West Africa: Stakeholders Agree to Secure Freedom of Expression

Regulation & Policy

Stakeholders in the West Africa media on Wednesday, 30th September 2009 in Abuja proposed a draft regional framework document that would help liberalize the environment for freedom of expression in West Africa and contribute to the consolidation of democracy and good governance.

The document seeks the adoption of a regional instrument that will enable ECOWAS citizens avail themselves of the fundamental human rights enshrined in various international instruments, which Member States have signed, that guarantee the right to freedom of expression and information.

The Act on a harmonized legal framework on freedom of expression and right of information proposed by the participants at the workshop would guarantee the right to information and independence of the media, define the parameters for civil defamation and press offences, institute a mechanism for the regulation of print and broadcast media as well as the classification of broadcast services.

It will also help define the composition and mode of operations of the regulatory bodies for broadcast and telecommunication services to protect public interest and the economic and other measures that are needed to support the media to ensure it caters for the needs of the public.

In addition, it will help guarantee the right to information, the independence of the media and define the sanctions to be meted to journalists and media institutions for violations of the Act and appropriate laws.

Apart from the Act, the three-day workshop which was jointly organized by the ECOWAS Commission and the Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), discussed other issues including the ECOWAS instruments for promoting free expression in West Africa.

There were also presentations that touched on the existing restrictive media legislation in West Africa, the fundamental principles of legislation enhancing media freedom and the enforcement challenges of international, African and sub-regional instruments relating to the right to free expression and access to information.