Circumstances beyond Veritas control prevented us from marking World Press Freedom Day with a bulletin circulated on the 3rd May, the actual World Press Freedom Day.
The delay has, however, has given us an opportunity to draw attention to the special event that has just taken place in Windhoek, Namibia, from 29th April to 3rd May 2021 to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the African origin of the World Day in that city.
Why Windhoek? And why the 3rd May? Because Windhoek was where on 3rd May 1991 the landmark Windhoek Declaration on Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Media was issued at the end of a seminar organised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation [UNESCO]. The importance of the Windhoek Declaration led to its endorsement by the General Conference of UNESCO and, in 1993, the declaration of the 3rd of May as World Press Freedom Day by the United Nations General Assembly. The 3rd May has been celebrated annually as World Press Freedom Day ever since.
Windhoek 1991 and 2021
Windhoek 1991 and the Windhoek Declaration
The participants in the 1991 seminar were journalists from many African countries. They included a delegation from Zimbabwe made up of Geoffrey Takawira Chada, Onesimo Makani-Kabweza, Hugh Lewin, Andrew Moyse, Geoffrey Nyarota and Govin Reddy. The full text of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration is available on the Veritas website.
Windhoek 2021 and the Windhoek+30 Declaration
This year, 2021 the thirtieth anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, UNESCO convened a World Press Freedom Day International Conference in Windhoek from 29th April to 3rd May, a hybrid conference catering for both physical and virtual attendance. As in 1991, the Zimbabwe media community was represented, this time by Tabani Moyo, Nqaba Matshazi, Nigel Nyamatambu, Abigail Gamanya, Rashweat Mukundu and Loughty Dube.
On World Press Freedom Day 2021, 3rd May, the Conference issued the Windhoek+30 Declaration [link].
The new Declaration’s preamble recognises the changes in the media environment that have taken place since 1991. The preamble:
- Commemorates the continuing relevance, legacy and role of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration as an inspiration for ongoing action to promote and protect freedom of expression, free, independent and pluralistic media, and access to information around the world;
- Recognises the changes that have taken place over the past thirty years , the digital transformation and the enormous role played by the Internet and digital platforms in facilitating the sharing of knowledge and information;
- Expresses concern at the increasing proliferation, amplification and promotion of potentially harmful content digitally, including disinformation and hate speech, while at the same time acknowledging that there are no easy solutions to modern digital challenges, given that the solutions must both effectively address potential harm and maintaining respect for freedom of expression and freedom of the media as guaranteed by international law;
- Expresses alarm at enduring and new threats to the safety of journalists and the free exercise of journalism [killings, harassment of women journalists, offline and online attacks, intimidation and promotion of fear, arbitrary detentions], the adoption of unduly restrictive new laws in the name of, among other things, prohibiting false information, protecting national security and combating violence, and the increasing number of Internet disruptions and shutdowns, particularly during elections and protests;
- Expresses concern at the threat posed to the independence of news media worldwide by the current severe economic crisis, recalling that economic sustainability of free media is a key prerequisite for its independence as stated in the original Windhoek Declaration of 1991.
Calls for action by governments, intergovernmental organisations, technology companies and journalists, media outlets, civil society and academia
After the preamble the new Declaration sets out calls for action by different sectors of the “generation of 2021” to meet new and historic challenges to press freedom:
Governments are called on, amongst other things to:
- Create a positive enabling environment for freedom of expression and access to information, online and offline, including a free, independent and pluralistic media, by adopting appropriate laws guaranteeing the exercise of journalism free of governmental interference, promoting universal access to the Internet and taking measures to reinforce the safety of journalists;
- Ensure that funding from public resources to the media, including advertising, is allocated fairly and overseen in an independent and transparent manner;
- Build citizens’ resilience to misinformation, disinformation and hate speech by mainstreaming media and information literacy and promoting civic participation in democratic life;
- Allocate adequate human, financial and technical resources to ensure implementation of measures outlined in the Declaration.
UNESCO and other intergovernmental organisations are called on to encourage funding by States, multilateral institutions, private foundations and philanthropists to promote information as a public good.
Technology companies are called on to: ensure transparency in their operations; provide robust notice and appeals opportunities to users; process complaints from users in a fair manner; and take action against those who breach their terms and conditions of service; conduct transparent assessments of risks to human rights by identifying threats to freedom of expression, privacy etc and taking action to eliminate those threats; and supporting information as a public good by, for instance, financial support for measures for protection of journalists who are at risk of online attacks.
Journalists, media outlets, civil society and academia are called on to: advocate to governments and digital platforms the recognition of media viability as a development priority; to undertake research, awareness-raising and the provision of expertise addressing problems caused by measures taken by governments and digital platforms; and increase their efforts to promote media and information literacy.
It concludes by stressing the need to work together, to adopt new and innovative measures following broad consultations to ensure States respect Freedman of Expression and Access to Information and that digital platforms offering information and affecting user action are transparent. It reaffirms the goals of the 1991 Declaration that press freedom, independence and pluralism remain major goals to guarantee information as a public good and adds the following goals: media viability; transparency of digital platforms; and citizens empowered with media and information literacy.
Veritas welcomes the stated intentions of the Mnangagwa Government to ensure long overdue media law and policy reforms and licensing of new broadcasting players but at the same time recognises that so far there has been too much window-dressing and not enough real reform. An example is the repeal of AIPPA while still treating the regulations made under AIPPA as having continued in force under a transitional provision that does not make legal sense. Another is the claim to have “opened up” the airwaves by granting broadcasting licences to players linked to the ruling party and its allies; one can only hope that the licences awarded to campus radio stations result in truly independent broadcasting for the student and academic communities concerned.
The Government needs to ponder the contents of the Windhoek+30 Declaration and draw conclusions as to why Zimbabwe in 2021 has moved down and is even nearer the bottom of the Reporters Without Borders [RSF] world press freedom rankings. Fine words and slightly improved legislation are not enough. What matters is what happens in fact and also the manner in which laws are implemented or not implemented by the authorities. Arbitrary and ill considered arrests of journalists plying their profession [Chi’nono and many others] do not inspire trust or confidence in officialdom’s fine words. Likewise with the disappearance of the journalist Itai Dzamara and bungled abduction of Muchechiwa, the nephew of a journalist exposing official wrongdoing. The threat of legislation penalising “unpatriotic” behaviour and language is also a threat to the Freedom of Expression.
The free flow of information and discussion are the essence of democracy