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Peter Kuthan / AZFA
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« on: January 19 2011 »

„For also knowledge itself is power“, the English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon mused at the end of the 16th  century in his meditations. Since then the undemocratic rulers of this world have understood only too well and tried to keep their populations in the dark.

Today, Access to Information is increasingly regarded as a basic human right. Almost 70 countries have Right to Information Legislation, 50 more bills are currently processed by parliaments worldwide.

Campaigns for Access to Information, Freedom of Information, the Right to Know, or the Right to Information have become an essential part of the democratisation process supported by multilateral organisations. UNESCO has given special consideration to the promotion of universal access to information as part of its anti-poverty strategies. Other international organisations like the Carter Center view Access to Information legislation as prerequisite of any good governance program and a necessary condition for the successful fight against corruption.

As the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of expression in Africa states in Article IV: “Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law.”

Yet there are still only three African countries, which have enacted Access to Information laws – South Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia.

All reports of the African Media Barometer point out this glaring omission in Africa’s media landscape (look for indicator 1.Cool.

Journalists who can’t investigate because officials don’t divulge any information on the workings of government are feeble guardians of democracy. And the predominant “culture of secrecy” in most African countries breeds underlings, not citizens.

For years Africa’s media practitioners have campaigned for Access to Information laws and their effective implementation. An important lesson learned: Media alone cannot be successful.

More promising instead is a campaign that unites a broad coalition of media and civil society organisations behind the call for Access to Information. When a vocal critical mass of citizens – including journalists and media owners – demands the Right to Know, governments finally have to open up their vaults of information.
Inspired by these findings  leading African media and rights organisations have formed a working group to develop a coordinated Access to Information -  Campaign for the African continent:

    * Africa Freedom of Information Center, Gilbert Sendugwa
    * Highway Africa, South Africa, Prof. Guy Berger, Prof. Jane Duncan
    * International Federation of Journalists, Gabriel Baglo
    * Media Foundation for West Africa, Prof. Kwame Karikari
    * Media Institute of Southern Africa, Sampa Kangwa-Wilkie
    * Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria, Edetaen Ojo
    * Open Democracy Advice Centre, Mukelani Dimba

Their envisaged plan of action will on the one hand aim at establishing a wide coalition of civil society organizations in the different African countries to claim the Right to Know. On the other hand the coalition works towards the adoption of a continental policy document by the African Union (AU).

Such a home-grown Policy Document would be a credible reference point for the advocacy work on the national level and strengthens the activist’s position in consultations with governments. In coordination with our network of FES-country offices and their partners in 19 sub-Saharan countries, fesmedia Africa is proud and well placed to support this new initiative towards Access of Information on the African continent.

For further Information on the Initiative and the African Platform for Access to Information (APAI), please visit http://windhoekplus20.org/.
Essential Reading

        * Bussiek, Hendrik and Christel (2004): The Media: Making Democracy work, Tool Box IV Access to Information, Windhoek:fesmedia
        * Article19 (2007): Access to Information. An Instrumental Right for Empowerment, London: Article19
        * Carter Center (2002): Access to Information. A key to Democracy, Atlanta: Carter Center
        * Puddephatt, Andrew (2009): Exploring the Role of Civil Society in the Formulation and Adoption of Access to Information Laws. The Cases of Bulgaria, India,
          Mexico, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, Washington: World Bank

source: http://fesmedia.org/access-to-information/
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