On this 20th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration for the promotion of free and pluralistic media, we reflect on the role it plays today in enhancing people’s ability to actively participate in shaping their destinies.
The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day, 21 Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers, reminds us of the many events, some still unfolding, where the popular call for democratic change reiterates the home-grown cry for choice, participation and transparency. It also highlights the role old and new media can play in allowing different voices to be heard in the public space - from radio and television through to mobile telephony and the internet.
Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have made significant progress in the last 20 years in broadening political participation and more countries than ever do hold regular elections. Between 2010 and 2013 up to 23 countries in eastern and southern Africa will have conducted elections. 2010 marked the biggest election year in the history of Africa, with more countries than ever holding various assortments of elections, including referendums.
This is unparalleled in the history of the continent and it means not only that more countries have competitive and fairly open elections, but also that a higher voter population is becoming increasingly vocal and assertive, calling upon its elected leaders to be accountable by delivering on election promises, including public service, socio-economic justice and human development.
A free and fair election is not only about casting a vote in proper conditions, but also about having adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself so that voters can make an informed choice. As such the role of the media is critical in ensuring successful elections across the world.
In sub-Saharan Africa, UNDP works with journalists to promote the ideals of fairness, ethics and transparency. We work with regional media organizations such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) to enhance the capacities of media practitioners for effective investigation and reporting of corruption, and for ethical reporting on elections.
Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) can also play a critical role in ensuring participation of those who have previously been voiceless in decision-making processes. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region where mobile technologies are growing more rapidly. And latest estimates suggest that by 2015 at least 80 percent of the population will have access to a mobile device.
New media outlets are already emerging and citizen-based journalism, such as community radio and crowdsourcing, is on the increase, demonstrating the role of different types of media in ensuring greater accountability and transparency in society.
As we mark this day, let us remember the journalists and other media professionals who have lost their lives bringing us the news, and also heed the voices of those they bring to us, and are calling to be heard.
Rebeca Grynspan, the Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme is on a week-long official visit to Zambia and Angola.