5th March 2018
By Tom Law

West Africa: Declaration for Journalism for Democracy in the Digital Age

Abuja, Nigeria

1-2 March 2018


The global information crisis in which journalism is being overwhelmed by the narrow self-interests of political and corporate centres of power is felt strongly in West Africa where hate speech, fake news and abusive exploitation of information technology are endangering pluralism and democracy.

Democratic processes in West Africa are in danger of being undermined by unscrupulous politicians and the prevalence of false, hateful and divisive information that creates fear, ignorance and uncertainty within the public at large.

We, the participants at this regional conference of journalists, editors, self-regulatory bodies and educators meeting in Abuja to discuss the defence and promotion of ethical journalism in West Africa, believe that the crisis of propaganda, fake news and hate speech requires a practical and comprehensive response which puts ethics, self-regulation and good governance at the heart of journalism across the region.

The future of democratic pluralism and the defence of human rights are dependent on the right of all citizens to receive reliable and useful information. We believe that ethical journalism is the key provider of the information democracy needs to survive.

We condemn all forms of violence against journalists in Africa, attempts to bribe and corrupt the process of journalism and all attempts to manipulate media for propaganda. We also call on all journalists, in spite of these threats, to redouble their efforts and live up to the values and standards of the profession.

We call on journalists, editors and media owners to build professional solidarity and to work together to promote ethics and good governance to confront the information crisis.

In particular, we recommend the following actions to strengthen journalism:

On Hate Speech:

  • We call on all media professionals to support the continental campaign Turning The Page of Hate to expose, isolate and eliminate all forms of incitement to intense hatred and violence.
  • We recommend that the EJN, FAJ, NUJ and other partners work together to promote practical tools such as the 5-point test for hate speech for the training of journalists in newsrooms and for freelance reporters and to include it in their codes of ethics.
  • We ask the EJN and FAJ to work with relevant stakeholders in Nigeria and other countries in the region to promote better understanding of words and terms that can lead to hatred and intolerance. These glossaries should explore all aspects of hate speech including where the use of such language targets vulnerable groups, minorities, or women in society who are particularly the victims of abuse.

On Election Reporting:

  • We welcome the timely nature of the event and call on the EJN and FAJ to work with media groups to create reporting guidelines and hate speech glossaries ahead of this year’s elections in Gambia (2018), Nigeria (Feb 2019), Mali (Sept 2018), Senegal (Feb 2019), Togo (July 2018) and elsewhere in the region. These guidelines should be based on the lessons learnt from the experiences of recent elections in Gambia, Ghana and Liberia where activities and programmes to improve reporting included:
    • The creation of codes of conduct for election reporting, which
      • Are distributed to all journalists in the country.
      • Are made available in printed booklets or by a mobile application
      • Include agreement with broadcasters about balance and due impartiality in terms of representation and diversity.
    • Multi-stakeholder meetings before elections, bringing together journalists, security services, judiciary and politicians for dialogue to help ensure safety of journalists.
    • Effective self-regulation through media councils that deal with complaints in a timely and fair manner in order to decrease the prevalence of politicians and others resorting to legal recourse.
  • We ask that EJN and FAJ deliver training of trainers ahead of the upcoming elections in the region with a particular focus on impartiality, hate speech, safety, verification and fact-checking. These trainers should then deliver training in newsrooms and for freelancers across these countries in advance of the election campaigns.
  • The guidelines and the training should encourage proper scrutiny of the manifesto commitments of all parties, analyse what effect they will have on citizens, check claims by politicians through fact-checking initiatives, as well as focusing on polls, personalities and controversy.
  • Furthermore, we ask that FAJ and the EJN develop a long-term strategic plan for similar interventions ahead of other elections in Africa.
  • We ask that FAJ coordinate monitoring of elections with delegations of journalists from around the region to act as monitors with a clear mission to;
    • Assess and encourage the implementation of codes of conduct;
    • Monitor threats and attacks against journalists.
  • We call on political parties and their representatives to show greater self-discipline and restraint in their public communications.
  • We call on unions in the region to set an example on how to conduct elections transparently and fairly.

