour to their proceedings, the Highway Africa conference, and the World Journalism Education Congress, demonstrated their ability to concentrate energies around media freedom.  Highway Africa, as the world's biggest annual gathering of African journalists, is taken seriously - and rightly so - more and more each year. The journalism educators at this year's events also took pride in their roles as part of the global recognition and profile of Tutu and Kufour.

The political impact of the Tutu-Kufour combo was amplified by Advocate Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Information in Africa, who also called for acceptance in Africa of the freedom of expression of sexual orientation.

If the combined impact of these speakers goes some way towards expanding media freedoms around Africa, that could serve to encourage both the journalists and the journalism educators to intensify their own voices on the matter.

In this way, the input by Tutu, Kufour and Tlakula could have the pleasant side effect of bolstering the confidence of the two constituencies (media practitioners and teachers of media). If these leaders take journalism and j-education very seriously, so too should practitioners of these professions - and society more widely.

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