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African media pushes for more freedom

posted 15 Oct 2010, 05:08 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 15 Oct 2010, 05:11 ]

Senior editors and journalists from 36 countries debate freedom of the press in Africa at The Africa Editors' Forum in Bamako.

"Media and the Challenge of Peace in Africa," is what senior journalists from over 35 African countries are expected to debate at this year's African Editors' Forum 
in Bamako.

It's the Forum's third edition and it takes place in conjunction with the African Union's Peace and Security Commission, examining vital issues like press freedom in African countries as it looks at the impact of war on journalists.

"We are trying to address the question both of how journalists are treated in hot spots around the continent, and also look at how our own coverage of efforts at making peace are either meeting the challenges or falling behind," said outgoing Africa Editors' Forum chairman Mathatha Tsedu from South Africa.

In a statement this week Tsedu said the conference's intention is to broaden the debate around the standard and quality of journalism in Africa.

Over the last two decades there has been a significant expansion of media pluralism in sub-Saharan Africa, with journalists and independent media outlets growing in number and vitality.

With infrastructure development and better communication links, increasing numbers of people are gaining access to a wider variety of media, as sources for both news and other information on public life.

But this trend is not without setbacks.

In too many African countries, independent media outlets and journalists continue to face harassment and violence. In some countries, journalists are attacked and sometimes killed for criticising the government. Many others are censored or intimidated into conformity.

Three of the worst cases in Africa in recent years are Eritrea, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

The Forum is also set to honour African presidents who have created "media-friendly" environments in their respective countries, whilst it is also looking at countries with serious infringment on journalists' rights sometimes leading to physical abuse, violence or even death.

"Journalists always have concerns to express because the media people like to have 100 percent freedom of expression, 100 percent access to information and in Rwanda and like in many other parts of Africa and of the world we don't have yet this freedom of expression," said Jean Boscor Changawelwe, President of Rwanda's Editors Forum.

The Presidents honoured for their approach to the work of journalists include former presidents Nelson Mandela of South Africa, John Kufuor of Ghana and Alpha Konare of Mali, former South Africa President and past chairman of the AU commission Thabo Mbeki and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Sirleaf, who is known for her open approach to media, has already passed a Freedom of Information Act since becoming Liberian President.

"When we see what happens in Liberia with all the facilities the press is offered, and when we think of what happened in Somalia, Eritrea or even in my country, Togo, I ask myself what direction things are taking. Why our leaders can't take Liberia's example, to give more of a chance for journalists to do their work," videojournalist Noel Tadegnon said.

The 180 editors and senior journalists attending the conference are also honouring their colleagues who were killed in the line of duty.

Among those are three editors who were killed by suspected government agents in different countries and one who has been missing for over five years after being abducted by security agents in the Gambia.