Taking stock of press freedom progress
Journalists like to see journalists as heroes. That’s excluding their peers in state-owned media in Africa who are more usually propagandists rather than journalists.
On the other side of the fence, governments typically like to see journalists as villains, while civil society – sitting on the fence – sees them as flawed heroes, tainted by commercial considerations.
Audiences are more sanguine. They see some journalists as angels, some as devils.
So what actually are Africa’s journalists? The answer depends not so much on perspectives and vantage points, but on the real standards at play.
On the 20th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration on press freedom, one can investigate these standards in two ways:
• The ideals set out at Windhoek
• The actual environment since then.
In a nutshell:
• The ideals have expanded to encompass broadcasting issues, access to information, editorial independence, service to marginalised communities, and the existence of support NGOs.
• The actuality has been two steps forward, one step back.
Trouble is that while the bar is getting higher, the reality is retrogressing. That’s the gist of a report I did for the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which looks at the past 20 years in Africa. (powerpoint summary here)
On the positive side, we’re ahead compared to where we were in 1991 – and while the last decade has gone backwards, at least we are still facing forwards.
And while Africa's journalists are having non-journalistic standards forced upon them, they still have some choice as to whether they can be continental heroes or not.