detail - Media Programme Sub-Sahara Africa
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KAS Media Africa commissioned the Media Law Handbook for Eastern Africa following the eager response to the Media Law in Southern Africa, published in 2012. Both regional books are two-volume publications aimed at closing knowledge gaps about media law. Journalists and media practitioners often don’t know their rights. The book explains the importance of freedom of expression in the first chapter and subsequently outlines the hallmarks of a democratic media environment. The country chapters then follow outlining the legislative framework of media practice in Burundi, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
Justine Limpitlaw told the audience about the challenges she faced while writing the handbook which took two years. Access to media laws is generally very complicated and the laws are continuously being edited or extended and she relied on media law experts in Eastern Africa to collect the Acts. Three of her supporters were guests at the launch and gave insights into the problematic situations of their home countries – Kenya, Uganda and Eritrea. Journalists covering the opposition are often living in danger and are being threatened by the police and state officers in all three countries. In some cases they were named criminals and arrested in Kenya. It is dangerous to state opinions contradicting the government, especially during times of elections. In 2016, Ugandan social media was shut down by the government to avoid so-called civil unrest. “The next frontier of freedom of expression is going to be digital”, said Limpitlaw.
In the second part of the launch programme, the panel discussed how the region could improve the legal situation of media practitioners. The three contributing media lawyers proposed their solutions. All of them agreed on the importance of education. Background information regarding media law and ethics should be an important part of journalism studies. “We need trainers who teach practitioners what their rights are,” said Catherine Anite from Uganda. Limpitlaw put her hopes in international organizations and cooperations which could apply pressure on governments to comply with the law. “The specialization of lawyers in the field of media rights is important,” said Limpitlaw.
Christian Echle, Director of KAS Media Africa, emphasized the importance of Limpitlaw’s work on the book and the support of media experts of the region. He reminded the journalists who were part of the audience to be aware of their responsibilities because mistakes could be an easy excuse for governments to draft another restrictive law. “Let’s show solidarity for our colleagues who risk their lives while working,” was Echle’s conclusion before he invited the participants to stay for a networking reception to bring the successful book launch to a close.
The handbook is available for download free of charge.