Building peace in the minds of men and women

Strengthening national and regional associations of Southern African journalists

“Every day around the world, we hear of how journalists and media workers are being harassed, intimidated, tortured and killed by individuals, governments and forces that wish to censor and silence them. This calls for us to join hands in the safety and protection of journalists because one individual tragedy in any country collectively becomes an assault and infringement on the right of all people who want to hear and know the truth.” These remarks were made during the meeting of Southern Africa journalists, held in Mbabane, Swaziland, from 3 to 4 May 2013 to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day.

The meeting was convened by UNESCO’s Windhoek Office in close collaboration with the Journalists Union of Swaziland and the Media Institute of South Africa (MISA) Swaziland Chapter. It was attended by journalists from Namibia, representatives of various Southern Africa journalists’ associations, other media practitioners and civil society organizations in Swaziland.

The two-day activities included a high level panel discussion on the state of press freedom and safety of journalists in Southern Africa countries, which was well attended by different media stakeholders. This debate was deemed necessary in the wake of the recent research on the status press freedom in all Southern-African countries, which was carried out by MISA and whose results depict a very grim picture and declining freedom of the press.

Securing freedom of the media by strengthening and revamping Southern Africa national and regional journalists associations was the main focus of the second day of the meeting. Presentations from the various countries revealed the state of weak and inactive associations that require concerted effort to enable them play their role in defending their members’ right and in promoting the principles of journalism they stand for. According to a journalist from Namibia, “the laid back nature of the Namibian journalists got a hold of the association that has been inactive”.

Discussions and presentations at the meeting revealed that most journalists from the Southern Africa region largely use self-censorship to avoid being in the “wrong books” of their government, a practice that has become the norm in Swaziland, thus contributing to the deterioration of press freedom in the country. In this regard Ms Zungu, the Secretary-General of the Swaziland National Commission for UNESCO, reiterated the need for the Swaziland National Association of Journalists (SNAJ) to work closely with her office in approaching the relevant ministries that would address their issues of concern. She also offered her assistance for in the preparation of requests for funding from UNESCO.

The lack of licensing and the need for recognition of the community media in the region, especially in Swaziland, were raised as issues of great concern. “Community media has a special niche in every country as it is a major platform that gives voice to the marginalised groups and enables community members to address policy makers on issues related to their local needs,” said Lydia Gachungi, from UNESCO’s Windhoek Office. Participants echoed the need to have the community media sector recognised in the various countries and legal structures supporting the sector growth, put in place.

As a way forward, main elements of a funding proposal that would support the strengthening of the national journalists’ associations in Southern Africa was discussed and formulated, mandating UNESCO to coordinate the various activities that would also include an exchange programme among journalists’ associations.

For more information please contact Lydia Gachungi, UNESCO Office in Windhoek.