On Ethics, Good Governance and Corruption

  • We recognise that political corruption is a significant obstacle to democracy and economic growth in West Africa and the expansion and development of journalism that will hold those in power to account. In order to confront this issue there must be greater commitment to investigative journalism and sound financial reporting. The meeting agreed this will not be possible without 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.
  • We condemn the common practice of employers not paying journalists – sometimes for months on end – and call on media owners and the government to address this with urgency. Not only is this a grave violation of labour rights, it has a serious effect on the ability for journalists to act independently and resist bribes and brown envelope journalism.
  • We note the trust crisis in media in West Africa and call on media owners and managers to engage in dialogue to enhance governance and transparency in order to improve the future financial prospects of the profession and the news industry.
  • We welcome the participation of media leaders and agree to circulate the EJN Ethical Media Audit and information about the role of independent ombudsmen and readers’ editors to inspire further discussion in Nigeria and the region on the value of transparent and accountable ownership and management of media organisations. Editors Guilds should be encouraged as forum for editors to discuss these issues.
  • Considering that court cases in Nigeria and other countries can take 20-30 years, we call for effective arbitration and complaints procedures to be adopted by press councils as a matter of urgency. We also call on media companies themselves to adopt accountability mechanisms, including but not exclusive to ombudsmen and readers’ editors in order to provide timely, fair and independent responses to complaints and to decrease the number of times they are taken to court.
  • We call on FAJ to work with affiliates to take legal issues to the ECOWAS court if they are not being resolved in a timely fashion on a national level.

On Self-Regulation

  • The meeting agreed that it should be for the media industry to decide upon accreditation criteria for journalists and that governments should not impose prohibitive or punitive criteria on the profession.
  • The meeting heard that credible self-regulation remains an essential objective in building public trust in journalism.
  • The NUJ will consider the recommendation from Nigeria’s Ministry of Information to provide guidelines and engage with citizen journalists.

Codes of Conduct

  • There was consensus that many codes of ethics have not been updated for many years and the advent of the digital age has led to gaps in codes that should be addressed, especially in regard to hate speech, propaganda, violent extremism and terrorism.
  • We encourage all responsible bodies in West Africa to review their codes of ethics with special reference to hate speech, propaganda, violent extremism and terrorism and to also consider including examples of the public interest.
  • We recommend that issues of diversity, such as how to portray people with special needs and other minorities and vulnerable groups are given prominence in future updates to codes of ethics.
  • Participants agreed that a renewed focus on implementing existing codes is needed. Suggestions in this regard included:
    • Adding Codes of Ethics to the contracts of journalists.
    • Considering, in extreme circumstances where journalists have repeatedly violated codes of ethics, sanctions that are agreed within the profession.

On Gender

  • The meeting recognised that hate speech has been repeatedly used as a weapon of gender-based violence meant to intimidate women into silence and called on media to join civil society in fighting gender discrimination and hate speech that is characterised by stereotyping.
  • Men and women should be treated equally and specific mention of this should be added to election codes of conduct and codes of ethics.
  • We call on media organisations to promote gender balance in the newsrooms, in leadership and as sources of information.

On The Ethics of Authors’ Rights in the Digital Age

  • The meeting noted that the traditional defence of authors’ rights in the digital age requires the strengthening of awareness of the importance of economic, professional and legal rights of authors.
  • We note that progress that can be made through collective bargaining to ensure that journalists maintain some rights to their material and are compensated when it is syndicated or sold on to other media houses and we call on unions in the region to redouble their efforts in this regard.
  • The meeting welcomed proposals to create reporting mechanisms for the worst cases of plagiarism and “copy and paste” journalism in order to have the evidence to negotiate agreements with media houses and encourage better recognition of the rights of journalists in theory and in practice.
  • Those present welcomed the EJN proposal to develop an Africa-based programme to strengthen authors’ rights protection in journalism and media. This will be established through an online tool for journalists to raise awareness on the importance of authors’ rights and how they can defend their interests across the new information landscape.

