The Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Sulemana Braimah, has observed that although there had been some modest improvement in press freedom in West Africa in 2017, the general operating environment for journalists was still far from being free and safe.
He indicated that a number of journalists were killed in Nigeria while several others were arbitrarily arrested and detained in many of the countries in West Africa.
In his new year message to the media community in the subregion, Mr. Braimah, however, admitted that, despite the challenging environment, media workers continued to make significant contributions to the governance and development of the region.
Below is the full message:
NEW YEAR MESSAGE TO THE MEDIA COMMUNITY
Dear friends and colleagues in the media community, Happy New Year to all of you. We are grateful to God for His mercies in 2017 and the best of wishes for 2018 and the many years ahead.
Undoubtedly, 2017 was yet another challenging year for journalists across West Africa. A number of journalists were killed in Nigeria. Several journalists were arbitrary arrested and detained in many of the countries in West Africa. Physical attacks on journalists were quite rampant.
Indeed, while there has been some modest improvement in press freedom in the region, the general operating environment for journalists in West Africa is still far from being free and safe.
Despite the challenging environment, media workers continue to make significant contributions to the governance and development of our region.
In 2017, the media in The Gambia played a key role in the highly successful political transition from 22 years of dictatorship to a new era of democracy and a new atmosphere of freedom and hope. Congratulations to the Gambian media and kudos to the leadership of the Gambian Press Union.
In 2017, journalists in Guinea continued to serve the people and champion the values and ideals of democratic governance despite a massive repression by the government of President Alpha Conde. In Ghana, the media came together in a unique fashion, putting aside their usual competition against each other, and collectively waged a successful campaign against illegal mining. The initiative was a success and pointed to one thing about the media – the media can be powerful when they come together to fight for a common good.
In Mali and Niger, the threats of fundamentalists groups persisted in 2017 but the media fought on. In Senegal, the media supported a successful assembly elections. The Liberian media did their part in ensuring a successful election that has resulted in what will be the country’s first transfer of power from one elected leader to another in 73 years. So yes, there were challenges. But there were great and positive stories too.
But some of the challenges of the media will persist in 2018. Media sustainability is a global challenge and this will persist in 2018 and perhaps many more years to come. The challenges and threats posed by new and social media to legacy media will not be going away with 2017.
Undoubtedly, media standards are on a fast decline and so is public trust for the media. False information may continue to increase posing more media credibility challenges.
Indeed, security forces and political vigilante groups may continue to harass journalists and corrupt public officials will leave no stone unturned to seek to prevent journalists from exposing their stealing of public resources. Criminal libel will still be in the statutes of many countries and used to threaten or actually applied to punish journalists. Many journalists will remain unprofessional, some will be corrupt and others will support corrupt officials against credible journalists.
So quite clearly, the media community will still have a lot of challenges to deal with. The good news is that we know about these challenges and should be able to work collectively to confront and deal with them.
This is why in 2018, we will be doing more to promote a safe and secure environment for journalists and doing more to promote sustainability of media organisations. In 2018, we will be prioritising investigative journalism and journalism that results in positive changes for our people and communities. We will also be working with media organisations to expose corruption in all sectors and pushing for transparent governance by relentlessly campaigning for the passage and implementation of Right to Information (RTI) laws.
It is our hope that 2018 will be a very peaceful, safe and fruitful year for all journalists and that it will be a year of progress for our region and one in which governance will be about the wellbeing of the people and not about amassing of wealth by the political class.
HAPPY NEW YEAR.