Press Freedom: AU Officials, Journalists meet.

FACED with increased danger to their profession, African Journalists under the auspices of the Federation of African Journalists under the auspices of the Federation of African Journalist (FAJ) have met with leaders of the Commission of the African Union (AU) in respect of Freedom of the press on the continent.

Officials of FAJ, the regional organisation affiliated with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) at the weekend met with leaders of AU at its headquarters in Addis Abba.

The FAJ officials met AU Deputy Chairperson Erastus J.O. Mwencha to discuss the state of press freedom on the continent, the safety of journalists, legislation on freedom of information as well as the setting up of a continent-wide observatory for the media.

“As African governments are coming closer to developing policies to be enacted throughout the continent, it is now crucial that the AU starts playing a leading role in promoting freedom of the media so that African citizens can have access to independent and impartial information” said FAJ President Omar Faruk Osman.

Against the backdrop of difficulties encountered by African journalists caught in wars and conflicts, and threatened by criminal gangs, the Federation has been running a strong campaign to ensure that journalists work in safe and secure conditions.

“Journalists cannot fulfil their mission if messengers continue to be silenced by bullets,” added Omar Faruk. A formal request was made by the Federation’s leaders for the AU to adopt a resolution protecting journalists working in war zones similar to Resolution 1738 agreed by the United Nations Security Council in December 2008.

FAJ leaders also stressed the need for cooperation through the setting up of a formal relationship with the AU. “Both the AU and FAJ have a responsibility to promote structures for dialogue between governments and journalists for the benefit of African communities and create a culture of shared respects” added Omar Faruk.

In addressing the pressing need to strengthen citizens’ voices in Africa, both sides agreed on the importance of new communications and new technologies to build peace, reconciliation and democratic development across the continent.

In recognising the Federation as the representative body of journalists on the continent, Mwencha responded to the call for further cooperation by promising to address proposals being made by the Federation to enhance journalism through programmes and activities to promote reliable, and high quality information and to strengthen ethical journalism; encourage media accountability based on principles of self-regulation; improve journalists’ social conditions, and encourage media literacy and education programmes to ensure that all citizens can play their part in building a reliable and trustworthy information landscape.

He also stressed the AU’s commitment to stand with African journalists and promote an environment in which independent media could perform without hindrance and journalists can work in safer conditions.

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