Plans to form a Pan-African Media Observatory that would use case law
to define and regulate the "responsibilities of the media" have been
lambasted by the African and international media community.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Jenni Marsh investigates for journalism.co.za.
In September 2008, members of the African Union and European Union
convened in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou to consider forming a
Pan-African Media Observatory.
At the meeting, Jean Ping, chair of the AU, and Louis Michel, European
commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, outlined the
principles of the body.
A subsequent consultation document revealed plans for it to work at a
"political and institution level", in some respects, on the basis of a
charter that would lay down the "rights and responsibilities of the
Such entangling of politics and media freedom has provoked strong
concern from the African and international media community with the
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) rejecting the
proposals in a declaration backed by 32 members.
Signatories included the US' World Press Freedom Committee, the World
Association of Newspaper and News Publishers in France, the Media
Institute of Kenya, South Africa's Freedom of Expression Institute and
the UK's Exiled Journalists Network.
While the Pan-African Media Observatory's submission claims that "real
power is now held by a small group of global and economic corporations
and enterprises" the IFEX declaration argues that "only a small
minority of African media is under the control of global economic
corporations The real issue for the vast majority of African media
players is how to overcome the over-bearing and pervasive influence of
Bettina Peters, director of the Global Forum for Media Development,
told Journalism.co.za she believes the document has been drafted
without proper consideration or understanding of the African media
"We are astonished that the EU is involved in setting up a pan-African
press council because there isn't even something like this in Europe
where almost every country has its own independent press council," she
"In Africa, how this would work it is hard to imagine."
Peters, who has supervised and managed media development projects in
more than 80 countries, sees the involvement of politicians in a body
with the capacity to regulate the responsibilities of the media as
"Politicians try to regulate media content. What we would have liked is a much clearer engagement with the media organisations."
The IFEX declaration accuses the AU and EU of not only ignoring the
brutal exile, assassination and assaulting of journalists by censoring
governments across the continent but also of giving no credit to the
previous milestones fought hard for by media outlets.
A number of respected voices in the debate have asked why the 1991
Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic Africa
Press, which has been endorsed by UNESCO, is not mentioned in the
submission. Similarly, the African Commission on Human and People's
Rights and its mechanisms for maintaining a free press fall short of
the AU and EU's consideration.
Furthermore, existing projects such as the BBC World Trust Service's
African Media Development Initiative and the Strengthening Africa's
Media process are also startlingly absent from the document.
Peters can forgive the bodies for establishing an over-ambitious
pan-African body – they had to, she says, for the AU is a pan-African
organisation – but its mechanisms for the advancement of media in the
continent are almost beyond comprehension.
"If you are concerned with media freedom in Africa why not support
freedom of expression or access to information legislation, which does
actually work but hasn't been funded enough to be supported?" she asks.
"These are things that work and can be pan-African as well."
Plans for the Pan-African Media Observatory to have the "legal status of a mediator" have also aroused confusion.
International freedom of expression and media consultant Jeanette
Minnie told Journalism.co.za that establishing case law precedents for
media rulings would open a can of worms. The document gives no
indication as to the outcome of a situation where the legal systems of
two countries rule differently on similar cases.
Minnie, who is a GFMD Steering Committee member, said earlier this
year: "There is no legal ground for this initiative and it is unclear
what media laws at national level it will refer to."
Protesters from the global media landscape are now campaigning for the
EU and AU to drastically rework – or scrap – their proposals and focus
on more targeted and specific ways of supporting freedom of the African
The Global Forum for Media Development is calling on campaigners to
vote against the proposal on their website (interestingly, at the time
of going to press 73 per cent of voters did believe a pan-African
observatory would be useful) and by writing to the EC Delegation in
their country outlining their concerns.
Minnie says that if the campaign against the creation of the
observatory does not succeed it will "be really destructive, on many
"Trying to start a Pan-African Media Observatory is totally against the principles of a free media.
"It is a major violation of the media because state can be a direct threat to the media. It makes no sense at all."