African journalists call for media freedom and quality

African journalists’ leaders have called on the African Union and national governments to institute a comprehensive framework for media freedom and quality journalism in Africa and launched campaigns in support of media freedom and the safety of journalists.

The call came at the end of a two-day African Journalists Leadership’ Conference on “Building Stronger Unions to Enhance Journalism and Media Freedom in Africa”, which took place in Accra, Ghana.

The conference was organised by the Federation of African Journalists in collaboration with its Ghana affiliate, the Ghana Journalists Association, to brainstorm on the challenges and achievements of African journalism, precarious working conditions of journalists and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on various aspects of the media industry.

“Against all the odds, we gathered in Accra to put our minds together as we reflect on and seek solutions to the precarious conditions in which African journalists operate and the thorny problems of media freedom and quality journalism. Beyond these traditional challenges, we now also face the sad reality of the Covid-19 pandemic killing journalists and throwing many into unemployment. These challenges cannot be solved by journalists alone and the search for permanent solutions requires wide stakeholder involvement, including governments,” FAJ President Sadiq Ibrahim Ahmed said in his remarks during the opening ceremony presided over by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo Addo.

Vehicle for development

In his opening address, President Akufo Addo implored African journalists to strive for a free, responsible and ethical media as a vehicle for development. He condemned the continuing persecution of the media in many parts of the continent, saying the failings of the press were the lesser evil compared to the risks posed by opaque and unaccountable governance.

“Governments should instead work with the media to promote accountability, transparency, democracy and human rights, which are key ingredients of good governance,” the Ghanaian leader said.

He outlined some of the measures his government has taken to help the media industry recover from adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

African journalists’ leaders also asked governments to create and enforce laws that support the growth of organised labour while media owners should engage with journalists’ union leaders before taking actions that can adversely affect the welfare of journalists and have the potential to compromise journalistic integrity.

The Declaration adopted at the end of the conference stated that labour rights are an integral part of promoting quality journalism and governments should support journalists’ unions’ quest for fair pay and decent working conditions.

Ethical obligations

Journalists were also challenged not to lose sight of their ethical and professional obligations as a way of preserving public trust and to act against the scourge of misinformation and disinformation. Journalists should also remain true to their calling by preserving professional integrity, refraining from subservience to politics or using the profession as a vehicle to achieving their personal political ambitions.

Participants at the Conference noted that African governments should also endorse and implement the recommendations of the Windhoek+30 Declaration that was adopted at the Global Conference of World Press Freedom Day in Windhoek, Namibia.

In his speech, the General Secretary of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC-Africa) Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, said the COVID-19 crisis had exposed the naked reality of the pathetic state of journalists’ welfare in Africa, the majority of whom work without any form of employment contract.

“It is a sad truth that in Africa, journalists are among the most vulnerable members of society. Such a status quo is not healthy for journalism. Decent pay and credible, quality journalism cannot be separated, Kwasi said in support of calls for equitable pay that is commensurate with journalists’ contribution to the production process.

“African journalists are doing an incredibly good job under extremely difficult conditions. Through their bravery and sacrifices, they have contributed to the development of more open societies and accountable leadership. They deserve all the support from governments, the private sector and development partners to build their professional capacity and resilience, Kwasi added.

The continental conference adopted resolutions on Palestine, FIFA world Cup and strengthening journalists’ unions and associations.