Windhoek @30: Time to take stock
This year’s World Press Freedom Day commemorations come at a time when the 1991 Windhoek Declaration, which asserts that a free, diverse and pluralistic media is essential to democracy and enjoyment of human rights, turns 30 years old.
This is indeed a momentous, proud and joyous occasion for the African continent and the rest of the world.
It is therefore significant that this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations are being hosted by Namibia, the birthplace and cradle of the Windhoek Declaration, the foundational pillar of World Press Freedom Day which we now commemorate every year on May 3.
This year’s theme is: Information as a Public Good, comes at a time when an increasing number of African countries are enacting access to information laws in line with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Model Law on Access to Information in Africa.
While this is commendable, more still needs to be done, particularly on the African continent.
Over the past few years, the legislative environment for the media was seemingly on a progressive path. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen new restrictions on media freedom in Africa and throughout the world.
A number of countries have introduced new regulations that impinge on media freedom, while we have also seen a propensity to stifle expression, access to information and right to privacy online.
In addition, there has been a spike in the number of media freedom violations during the past few years, particularly in 2020.
This is a serious indictment on us as the citizens of Africa, that 30 years after the Windhoek Declaration, we still have journalists being disappeared, killed, detained, harassed and intimidated for simply doing their jobs.
In this regard, this year’s World Press Freedom Day Celebrations offer governments, civil society and the media an opportunity to step back and take stock of the gains that have been made over the years.
It offers all stakeholders a chance to build on the gains and also a chance to reflect on these regressions and reversals from the principles and values of the Declaration in the past few years.
To this end, this year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations offer us a platform to build on the gains and significant milestones we have made and achieved through our own regional and continental instruments, arising or founded upon the Windhoek Declaration.
These epic instruments include among others, the Model Law on Access to Information in Africa, the Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa, and the revised Declaration on the Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Thus, this year’s World Press Freedom Day gives us an opportunity to introspect and build on the charters and instruments that we have in building sustainable democratic media policy frameworks that foster and entrench citizens’ right to freedom of expression and access to information on the African continent.
The Windhoek Declaration has thus been an enduring and inspirational document in that regard. This is an opportune time for us to develop it further and expand its scope in meeting and embracing the contemporary developments and challenges as they emerged and evolved over the years.
PHOTO: Commissioner Jamesina Essie Leonora King is a member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.