MISA Annual General Meeting 2014: Statement on the State of Media Freedom and Freedom of Expression in Southern Africa
Having gathered in Gaborone, Botswana on Friday, 29 August 2014, for its annual general meeting, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) makes the following statement:
The Regional Governing Council of MISAexpresses grave concern over the continued obstruction of media freedom and freedom of expression in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, demonstrated by restrictive legislation and misuse of legislation like criminal defamation laws, unwillingness to pass positive media policies and legislation such as access to information laws, and violations perpetrated against media workers and activists.
MISA has been deeply saddened to witness the trend over the past years towards increased violence and threats against media workers in the region and we call on governments and authorities to respect the rights of media workers and to repeal laws being abused and used to unfairly detain journalists and media workers, and prevent them from performing their duties.
We are particularly outraged by the unreasonable sentencing of the editor of independent Swazi magazine The Nation,Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko to two years in prison, without the option of a fine, on 25 July in Mbabane, Swaziland.
The harsh sentence followed Makhubu’s and Maseko’s conviction on contempt of court charges on 17 July 2014, for separate news articles each wrote criticising the kingdom’s chief justice. The ruling is unreasonably severe and is clearly intended to send a message to those who might contemplate future criticism of Swaziland’s judiciary. The ruling will undoubtedly instill self-censorship among Swazi journalists. MISA urges the Judiciary to respect the rule of law and the human rights of Swazi citizens, to maintain its independence and to refrain from engaging in the misuse of its judicial structures to settle personal scores.
MISA is also deeply concerned by the continued use of archaic laws criminalising expression and impeding journalists from doing their jobs without obstruction or fear of being threatened or arrested.
We urge caution, for example, in celebrating Zimbabwe’sConstitutional Court ruling on 22 July, decriminalising the publishing of falsehoods. The provision was declared unconstitutional only as far as the former Constitution is concerned. This means the law remains firmly unchanged in the statute books and can still be used to punish offenders. The judgment also creates uncertainty as to the constitutionality of this provision under the new Constitution. We hope, however, the Executive will take on board the observations made by the Constitutional Court that criminalisation of expression, be it in terms of ‘false’ news or criminal defamation offences, is retrogressive and impinges on the exercise of freedom of expression and media freedom, and will move to retract such laws.
We further note the need for a number of countries in the region to progress their processes for implementing access to information (ATI) legislation. We are encouraged by the Malawian Government’s adoption of a Policy on Access to Information in January 2014 and the Mozambique Parliamentary Assembly’s recent approval of an ATI Bill in August 2014. We hope these developments will pave the way for enacting ATI legislation in Mozambique and Malawi, and we call on call on the governments of Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia to expedite the adoption of access to information laws in their countries.
At our 2013 AGM, we urged the President of South Africa not to sign into law the Protection of State Information Bill, which, in our view, undermines the right of access to information as guaranteed by the Constitution of the country. In 2014, we note with concern this Bill is still under consideration and, therefore, is a continuing threat looming over the media and all South African citizens.
Also during our 2013 AGM, we noted that many events across the region are pointing to increased threats to freedom of expression online. Unfortunately we have seen this trend continue in 2014. With the increasing use of new media and online platforms to create and share information, we are also seeing increased insecurity from governments and subsequent attempts to curtail freedom of expression in the online arena.
We condemn efforts to inhibit freedom of expression and access to information through ICT platforms, including the misuse of legislation such as national security laws, to impose restrictions on the use of online platforms. MISA will continue to work closely with other concerned organisations to campaign for freedom of expression online and to participate in the drafting of an African Declaration on Internet Rights to ensure respect for human rights in the online arena.
Regional Governing Council
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
|Alexandre Neto SolombeChairperson
MISA South Africa
|Mohammed TibanyenderaNGC Member
|Fernando GonçalvesNGC Member