(Editorial by D. Bruce Wharton, Deputy Assistant Secretary, AF)
Information is life. People cannot make a living, hold their governments accountable, or educate their children without a healthy supply of free- flowing information. Citizens need accurate, timely, independent news they can trust. So do businesses and markets…and governments.
Media freedom keeps societies and economies vibrant, energetic, and healthy. When the free flow of news and information is cut off, individuals suffer. Societies and economies suffer. Media freedom is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Leadership of the media – whether for print, broadcast, internet or social media – is critical to the development of a free press. It provides the vision and ethical framework for reporting and journalism that earns and maintains public trust. The true leaders of the media industry in Africa are those who mentor and inspire the next generation of journalists to overcome the challenges they face – lack of access to information, censorship, personal threats, and even attacks in some places. They serve as the moral compass that leads by example to enable the media to play its role in the consolidation of democratic governance.
We’re watching enormous changes taking place on the African continent, and the United States is proud to work with African partners to support those changes. Through democratic elections and new constitutions, economic growth led by innovation and entrepreneurship, renewed focus on education, and the inclusion of women and young people in decision-making, the progress is tremendous. The implementation of a Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria is a great example of how access to information is strengthening democratic governance.
There are many examples of emerging best practices that demonstrate how the media is changing, too, to keep up with political and economic developments. Collaborating with local organizations, the U.S. Embassy in Harare created a mentoring program for women journalists, giving them the tools and resources to contribute to the public conversation in that country. The African Media Initiative, with its African and international partners, launched the African News Innovation Challenge, a comprehensive and long-term program to support professional development and leadership in journalism, expanding networks across the continent and internationally.
The media's continued develop of leadership and professional standards will help safeguard and advance progress in other spheres. Transparency, accountability, and integrity are fundamental concepts that apply to all sectors, including journalism, and media leaders should model that behavior and mentor it in others. Too many challenges remain in Africa - in human rights, hunger, disease, war and conflict. As in business, media entrepreneurship requires thinking big and taking risks to address those problems. Owners and directors must be prepared to take risks, supporting journalists who are taking them day in and out.
As World Press Freedom Day approaches, the United States calls on all governments to take the steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to do their work without fear of violence or persecution. We pay special tribute to those courageous journalists, bloggers, and citizens who have sacrificed their lives, health, or freedom so that others could know the truth. And we honor the role of free and independent media in creating sustainable democracies and open, healthy societies.
Finally, we recognize that, as agents of change, media leaders serve good governance and economic development by raising their voices and building the platform for open societies to grow. Strong leadership that values and supports ethics in reporting and journalism will help shape this new conversation across Africa.