Media experts recommend freedom of information bills for ECOWAS
The regional meeting on the Media, Conflict and Democracy in West Africa has ended in Accra with media experts recommending that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member states enact Freedom of Information Bills.
The meeting explained that such a law would be a complementary but critical mechanism for strengthening public access to information, promoting transparency and accountability in governance in the West African sub-region.
The two-day meeting was to evolve ways of mainstreaming conflict prevention in media practice in the region.
The experts from within and outside the region said such Bills should not be narrowly perceived as being only for the benefit of media practitioners but as an instrument to enlarge citizen’s access to information for the promotion of good governance and deepening democracy.
The meeting was organised by ECOWAS as part of its campaign to address the problem of hate media in the region and mobilise the regional media in support of ECOWAS’ initiatives to consolidate democracy, good governance, transparency and accountability as the bedrock for ensuring sustainable regional peace and security.
In a communique, the experts underscored the necessity for the media to undertake peace education of the public as this would help the ongoing regional effort to cultivate and deepen a culture of peace in the region after some decades of being under the grip of civil crises.
Consequently, they urged the media to “commit themselves not only to the ideals of regional integration and common community citizenship based on shared values but also to responsible, responsive, factual and circumspect reportage of sensitive events.”
While identifying the “temptation for military intervention in politics as well as the manipulation of national constitutions and electoral laws as a looming threat to democracy, regional peace and security,” the experts urged ECOWAS to ensure the scrupulous compliance with provisions of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance” as an instrument for preserving the sanctity of democracy and good governance.
The experts also frowned at the persecution of journalists in The Gambia and the infringement of their rights and urged the government to ensure the safety of media practitioners in line with the rule of law.
They also suggested other measures for improving the quality of journalism practice in the region, the coverage of ECOWAS and the promotion of peace through the institution of awards for outstanding coverage of the organisation, capacity building programmes for journalists, the improved involvement of regional journalists in programmes of the Community and the adoption of model peace electronic and print media.
Among other decisions of the meeting was the inauguration of a steering committee for the creation of a media forum that would facilitate exchange of media best practices, capacity building programmes for regional journalists and combating hate media in the region.
They also adopted a Minimum Regional Norms and Standards on Hate media and Democracy, a document that seeks to help the region avoid such brand of journalism and its tragic consequences.