The 1991 Windhoek Declaration

The Windhoek Declaration

The Windhoek Declaration is a statement of press freedom principles put together by African newspaper journalists in 1991. The Declaration was produced at a UNESCO seminar, “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press,” held in Windhoek, Namibia, from April 29 to May 3, 1991; it was later endorsed by the UNESCO General Conference. The context for the meeting was set by the various crises Africa had faced during the 1980s. In short, the Declaration was the outcome of a long and frank look at the problems of African print media. The document enumerates instances of intimidation, imprisonment, and censorship across Africa. With a strong belief in the connection between a fully independent press and successful participatory democracy, the document calls for free, independent and pluralistic media throughout the world.

The Declaration also asserts that a free press is essential to democracy and a fundamental human right. At the same time, the seminar participants highlighted the practical problems of journalists in Africa, particularly those related to acquiring up-to-date equipment, building inter-company cooperation, and providing adequate training. Because the declaration is overwhelmingly directed at the printed media as independent broadcasting was not much of a phenomenon back then, the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the declaration – held also in Windhoek – were used by activists to propose and adopt a new document that would address issues specific to broadcasting, the African Charter on Broadcasting. In Africa, radio is the medium that reaches the biggest number of people.

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