Media in Africa: twenty years after the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom

Media in Africa: twenty years after the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom

What are the challenges facing the development of African media?

The 1991 Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom was a landmark document which set the stage for the development of the African media. The Declaration calls for a free, independent and pluralistic media and is based on a strong belief in the connection between a fully independent press and a successful participatory democracy sector. This collection of over 60 essays from writers, editors, and media activists from across Africa commemorates the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration and offers a critical examination of its current status, progress, and setbacks that have taken place in the past 20 years.

The publication begins with an overview of the past two decades and shares assessments on the status of press freedom in Africa. The contributions are organised under four key sections – Freedom, Pluralism, Independence, and Access to Information. Articles cover these issues, as well as journalists' safety, gender sensitive reporting, and the role of the internet.

As stated in the preface, the 20 year anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration’s signing is a time to take stock of changes that have occurred in the African media landscape, yet it is clear that freedom of the press is not yet fully secured. Indeed a number of key challenges are highlighted by the authors:

  • Though progress has been made democracy needs to transform state-owned radio and TV stations away from being mouthpieces of governments and towards becoming impartial public service broadcasters, this – along with independent regulation of broadcasting
  • The lack of independence of the judiciary in many countries has also been a challenge for the development of progressive jurisprudence on freedom of expression
  • How to keep ‘citizen’ reporters motivated to do their work. While social networking sites attract content almost organically among urbanites, rural people face many more pressing and basic demands on their time
  • The need for ‘careful’ negotiation with the government in order to maintain editorial integrity.
  • Building on the recent expansion of broadband in the continent by developing internal broadband linkages through a patchwork of 3G, satellite, cable and broadcast hybrids
  • Equipping the journalists with knowledge and understanding of specific subjects. Many papers and stations do not have specialists and as a result the quality of reporting is compromised. 

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