On Reporting Terrorism and Violent Extremism

  • The meeting agreed that reporting terrorism and violent extremism remains one of the most dangerous pursuits for journalists in terms of their physical safety but also through laws that demand journalists reveal their sources.
  • We note that more training is needed, especially on the issue of protecting sources and dealing with terrorist propaganda based on UNESCO’s “Terrorism and the Media” Handbook.

On Freedom of Information

  • We call on freedom of information laws to be strengthened, simplified where they exist and for them to be created where they do not already exist.

On Teaching Journalism

Cognisant of the financial, technical and other resource challenges faced by teaching institutions the meeting recommended the following actions to improve the quality of teaching the ethics of journalism and to prepare students to the realities of working in newsrooms and as freelancers in the modern media environment:

  • Deeper collaborations and dialogue between academia and practitioners, including university lecturers and professors spending time in newsrooms.
  • Encouraging teaching institutions to be more open to contributors or guest lecturers who may not have academic qualifications but do have valuable practical experience of the industry.
  • Support the sustainability and development of existing professional institutes of journalism to provide mid-career training as well as supporting the creation of new institutes of journalism where a need is identified. West African countries can learn from the experiences of Nigeria and other countries that have successfully developed institutes of journalism.
  • Mentorship schemes between students, teachers and journalists should be expanded so that journalists are prepared for the reality of the newsroom and to give them ideas about how to prosper and think about under-reported stories.
  • Training institutions and news organisations should encourage specialisation.
  • Universities and others should make use of the free courses and tools that are available such as those produced by the Thomson Foundation and the EJN.
  • Institutions should consider amending their curricula so that:
    • Ethics should not only be taught together with law. Ethics should also be taught throughout the curricula, with a focus on applied ethics, critical thinking and practical scenarios in regard to how journalists can remain impartial amid political and financial pressures and exercise sound editorial judgement.
    • Greater emphasis should be given to ethical decision making based on African, as well as international case studies, in classes that are small enough for student-led seminars based on critical thinking and decision-making.
    • Considering the evolving nature of the digital communication landscape, we recommend that universities review curricula regularly in consultation with news organisations, unions and other professional bodies.
    • A greater part of the final grade should be based on practical assignments rather than final exams and essays.
    • Students are made more aware of the author’s rights and the dangers of plagiarism.

On Media Literacy

  • The meeting agreed on the need for holistic media literacy programmes that bring together, media owners, regulatory bodies, journalist unions, academic institutions, media development groups and civil society. We have to get out of our silos and form collaborations with all stakeholders and involve citizens as equal partners in the debate around media literacy and ethics.
  • The meeting agreed that initiatives linking journalists, media, and wider civil society were needed to promote civil discourse in the public sphere and that journalists and media must proactively communicate what the mission and goals of journalism and its role in society based on the values of; transparency about who you are and your agenda, shared humanity, and accurate fact-based communications. Teaching of media literacy must go beyond the technical, and use Africa’s history of oral storytelling.
  • Awards for journalistic excellence should be used to encourage ethical reporting.

Abuja, Nigeria March 2nd 2018

Nigerian Signatories:

