As harassment of journalists increases, African media lawyers step up support

Journalists working in African countries are always at the receiving end of harassment from authorities. It is so easy to think journalism is a crime because journalists are easily arrested, detained, tortured and in some instances killed for doing their work, and often there is no justice, as perpetrators are never brought to book.

And in the last couple of years, the world has witnessed a fast erosion of democracy and with it, increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and of the press – making journalists targets of repressive governments who often use the law to oppress them. Governments and state agencies are known to often find it convenient to use all kinds of laws, some of them ambiguous to harass journalists.

One of the common ways journalists are harassed is what is known as Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). In these cases, journalists are sued or dragged to court without any substantive case against them, in bids to punish and frustrate them.

But soon, a network of lawyers in Africa is stepping up to offer journalists the legal support to push back the abuse of power and impunity that journalists are often victims of.

Last week during the Third African Media Convention (AMC) held in Accra, Ghana, the African Media Lawyers Network was launched. The Network is set to protect the rights of journalists by providing legal support and advocacy.

According to the convenors, journalists in Africa have long been the targets of harassment, physical attacks, and legal intimidation, often resulting in self-censorship and erosion of press freedom.

The Network, a unified platform for media lawyers across Africa will be working together to provide critical and robust legal support and defence for journalists.

The Network was born when the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) in coordination with the UNESCO Liaison Office to the African Union and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, formally unveiled the framework of the African Media Lawyers Network (AMLN), following a stakeholders’ validation meeting that took place January 31, 2024.

The AMLN, the first ever continent-wide network of media lawyers, aims at protecting and promoting press freedom, providing legal expertise, and supporting journalists and media houses in advocating for a legal environment that is conducive to independent and responsible journalism in the AU Member States.

The AMLN will through a team of lawyers lead concerted responses to emerging threats and harassment of journalists as well as providing the necessary legal support, including reviewing media laws and policies.

It will further facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing among legal actors, media partners and stakeholders, which can fast-track protecting journalists and promoting press freedom on the continent, the convenors said.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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