Thomas Jefferson once said, “The only security of all is in a free press”. On 3 May 1991, the wind of change blew within the media fraternity on the African continent when African journalists gathered in Windhoek, Namibia, to sign what came to be known as the Windhoek Declaration.
With the aim of “promoting an independent and pluralistic press”, the Windhoek Declaration has spoken volumes on press freedom and its impact on democracy over the years. This honourable and yet auspicious document calls for free, independent and pluralistic media worldwide, portraying free press as essential to democracy and a fundamental human right.
Africa’s democracy is at stake and our future does not seem to look brighter. Over the years, Africa has seen underdevelopment, economic turmoil, social suffering and political disengagement. The political nature of our beloved continent is now characterised by “the politics of the belly”, as expressed by Jean Francois Bayart in his notorious book, ‘The State in Africa’.
The question remains, why is access to information so important? Well, there are major reasons why, but what stands out is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The declaration states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Findings of the recently launched Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report reveal the actual state of Access to Information in Namibia, and shows that 80 percent of the organisations and institutions identified as research symbols did not respond or could not provide the information requested. In addition, nearly 60 percent of the targets simply did not respond to information requests in any meaningful way.
This clearly shows a sad reality in Namibia, in terms of achieving full access to information in our lifetime. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has not lost its mandate and focus as it continues to manifest through the immense implementation of various policy documents that act as driving forces towards the total attainment of press freedom across the African continent.
Press freedom does not only play a crucial role in the promotion of accountability and integrity within government apparatus so as to influence the achievement of good governance, but it also hugely impacts on, promotes and consolidates democracy. This it can do by creating an enabling environment to practice the role of a watchdog, the exploitation of corrupt acts perpetrated by public office bearers through journalistic access to relevant information for public interest.
In addition, press freedom acts as a tool that teaches the public the importance of participating in democratic dispensations, through the coverage of elections, political campaigns and the introduction of panel discussions etc., in which people express themselves freely. Hence, a more informed citizenry is able to participate more effectively in its country’s democratic processes, considering that information is power.
Furthermore, press freedom gives the masses access to other rights such as voting, making their well-informed choices and the right of belonging to a specific political party or grouping. All this as a result of having access to education, and thus being well informed citizens.
With all this said, it is incumbent upon all African states to prioritise, introduce and implement press freedom as a consolidator of democracy for years to come. Let African governments stop turning a blind eye to the suffering of the populace due to a lack of knowledge in exercising their human right.
Press freedom is and shall remain the beacon of hope to the total democratisation of the African continent, and Africa shall attain press freedom in its lifetime. Viva Press Freedom, Viva!
* Kambarure Kaputu is a final year BA Hon Media Studies and Political Science student and a self-proclaimed media advocate