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African journalists killed in line of work remembered at AMC3

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Churchill Otieno – President – TAEF

Even though journalism is not a crime, the practice has become deadly for many journalists. The arrest, detention, torture and murder of journalists have been going on for years, even in democratic countries with constitutions that clearly acknowledge the role and importance of journalism.

Speaking at the opening of the Third African Media Convention (AMC3) in Accra Thursday May 16, 2024, Mr Churchill Otieno, President of the African Editors Forum (TAEF), paid tribute to African journalists who have died and those who have been killed for their work.

“Today, we pay homage to the indispensable role of journalists—the brave souls who illuminate the darkest corners of society, who hold power to account, and who tirelessly champion the cause of justice and democracy. In honouring their dedication, we also remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of truth and justice, as well as those who languish unjustly behind bars for their commitment to journalism,” he said.

He urged journalists to harness the power of creativity and innovation in the face of unprecedented challenges—censorship, harassment, and the rampant spread of misinformation, to sustain a free and vibrant media, and called for the embracing of new technologies, exploration of innovative storytelling methods, and the forging of partnerships that amplify the voices of the voiceless and ensure the truth prevails.

“Journalism is Not a Crime!”, he said and made a roll call in honour of 14 journalists and media professionals who have been killed or jailed for their work.

“As we gather here today, we know of at least of 14 journalists and media workers killed in Africa between January 2023 and May 2024,” he said.

The journalists are: Jean-Jacques Ola Bebe, Martinez Zogo and Anye Nde Nso all of Cameroon. Ralikonelo Joki, Lesotho, João Chamuse, Mozambique, John Williams Ntwali, Rwanda, Abdifatah Moalim Nur (also known as Qeys) and Abdikarin Ahmed Bulhan of Somalia, Khalid Balal and Halima Idris Salim of Sudan, Abdoul Aziz Djibrilla of Mali, Idris Yaya of Chad and Hilary Nosa Odia of Nigeria.

Citing the Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual Prison Census, he said at least 67 journalists were imprisoned across Africa in connection to their work as of December 1, 2023.

“As a fraternity, as a people, we must say and do all that is necessary to stop this wanton muzzling of agents of truth. Desmond Tutu told us not to raise our voices, but to improve our arguments. But he also told us that to be silent in a situation of injustice is to side with the oppressor! We must not be silent,” he said.

Among other things Mr Otieno urged delegates to engage deeply on issues in the sessions, to share their insights and experiences, and to collaborate with their peers to drive positive change in the media landscape.

“Let us draw inspiration from one another, honoring the legacy of those who paved the way before us, as we chart a course toward a future where media freedom flourishes.

Furthermore, as we gather to shape the future of African media, we must address the issue of fair compensation,” he said.

As a fraternity, as a people, we must say and do all that is necessary to stop this wanton muzzling of agents of truth. Desmond Tutu told us not to raise our voices, but to improve our arguments. But he also told us that to be silent in a situation of injustice is to side with the oppressor! We must not be silent.

Mr Otieno argued that it is imperative that journalists and media professionals receive fair remuneration for their invaluable work, noting that the current landscape, marked by the dominance of big tech platforms, often sees media organizations struggling to monetize their content while these platforms profit from it.

“We must advocate for fair compensation mechanisms, including equitable revenue-sharing models and copyright reforms, to ensure that journalists are adequately rewarded for their contributions. By championing fair compensation, we not only uphold the dignity and livelihoods of journalists but also fortify the foundation of a sustainable and thriving media ecosystem,” he said.

He indicated that access to data held by social media platforms is another pressing issue that must be addressed in addition to fair compensation.

“In the digital age, social networks have become crucial sources of information, yet access to their data is often restricted. Journalists rely on this data for in-depth reporting and investigative journalism. However, the opaque nature of social media algorithms and data policies present a significant barrier. We must advocate for greater transparency and accountability from these platforms, ensuring that journalists have access to the data they need to uncover stories, hold power to account, and serve the public interest. By advocating for access to social media data, we empower journalists to fulfill their vital role as watchdogs of society and strengthen the foundations of media freedom and democracy,” he said.

He further called on journalists to embrace the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to revolutionize the media landscape in Africa.

“AI technologies have the capacity to enhance journalistic workflows, automate repetitive tasks, and personalize content delivery to diverse audiences. However, there are also challenges and risks associated with AI, including potential biases in algorithms and concerns about job displacement. As African media professionals, we must engage critically with AI, ensuring that its development and deployment are guided by ethical principles, transparency, and accountability. By harnessing the power of AI responsibly, we can unlock new opportunities for innovation, improve the quality of journalism, and advance media freedom and sustainability across the continent,” he said.

Mr Otieno reminded the delegates that the Convention is not merely an event but a sacred rendezvous—a moment of reflection, inspiration, and collective action.

“We convene to embrace our responsibility as custodians of Africa’s narrative, to uphold truth, defend media freedom, drive sustainability, and evolve homegrown media policies that ensure our industry thrives,” he said.

In her remarks, Leslie Richer, Director of Information and Communication at the African Union, expressed her happiness that the AMC is growing and gaining traction as it reflects the growing recognition that African media must create and own a clearly defined space in the global media landscape, with agenda anchored on what is relevant to the continent and its people.

“Too often events are labelled as global, but Africa is hardly ever represented. The AMC is a game changer and I believe in the fullness of time, probably sooner rather than later this will be where the world’s media will need to be,” she said.

Mr Albert Dwumfour, President of the Ghana Journalists Association, called for harder work and innovative approaches to enhance media freedom in Africa,

“One critical area we need to tackle urgently and forcefully, which is highlighted in the theme for the Convention, is environmental sustainability. The current environmental crisis can cause unimaginable damage to Africa in particular, and it is a challenge the media in Africa must rise up to deal with,” he said.

Dr. Rita Bissoonauth, Director of UNESCO Liaison Office to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, and National Office for Ethiopia, applauded Ghana’s commitment to promoting media freedom, and said, that is further demonstrated by the country’s membership to the various international coalitions promoting freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists.

“Furthermore, the fact that Ghana will later this year host global celebrations of the International Day for Universal Access to Information, having previously hosted the global celebrations of the World Press Freedom Day, is a sign that Ghana is a Centre of Gravity on the African continent when it comes to promoting media freedom, access to information and safety of journalists,” she said.

She noted that Africa holds a special place in UNESCO’s agenda and is designated as a priority for the organization.

“This focus acknowledges the unique challenges and opportunities present on the continent—from advancing education and science to safeguarding cultural heritage and promoting freedom of expression. UNESCO’s initiatives across Africa aim to harness the transformative power of media and communication to foster sustainable development, peace, and democracy,” she said.

Noting the importance of the media in her welcome address, Ghana’s Minister of Information designate, Fatimatu Abubakar said throughout history, the media has served as a beacon of hope, illuminating the path towards justice, equality, and progress.

“Today, as we confront unprecedented global challenges, the role of the media has never been more vital. The media is a catalyst for change, a catalyst for empowerment, and a catalyst for transformation.

In the face of adversity, the media remains unwavering in its pursuit of truth and justice. Journalists, often at great personal risk, continue to shine a light on corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses. They amplify the voices of the marginalised, hold the powerful accountable, and inspire action towards a better world,” she said.

The three day Convention ends Friday May 17.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi
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