NED Hosts Media Panel During US-Africa Summit

Panelists for media task force at African Civil Society Conference at Capitol Hill during US-Africa Summit on August 6th, 2014. (photo: Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine

by Tadias Staff

Published: Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Washington, DC (TADIAS)  — The African Civil Society Conference, organized by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its partners, brought together African civil society leaders, journalists and members of US Congress at Capitol Hill as part of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit on Wednesday, August 6th. The conference theme entitled ‘Towards an Action Program for Democracy’ comprised of 6 panels addressing Human Rights, Good Governance & Accountability, Elections, Media, Conflict & Security, and Civil Society Challenges. Martin Frost, NED Board Chair, Hon. Karen Bass (D-CA) and Hon. Chris Smith (R-NJ) gave welcoming remarks.

Each panel presented recommendations forwarded by their respective task force, which met earlier in the week. Spokesperson for the media panel, Henry Maina, Director of East & Horn of Africa for Article 19, stated the media task force recommendations.  Members of the Media Task Force included journalists and activists from Mali, Tunisia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Morocco, Malawi, Kenya, and Nigeria. Several Ethiopian civil society leaders participated in the conference including scholar & political activist Birtukan Mideksa (Human Rights task force) Dr. Merera Gudina, Professor at University of Addis Ababa (Elections task force), and civil society advocates Teklu Tessema Gudeto and Debebe Hailegebriel (Civil Society Challenges task force).

Spokesperson Henry Maina highlighted media repression in several African countries and cited the current plight of Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers who he described as “just using mobile phones and websites.” He added: “They have done nothing wrong.”

Maina also emphasized that media must be seen as a central topic to be addressed when discussing post 2015 development goals. Recommendations by the media task force included encouraging international media organizations to have more comprehensive coverage of news in Africa and to “move away from the narrative of Africa as the hopeless continent.” The task force would also like African governments and leaders “to establish independent media regulation mechanisms as well as clear and transparent criteria” so that media organizations are not stifled.

“Media is a mirror where leaders can perceive themselves,” one panelist stated, without which “journalists find themselves in situations of self-censorship and leaders may be going the wrong way.”

The media task force addressed the need for organizations such as USAID to support media by including programs in its portfolio that addresses the needs of African media organizations. Panelist John Gatluak from South Sudan shared the necessity for funding for the media sector to help develop professional media training programs. Likewise, the task force recommended that UN agencies and the African Development Bank lead the way to promoting access to information.

Addressing the African commission on human and peoples rights, the media task force stated that it must show leadership in encouraging Africa’s 53 countries to meet their obligations under international law, especially in regards to media law. Maina also shared the task force’s recommendations for media professionals stressing the need to form solidarity networks to support each other “whenever they find themselves in distress.” Addressing the private sector Maina asked for more efforts in allowing ICT and knowledge transfer so that Africa need not go through the slow progress of development and instead leapfrog to the digital economy.

A member of Facebook’s policy team also announced their recent collaboration with Airtel to provide free internet access along with healthcare and job information via their new initiative, Internet.org, in Zambia. Facebook reiterated that key issues in media include access and affordability of Internet as well as freedom of information as outlined by the media task force.

Panelist Kumba Gborie from SKYY Radio in Sierra Leone brought forth the issue of the under-representation of women in media in African countries and called for greater efforts to increase access to formal education for girls so that they may have better opportunities in the future to join media organizations. She likewise called for greater representation of women in the area of politics and leadership as well.

Several panelists stressed the need for the U.S. government to engage with African leaders to enhance and ensure the safety of media professionals. They also recommended that media workers in African countries consider forming trade unions for greater security.

During the Q&A session an audience member from South Sudan raised the question of hate speech on social media, which oftentimes exacerbates conflicts on the ground. Media panelist Mandala Mambulasa from Malawi acknowledged the need to address this critical issue while noting that there are no laws that address hate speech.

Organizers of the conference have noted that recommendations presented by the various panels during the African Civil Society Conference “will be incorporated into an Action Program, addressed to African governments, civil society, and citizens, as well as the international community, on the occasion of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit.”

U.S. House Democratic Whip, Congressman Steny Hoyer gave the closing remarks and noted that “this gathering is so critical because it highlights the role of civil society in Africa’s development.” He added: “I see and hope you see as well a continent of opportunity. Activists are building democratic institutions.”


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