30 years since Windhoek Declaration of Information as a Public Good

NEWS COMMENTARY REFLECTS ON “30 YEARS SINCE THE WINDHOEK DECLARATION AND INFORMATION AS A PUBLIC GOOD’’ AS JOURNALISTS AROUND THE WORLD OBSERVE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY.

It is another year of celebrating World Press Freedom Day amidst Covid-19. On May 3, 2020, Journalists all over the world had to mark the day in the wake of discovering new ways of coping with the pandemic. As documented by some journalists, reporting the news on Coronavirus has been like reporting from the battlefield. Each day was different, especially with the onset of the virus, which came with a lot of uncertainty, to the point that the World Health Organisation itself described the scenario as novel. Information dissemination became a challenge as we saw a lot of misinformation and disinformation floating around, especially on social media.

In all of this, the role of the media cannot be underestimated. This role is what led to the Windhoek Declaration some 30 years ago. The Windhoek Declaration is considered a benchmark for ensuring press freedom around the world. It was born at a seminar in Windhoek in 1991, where the cross fertilisation of ideas by African journalists and media professionals took place. Their output encouraged press freedom, independence and pluralism in Africa, as well as in other parts of the world. Since then, many media houses, especially in Africa have pushed for pluralism.

In Ghana, Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution, gives strength to Freedom of Expression. Today, we experience a multiplicity and duplicity of media houses and we ask how beneficial are the journalistic work of these media houses? If we agree that Information is a public good, then we need to take another look at the kinds of information that are being churned out from these media houses. World Press Freedom Day provides an opportunity to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind. Which means as journalists we are obligated to communicate in a manner that can be understood by all including the non-educated. It is important to note the changing communications system that is impacting our daily lives, especially our health, human rights, democracies and sustainable development.

As journalists around the world reflect on the profession today, let us take critical steps to ensure that profitability does not become the only reason for staying in or practicing journalism. Also, media houses must put in place realistic mechanisms to inculcate transparency and accountability within the work environment. Furthermore, Media Managers should work at enhanced Information Literacy capacities, within their networks, to enable people to recognise and value, as well as defend and demand, journalism as a vital part of information as a public good. As we mark World Press Freedom Day, it is hoped Journalists and other media practitioners will renew their commitment to the ethics of the profession. Let today serve as a reminder of the essential role of free and professional journalists in producing and disseminating information by tackling misinformation and other harmful content, like fake news.

Again, governments are reminded to ensure that Journalists are protected in the discharge of their duties. Today is it fair to ask? What has happened to the Ahmed Suale case?  On this day, we also pay tribute and eulogise journalists who have lost their lives in the pursuit of a story. We also salute the forbears of Freedom of Expression. For up-and-coming journalists and those in practice, let us commit to upholding the tenets of free speech.

And for Information to continue to serve the public good, let us promise to maintain the ethical standards that underpin Journalism.

BY REBECCA EKPE, A JOURNALIST.

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