  1. Abdulwaheed Oduola Odusile, le Président de la Fédération des Journalistes Africains, Nigeria
  2. Adeola Tukuru, Editor, Blue Print Newspaper, Nigeria
  3. Akin Orimolade, Bureau Chief, National Life, Nigeria
  4. Akin Ajibola, Nigeria Union of Journalits (NUJ), Nigeria
  5. Alfred Anyiman, News Manager, NCTV News, Nigeria
  6. Amadi Obinna, Reporter, MOP, Nigeria
  7. Ayuba Iliya, News Editor, NCTV, Nigeria
  8. Bamidele Ogundana, Publisher, EPC Abuja reporters, Nigeria
  9. Christian Ogodo, CEO, TV Extra, Nigeria
  10. Dawodu Olawale, Managing Editor Paparazzi Magazine, Nigeria
  11. Dele Adewumi, Editor, Press Gallery, Nigeria
  12. Ebireri Kevwe, Auditor General, Nigeria
  13. Emmanuel Ogbeche, Editor, The Abuja Enquirer, Nigeria
  14. Ese E. Ekama, Sub-Editor News Agency of Nigeria, Nigeria
  15. Esther Ogakwu, Information Officer, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Nigeria
  16. Folasade Orimolade, Assistant Director of News, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria
  17. Gbemiga Bamidele, Editor, Fairpress Magazine, Nigeria
  18. Ishaku Madaki, Nigeria Union of Journalits (NUJ), Nigeria
  19. Jude Balogun, Oak TV, Editor, Nigeria
  20. Nnambi Njemanze, Executive Secretary, Nigeria Press Council, Nigeria
  21. Maryam Jauro, Nigeria Union of Journalits (NUJ), Nigeria
  22. Moji Danisa Dawodu, Editor in Chief, Paparazzi Media, Nigeria
  23. Mukhtar Gidado, Deputy President, Nigeria Union of Journalits (NUJ), Nigeria
  24. Nicholas Igwenagu, Deputy Director, International Institute of Journalism, Nigeria
  25. Nnene Anita, Deputy Director, Nigeria Press Council, Nigeria
  26. Onuh Holina Abichiyi, Reporter, Producer, Editor ABC, ASORTV SERVICES ABJ, Nigeria
  27. Paul Ella Abechi, Associate Editor, African Leadership Magazine, Nigeria
  28. Rafatu Salami, Chief News Editor, VON, Nigeria
  29. Raliate Yusuf, Deputy Director, Leadership Newspaper, Nigeria
  30. Regina Otokpa, Correspondent, New Telegraph, Nigeria
  31. Sabena O. Nwakonobi, Sub-Editor, Reporter, Love FM, Nigeria
  32. Shuaibu Leman, National Secretary, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Nigeria
  33. Stellamaries Amuwa, Editor, Leadership Newspaper, Nigeria
  34. Sunday Ayami, Editor, Africa Independent Television, AIT, Nigeria
  35. Toyin Adebayo, Correspondent, Independent, Nigeria
  36. Unéné Antia, Deputy Director, Nigeria Press Council, Nigeria
  37. Victoria Chimezie, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Nigeria
  38. Yemi Akinsuyi, Editor, D/ASSET, Nigeria

International Signatories:

  1. Aminata Basse, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), Senegal
  2. Charles Bariyea Coffey, President, Press Union of Liberia, Liberia
  3. Christopher Elliott, Board Member, Ethical Journalism Network, UK
  4. Emil Bai Touray, President, Gambia Union of Journalists (GUJ), Gambia
  5. Fakara Fainké, President, National Union of Journalists of Mali (UNAJOM)
  6. Franck Comlan Symplice Kpochèmè, President, Union des Professionnels des Medias du Benin (UPMB), Bénin
  7. Gabriel Baglo, le Secrétaire Général de la Fédération des Journalistes Africains, Sénégal
  8. Hawa Funmi Lawal, Senior Editor, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigeria
  9. Ibrahima Ndiaye, General Secretary, Union of Information and Communication Professionals of Senegal (SYNPICS), Senegal
  10. Moses Dotsey Aklorbortu, Special Correspondent, Graphic Comm Group LTD, Ghana Journalists Union, Ghana
  11. Patricia Adjisseku, General Secretary, Union of Independent Journalists of Togo (UJIT), Togo
  12. Sanogo Guézouma, President, Association des Journalistes Burkina Faso (AJB), Burkina Faso
  13. Thomas Law, Director of Campaigns and Communications, Ethical Journalism Network, UK
  14. Zahui Claude Dassé, Journalist, Afrikipresse, National Unionof Journalists of Côte d’Ivoire (UNJCI), Côte d’Ivoire