9 April 2018
African journalists and media are targeting political corruption as a significant obstacle to democracy and economic growth across the continent.
The move is an attempt by journalists to make sure politicians across the continent keep to their commitments to combat corruption following the decision by the Assembly of the African Union to declare 2018 as “the African Anti- Corruption Year.”
The conclusions of two regional meetings organised by the Ethical Journalism Network and the Federation of African Journalists and led by media leaders from western and central African countries have also pledged to support action plans to encourage the expansion and development of investigative journalism and ethical media management.
The challenge of building trust in global media which has been recently exposed in western Europe and north America over the actions of social networks is also felt in Africa, but it causes much less worry than the undue influence on journalism of government and politicians and self- inflicted media problems of poor governance and a lack of transparency.
In a continent where conflicts of interest, corruption in political and business affairs and poor levels of transparency in the ownership and management of media create a continuing and profound crisis for democracy and development, the most pressing demand is for more informed, investigative journalism that will hold those in power to account.
This was one of the key conclusions of the meetings in Cameroon and Nigeria in 2018 which brought together over 80 journalists, editors, industry regulators and educators, all of them committed to ethical journalism as the key element needed to create the African information sphere that will help democracy to survive and thrive. Representatives from Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo and Congo Brazzaville, met in Douala from 26-27 February hosted by the Cameroon Journalists Trade Union, while delegates from Bénin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo met in Abuja from 1-2 March hosted by the Nigerian Journalists Union.
Both meetings agreed that hate speech, fake news and abusive exploitation of information technology are endangering pluralism, democracy and the defence of human rights.
But greater commitment to investigative journalism and sound financial reporting and an urgent need for media to face up to some home truths about its own way of working were also among the demands for change.
Change will not come unless there are more actions to improve the capacity of newsrooms to have the time and resources to carry out adequate research and the editorial freedom to scrutinise centres of state and corporate power.
Both meetings acknowledged a deepening crisis for journalism in Africa and made strong calls on media owners and managers to engage in dialogue to up their game with better governance and more transparency in order to improve the financial prospects of the profession and the news industry.
In particular, the meetings called for media owners to open themselves up to a thorough review of how they work and to set higher standards in the management and operations of media companies.
The participants, including some senior media representatives, agreed to circulate the EJN Ethical Media Audit, which helps managers and owners to bring the ownership and executive branch of media into the ethical orbit occupied by and expected of journalists and editors in the newsroom.
Speaking to the meeting in Nigeria Alh. Muhktar Gidado, Deputy President, of the Nigeria Union of Journalists said: “We must practice our profession according to its ethical standards to meet the expectations of our audience and because the survival of any democracy depends on a credible and unrelenting media.”
The focus on improving media systems also saw a commitment to creating better forms of self- regulation, including promoting the role of independent ombudsmen and readers’ editors to inspire further discussion in the region on the value of transparent and accountable media ownership and management.
Considering that court cases in Nigeria and other countries can take 20-30 years, the meetings called for more effective arbitration and complaints procedures to be adopted by press councils as soon as possible.
And there should be change inside media house as well, with enterprise-based accountability mechanisms, to provide timely, fair and independent responses to complaints and to decrease the number of times they are taken to court.
But it is the need to strengthen investigative journalism and newsroom performance which is seen as the most important priority.
Political corruption is a significant obstacle everywhere, not only to democracy and economic growth in Africa, but to the expansion and development of journalism across the continent. Therefore, building structures for editorial independence and media freedom must become a top priority for policymakers and professionals alike.
That is easier said than done. In Cameroon, for instance, there is crisis of perceived and real bias between Cameroon’s public and private media, as well as along regional lines, and media owners and managers need to build more trust with their audience by improving levels of governance and transparency.
The Ethical Journalism Network can respond to these concerns in a number of ways, by, for instance:
- Promoting more training and education on the basics of journalism, good governance and self-regulation and providing examples of best-practice for ethical management and transparency in media;
- Supporting African-based skills training to make all journalists better equipped to carry out data journalism and to be more effective in the use of technological tools in their work;
- Raising-awareness of the values of ethical journalism to society as a whole and working with African journalists to build more effective bridges between media and journalism and their audience.
Much of this work is being done already in the eld of hate-speech and key areas of journalistic work such as election reporting, covering migration, violent extremism and political reporting, but at a time when information wars between centres of power are intensifying, reporters, editors and media owners need to work more closely together to ensure that they all contribute to making the mission of journalism more viable and effective.
That’s why the conclusions of the African meetings also make the creation of more African ethical journalism networks and greater solidarity between all sides of the media industry a critical imperative for future work.