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Windhoek Declaration and World Press Freedom Day

BY: Kobby Asmah
Windhoek Declaration and World Press Freedom Day
Windhoek Declaration and World Press Freedom Day

Last Saturday, the world celebrated Workers Day popularly referred to as May Day, and just yesterday, global activities to climax World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) took place in Windhoek, the Namibian capital.

The coveted event in Windhoek also marked the 30th anniversary of the seminal meeting in 1991 that gave birth to the idea and resulted in the United Nations declaring May 3 each year as WPFD.

Special month

The month of May is, therefore, a special one, not only for the working community but for media practitioners across the globe.

As we commemorate the two significant global events —Workers Day on May 1 and WPFD on May 3 each year, it will not be out of place to remind ourselves of the contributions and roles played by these two groups to enhance global well-being and growth.

As a worker and media practitioner myself, the two epoch events are worth celebrating.

Activities in Ghana

Right here in Ghana, the day will be marked today with a symposium and flag-raising ceremony at the Ghana International Press Centre in Accra. The event is a collaboration between the Ghana Journalists Association and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Some topics for discussion include Media Freedom and COVID -19; Media Ownership and Regulation; New Media/Traditional Media; Safety of Journalists Amidst A Polarised Environment; Broadcasting Bill; and Switching From Analogue To Digitalisation Technology.

30 years ago

For the WPFD in particular, 30 years on, it seems many of us in Ghana are not aware or had forgotten that the only surviving Ghanaian journalist who participated in that landmark 1991 Seminar in Windhoek was Ms Ajoa Yeboah-Afari, a former board member of the Graphic Communications Group Limited. In actual fact, three Ghanaians were invited by the UNESCO to that historic seminal forum which was on the theme: “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press”. They were Prof. PAV Ansah, John Nyankumah of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (both deceased) and Ms Yeboah-Afari.

Writing in her weekly column in the Mirror last Saturday, Ms Yeboah-Afari, said she was invited in her capacity as a co-founder and Editor of The Monitor, a pacesetting independent weekly which was launched in 1989, the first private newspaper in the country to publish eight pages, as opposed to the then norm of four pages.

Ms Yeboah-Afari in her write-up expressed gratitude that her plea at the Windhoek Meeting for UNESCO and the United Nations to take immediate steps to fund and rescue Africa’s independent press from imminent collapse was cited in the widely circulated final conference report.

Salute

Let me take this opportunity to salute Ms Yeboah-Afari, who was part of that coveted seminar in Africa that gave birth to the annual, worldwide observance known as WPFD, 30 years on.

Since then, Ms Yeboah-Afari has paid and continues to pay her dues to the growth of journalism and accountable governance in this country. Let me also congratulate all media practitioners in the country and encourage each and every one of us to strive for higher standards while demanding public accountability in the pursuit of this noble profession. But this cannot be complete without also remembering all journalists across the globe who have fallen victim in the course of their media practice.

Apt Theme

“Information as a public good,” the global theme for this year’s commemoration, is refreshing in all senses. It reinforces the need for both practitioners and non-practitioners to continue to push for a free, independent and pluralistic press.

It also underlines the need for verified and reliable information, especially in this age of social media, where misinformation and disinformation are rife.

Cherishing information as a public good comes with a lot of responsibilities and higher standards of professionalism that impact positively on all sectors of society including education, health, economy, democracy, human rights and sustainable development.

Recommendation

But beyond this, we cannot also shy away from using the occasion to highlight incidents of violations of press freedom and a rise in authoritarianism and so-called “illiberal” democracy, all contributing to a global decline in press freedom.

The International Press Institute (IPI) ahead of WPFD 2021 warned that authoritarian and illiberal-minded regimes are becoming increasingly emboldened in their efforts to stifle independent media, brutal crackdowns on the press are also unfolding openly across the globe—a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.

WPFD is, therefore, an occasion to encourage and develop initiatives in favour of press freedom, and to assess the state of press freedom globally.

As we celebrate WPFD, it will be appropriate to dialogue on issues that impact positively and negatively on the growth of freedom of expression as well as the need for press freedom as a fundamental human right for all.

Attacks on press freedom growing bolder amid rising authoritarianism in some parts of the world must be a concern of lovers of free speech and freedom of the press. We no doubt need a collective approach to stop the domino effect of silencing independent media across the globe.

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