Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa
Reaffirming the fundamental importance of freedom of expression as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms;
Reaffirming Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Eights;
Desiring to promote the free flow of information and ideas and greater respect for freedom of expression;
Convinced that respect for freedom of expression, as well as the right of access to information held by public bodies and companies, will lead to greater public transparency and accountability, as well as to good governance and the strengthening of democracy;
Convinced that laws and customs that repress freedom of expression are a disservice to society;
Recalling that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other international documents and national constitutions;
Considering the key role of the media and other means of communication in ensuring full respect for freedom of expression, in promoting the free flow of information and ideas, in assisting people to make informed decisions and in facilitating and strengthening democracy;
Aware of the particular importance of the broadcast media in Africa, given its capacity to reach a wide audience due to the comparatively low cost of receiving transmissions and its ability to overcome barriers of illiteracy;
Noting that oral traditions, which are rooted in African cultures, lend themselves particularly well to radio broadcasting;
Noting the important contribution that can be made to the realisation of the right to freedom of expression by new information and communication technologies;
Mindful of the evolving human rights and human development environment in Africa, especially in light of the adoption of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the principles of the Constitutive Act of the African Union, 2000, as well as the significance of the human rights and good governance provisions in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD); and
Recognising the need to ensure the right of freedom of expression in Africa, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights declares that:
I The Guarantee of Freedom of Expression
- Freedom of expression and information, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers, is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy.
- Everyone shall have an equal opportunity to exercise the right to freedom of expression and to access information without discrimination.
II Interference with Freedom of Expression
- No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression.
- Any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society.
Freedom of expression imposes an obligation on the authorities to take positive measures to promote diversity, which include among other things:
- availability and promotion of a range of information and ideas to the public;
- pluralistic access to the media and other means of communication, including by vulnerable or marginalised groups, such as women, children and refugees, as well as linguistic and cultural groups;
- the promotion and protection of African voices, including through media in local languages; and
- the promotion of the use of local languages in public affairs, including in the courts.
IV Freedom of Information
- Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.
- The right to information shall be guaranteed by law in accordance with the following principles:
- everyone has the right to access information held by public bodies;
- everyone has the right to access information held by private bodies which is necessary for the exercise or protection of any right;
- any refusal to disclose information shall be subject to appeal to an independent body and/or the courts;
- public bodies shall be required, even in the absence of a request, actively to publish important information of significant public interest;
- no one shall be subject to any sanction for releasing in good faith information on wrongdoing, or that which would disclose a serious threat to health, safety or the environment save where the imposition of sanctions serves a legitimate interest and is necessary in a democratic society; and
- secrecy laws shall be amended as necessary to comply with freedom of information principles.
- Everyone has the right to access and update or otherwise correct their personal information, whether it is held by public or by private bodies.
V Private Broadcasting
- States shall encourage a diverse, independent private broadcasting sector. A State monopoly over broadcasting is not compatible with the right to freedom of expression.
- The broadcast regulatory system shall encourage private and community broadcasting in accordance with the following principles:
- there shall be equitable allocation of frequencies between private broadcasting uses, both commercial and community;
- an independent regulatory body shall be responsible for issuing broadcasting licences and for ensuring observance of licence conditions;
- licensing processes shall be fair and transparent, and shall seek to promote diversity in broadcasting; and
- community broadcasting shall be promoted given its potential to broaden access by poor and rural communities to the airwaves.
VI Public Broadcasting
State and government controlled broadcasters should be transformed into public service broadcasters, accountable to the public through the legislature rather than the government, in accordance with the following principles:
- public broadcasters should be governed by a board which is protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature;
- the editorial independence of public service broadcasters should be guaranteed;
- public broadcasters should be adequately funded in a manner that protects them from arbitrary interference with their budgets;
- public broadcasters should strive to ensure that their transmission system covers the whole territory of the country; and
- the public service ambit of public broadcasters should be clearly defined and include an obligation to ensure that the public receive adequate, politically balanced information, particularly during election periods.
VII Regulatory Bodies for Broadcast and Telecommunications
- Any public authority that exercises powers in the areas of broadcast or telecommunications regulation should be independent and adequately protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature.
- The appointments process for members of a regulatory body should be open and transparent, involve the participation of civil society, and shall not be controlled by any particular political party.
- Any public authority that exercises powers in the areas of broadcast or telecommunications should be formally accountable to the public through a multi-party body.
VIII Print Media
- Any registration system for the print media shall not impose substantive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.
- Any print media published by a public authority should be protected adequately against undue political interference.
- Efforts should be made to increase the scope of circulation of the print media, particularly to rural communities.
- Media owners and media professionals shall be encouraged to reach agreements to guarantee editorial independence and to prevent commercial considerations from unduly influencing media content.
- A public complaints system for print or broadcasting should be available in accordance with the following principles:
- complaints shall be determined in accordance with established rules and codes of conduct agreed between all stakeholders; and
- the complaints system shall be widely accessible.
- Any regulatory body established to hear complaints about media content, including media councils, shall be protected against political, economic or any other undue interference. Its powers shall be administrative in nature and it shall not seek to usurp the role of the courts.
- Effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media.
X Promoting Professionalism
- Media practitioners shall be free to organise themselves into unions and associations.
- The right to express oneself through the media by practising journalism shall not be subject to undue legal restrictions.
XI Attacks on Media Practitioners
- Attacks such as the murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as the material destruction of communications facilities, undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public.
- States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.
- In times of conflict, States shall respect the status of media practitioners as non-combatants.
XII Protecting Reputations
- States should ensure that their laws relating to defamation conform to the following standards
- no one shall be found liable for true statements, opinions or statements regarding public figures which it was reasonable to make in the circumstances;
- public figures shall be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism; and
- sanctions shall never be so severe as to inhibit the right to freedom of expression, including by others.
- Privacy laws shall not inhibit the dissemination of information of public interest.
XIII Criminal Measures
- States shall review all criminal restrictions on content to ensure that they serve a legitimate interest in a democratic society.
- Freedom of expression should not be restricted on public order or national security grounds unless there is a real risk of harm to a legitimate interest and there is a close causal link between the risk of harm and the expression.
XIV Economic Measures
- States shall promote a general economic environment in which the media can flourish.
- States shall not use their power over the placement of public advertising as a means to interfere with media content.
- States should adopt effective measures to avoid undue concentration of media ownership, although such measures shall not be so stringent that they inhibit the development of the media sector as a whole.
XV Protection of Sources and other journalistic material
Media practitioners shall not be required to reveal confidential sources of information or to disclose other material held for journalistic purposes except in accordance with the following principles:
- the identity of the source is necessary for the investigation or prosecution of a serious crime, or the defence of a person accused of a criminal offence;
- the information or similar information leading to the same result cannot be obtained elsewhere;
- the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to freedom of expression; and
- disclosure has been ordered by a court, after a full hearing.
States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’s Rights should make every effort to give practical effect to these principles.