World Press Freedom Day Speech by Grégoire Ndjaka DG / AUB
World Press Freedom Day
THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN ELECTIONS AND DEMOCRACY
01-03 May 2019
The Minister of Communication and Information Technology of Ethiopia;
Madam the Representative of UNESCO;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to Ethiopia;
Heads of Media Organizations in Africa;
Dear Media Experts;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express myself on the occasion of the international Press Freedom Day which is being celebrated here, in Addis Ababa.
This year’s celebration, as decided by UNESCO, is placed under the theme: THE ROLE OF MEDIA IN ELECTIONS AND DEMOCRACY. This is a challenging problematic which calls for the responsibility of all media professionals. But before going deep into our discussions, let us have few words on the notion of media.
Rémy Rieffel, a media sociologist, believes that the Media must first be conceived as a set of techniques for producing and transmitting messages by means of a channel through a network terminal.
The media have, from the outset, played a key role in the democratic process because by informing citizens about the holding of elections and by revealing the content of the programs of the various candidates, this has had an immediate effect on the masses and the way they make their choices.
In many African countries, the expansion in the democratic space with more and more elections since the 1990s has seen the emergence of a multitude of mass media, allowing each citizen to express his thoughts during major events.
But immediately, this freedom of expression as advocated by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, gave rise to the creation of Legal Frameworks to control slippages through the press.
Conscious of this, many African countries have established electoral legal codes and statutory provisions to regulate the activity of political parties before, during and after the proclamation of the results of an election. To support our arguments, let's take a few examples.
In Cameroon, the management of the airtime allocated to candidates for presidential elections, is governed by Law 92/030 of February 13, 1992, on access of political parties to the media.
This stipulates that the communication of candidates must comply with the laws and regulations respecting the democratic game, national integration, human dignity, good morals and public order.
In Senegal, Law No. 2012-01 repealed and replaced Law No. 92-16 of 7 February 1992 on the Electoral Code.
This stipulates that the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) ensures equality between candidates in the use of airtime.
With the advent of Political Transition in 2002, the Kenyan audiovisual sector has made a significant progress. Many experts believe that the political liberalization as well as economic growth played a major role in the country’s media outburst.
In Algeria it is the Organic Law N ° 12-01 of 18 Safar 1433 corresponding to January 12, 2012 relating to the electoral system, which frames the electoral process in the media.
Democracy and Social Networks
As we all know, broadcasting haaigns in Africacaful ction democratic choicesia correspondants r whatsover oral period. eing burned, or om Day which is being s taken its rightful place at the center of political campaigns in Africa. As a result, every political party and candidate tries to appear on TV and go on air as much as possible. In societies where the illiteracy rate is still high, audiovisual media are widely used by candidates to call, hang and convince citizens to join their causes.
Nevertheless, with the rise of social networks, people no longer necessarily need broadcasters to air their view publicly. This freedom of speech through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Vimeo, DailyMotion and other platforms of social communication, has brought about a situation where the States gradually lost total control of the traditional media space and consequently unbridle influence over their citizens.
This creates tensions regularly between rulers and the population. The cutoff of telecommunications during an electoral period is now part of the arsenal of African regimes that fear popular uprisings. As they crisscross the sensitive neighborhoods acquired by the opposition, they lock "Digital Territories". We are therefore in the era of “Cyber-Brutality”. If political leaders believe that this restriction is made for the good cause, the citizens themselves cry out for scandal.
In the aftermath of the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Internet and SMS were suspended in the country even though less than 4% of the 90 million inhabitants have access to the Internet in normal times. Also, the internet network was cut in N'Djamena the day after Chad's presidential election was launched. While the presidential poll held without serious incident, the media reported that the Internet was suspended.
In Gabon, while official results gave incumbent President Ali Bongo winner of the 2016 elections, supporters of his rival, Jean Ping, went on protesting. In the process, the internet connection was suspended in several cities of the country.
In Congo Brazzaville, users didn’t have access to the internet during the election period. Official sources reported that a fishing vessel had cut a Wacs submarine cable, the West Africa Cable System, through which the Internet goes.
The New Challenges facing African Broadcasters
The media are expected to play a key role in supporting elections in Africa, both to inform the citizens, so they could make an educated choice, and to supervise the way the electoral administration is organizing the polls.
Nowadays, the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB) member organizations as well as other journalists are facing a certain number of challenges:
Editorial integrity of the traditional media:
Several challenges to the editorial integrity and independence of the media are arising in African Newsrooms. The emergence of the new Internet-based media has triggered a dramatic decline in revenues of traditional media, thus compromising both the financial independence of the media and their editorial integrity”.
The Fake News threat:
The works of the journalists in traditional news rooms are being threatened by individuals whose intention is to divert the attention of the public and share false information.
Control and overbearing influence of the ruling party over the state Media:
Controlling the access and distribution of information allows governments to dictate stories and facts to influence public opinion.
Psychological influence on journalists:
Some of our members involved in the electoral process are either being killed, or their equipment being burned, when they don’t work in compliance with governments.
Some journalists are being corrupted by political leaders during electoral periods. Once you are given money, sometimes you are obliged to write or air whatsoever the political leader is asking you to do.
Lack of sources:
State Broadcasters are the only ones having media correspondents in almost all the regions of the country given room to a unique source of information.
This happen more likely when the government has a particular interest in mobilizing citizens to take actions that further some political objectives but are not necessarily in citizens' individual best interest.
The Legal vacuum of internet communication in many countries is a threat to the society.
Media professionals should continue playing the watchdog function to protect the public from incompetent or corrupt political officials by exposing illegal or unethical practices to the public;
Cross-check information to avoid falling in the traps of Fake News (Pay particular attention to what is being shared on social networks and do not necessarily consider as incredible sources of information;
Do a thorough and impartial job when informing the public on all government activities and political events
Remain neutral and objective in order to properly educate the public.
Advocate for regulation to continue to strengthen the role of African broadcasters in the conduct of elections on the continent.
Stress on journalists’ capacity-building, particularly ones operating outside urban areas, in election coverage.
Thanks for your attention!