‘Repeal laws on false news, defamation in Africa’

Pan African parliament urges African governments

By Sanna Camara

The Pan African Parliament has urged governments around the continent to decriminalize laws on false news or information, defamation and libel.

Passing a resolution on the outcomes of a Continental Conference on Media Legislative Reforms and Transforming State Broadcasters into Public Broadcasters in Africa, held in Midrand, South Africa, earlier this month, the parliament further urged that ”all such legislation must be repealed and matters of defamation and libel should only be dealt with under civil law.”

It asked that the same be done “on insult law, on sedition and so-called false news or information; on official secrets, and on statutory regulation of the media” laws accordingly.

In partnership with the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP), the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA), Article 19 and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA); the Parliament produced what became known as ‘The Midrand Call to Action Document: Media Freedom and Public Broadcasting in Africa’.

‘The Midrand Call to Action Document’

This document described as “regretting” the fact that since the turn of the century, the building of democratic institutions in many parts of Africa, and with it the promotion of freedom of expression, has been stagnating, or even regressing, and governments have not lived up to the expectations created by the international, and regional treaties and conventions.

Recalling, among others the Midrand Declaration on Press Freedom in Africa adopted by the Pan-African Parliament on 15 May 2013 and the African Charter on Broadcasting which promote an independent and pluralistic African press….

Noting the resolution of the Pan-African Parliament of October 2012 which encourages AU Member States to adopt the Model Law on Access to Information drafted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Declaration on the African Platform on Access to Information 2011….

The document noted in particular that ‘most “public broadcasters in Africa are still government-controlled state broadcasters, due to the lack of political will on the part of governments. It further noted that the authorities that regulate broadcasting “are insufficiently independent of government in many countries, and that governments therefore retain control over all sectors of broadcasting”.

This is the same situation for the reform of media-related legislation in line with relevant international and African standards in general, which it added, “takes place at a very slow pace due to a lack of political will, so that repressive provisions remain on the statute books”.

The document also observes “with serious concern that all broadcasting sectors and their audiences are adversely affected by the slow pace of transition from analogue to digital broadcasting in most countries”.

National parliaments review, amend or repeal

It therefore calls on national parliaments, among other players to review, amend or repeal, through their relevant portfolio committees, media related legislation as well as laws with an impact on freedom of expression in conjunction with government, media and civil society.

That “any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary in a democratic society” as indicated by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

That national parliaments ratify and domesticate continental, regional and sub-regional instruments relevant to the mission of independent public broadcasters into the national laws of their countries – these include the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration.

That they repeal or amend any acts, regulations or policies that inhibit the transformation of state broadcasters into independent public broadcasters to protect them from political and other forms of undue interference, in line with standards set by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

That national parliaments spearhead legislation that will transform state broadcasters into public broadcasters and establish independent regulators for broadcasting.

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