MISA notes with concern the safety of journalists and media workers which continues to be a huge challenge with increasing reports of attacks such as arbitrary arrest and detention, jailing, physical assault, which are used as weapons to silence critical journalism in many SADC countries.
SADC governments should show a stronger political will to protect journalists and independent journalism in order to put a stop to the deterioration of media freedom in the region.
Media freedom is an essential pillar of our democracies which is too often taken for granted. Respect for freedom of the media is in decline in some countries. In the last years, we have witnessed an increase in the number of cases of violence and intimidation against journalists.
In commemorating the 2021 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) which falls on 3rd May, under the theme “Information as a public good”, MISA recognises that journalists and media workers cannot play their role of facilitating the use of information as a public good if their lives are being threatened.
The Southern Africa Press Freedom 2019 – 2020 report, launched on 30th April 2021 during the commemoration of the Windhoek Declaration, lists 112 cases of threats to media freedom in the SADC member states in 2020.
The report analyses serious threats to press freedom including those posed by the impunity of crimes against journalists.
The report underlines specific threats to media freedom in 2020 the extraordinary restrictions imposed on journalists´ activities by emergency laws and regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
We, therefore, call upon SADC member states to ensure that journalists can carry out their work free from violence and intimidation and fulfil their role as public “watchdog”, which includes holding public authorities accountable for their decisions and action.
To achieve its fundamental watchdog role of holding those in power accountable, providing reliable information to the public and facilitating debate among citizens on issues of public importance, including democratic processes, the state must uphold and guarantee freedom of expression and access to information rights which enable journalists to do their work.
In commemorating, 30 years of the Windhoek Declaration for the Development of a Free, Independent and Pluralistic Press, MISA stands ready to support SADC member states to create and promote an environment where plural, diverse and independent media can perform their role and contribute to making our democracies more robust.
Promoting the safety of journalists and combatting impunity for those who attack them are central elements within MISA’s support for press freedom on all media platforms.
It is must be noted that impunity for crimes against the media fuels and perpetuates the cycle of violence and the resulting self-censorship deprives society of information and further affects press freedom. It directly impacts the United Nations’ human rights-based efforts to promote peace, security, and sustainable development.
A free and secure media is needed to support the region in the provision of access to information for socio-economic development, poverty eradication, and regional integration.
We also call for the reformation or abolition of restrictive laws that are limiting citizens’ use of the media and other platforms to seek, share and receive information as a public good in a manner that will enable them to participate in and contribute to the attainment of the development agendas.
World Press Freedom Day is commemorated every 3rd of May annually to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; evaluate press freedom, defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.