Africa's Press Freedom is under threat - Prof Karikari

Fri, 28 Apr 2006 Source: GNA

Accra, April 28, GHA - Professor Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa on Thursday said the trend of press freedom was being reversed in most African countries, threatening media freedom on the Continent.

He said libel laws were being re-introduced in most African countries, whereas there had been no reforms of media law, despite the current era of media pluralism Prof Karikari made these known at a lecture organized by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) for journalists in Accra on theme: "Threats of Press Freedom in Africa Today". The lecture formed part of activities marking this year's World Press Freedom Day, which falls on Wednesday May 3.

He said Ghana, Nigeria, Benin and Senegal remained high on the list of countries with press freedom and mentioned Cape Verde as the only country, which had provisions to protect news sources and other issues related to media work.

He mentioned The Gambia, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe as some countries that had re-introduced the criminal libel law, with other legislations termed as "False news and Insult Law".

Prof Karikari also mentioned other threats such as imprisonment by the court system in some countries, leading to confiscation of media organizations, and lack of access to information, which impaired the work of journalists.

He said it was only South Africa that had legislations which did not restrict the media to have access to information, adding that without access to information, press freedom was still hanging, since the media could not provide the audience with information to make informed decisions.

"Some countries also had legislations such as high registration fees, imposition of special taxes on media by governments, restriction in providing the media with advertisement and other economic pressures such as poor market access, were affecting most media".

The Executive Director observed that politics continued to be a major source of problem for journalists, especially during multi-party elections, especially in countries where there was no political tolerance for opposing views.

Libel law, he said, remained a threat to journalists and press freedom, especially when huge damages were awarded to defamed persons, describing it as a legal way to silence the media. Prof Karikari recalled that Ghana, for instance, introduced the Newspaper Licensing Law in the 1960s to silence media organizations, which the Government considered as against its ideals and was severally repealed and re-introduced by subsequent governments.

He said with the upsurge of private newspapers and the electronic media, there was the need for laws to improve media performance that would check them to serve their watchdog role.

Prof Karikari, however, urged governments to promote media pluralism and called for judicial systems that would put in place corrective measures rather than always attending to the plaintiff's plea, a situation that could collapse media organisations.

The media was also advised to be responsible and to adhere to professional ethics - since some libel suits were sometimes due to silly mistakes, such as poor attribution, misspelling, misquoting and lack of proper editing - in order not to create room for these offences.

Prof Karikari disclosed that a study to establish facts and issues that often led to those threats was underway and expressed the hope that the report would soon be launched to find a solution to the problem. Ms Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, Outgoing President of the GJA, said as a kick-off of to the celebration, Executives of the GJA were at the Castle to invite President John Agyekum Kufuor to the Journalists Awards, which would climax the activities.

Source: GNA