Wednesday, June 4, 2008

STATEMENT BY THE SEVENTH AFRICA MEDIA LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE HELD IN KAMPALA, UGANDA (MAY 24-27):*

It is agreed that new media options have the potential to be hugely profitable and effective. The spread of global culture will likely be the major determinant of how lives are to be lived now and in the future.

African media leaders recognise the need to embrace and integrate new technology into daily operations.

A legacy of weak communications infrastructure is not necessarily a handicap for information delivery.

The proliferation of cell phones in Africa, together with rapidly developing cell phone technology, provides one of the best opportunities to bridge the information gap among media consumers.

With technology developing faster than media laws, belligerent administrations may find themselves unable to stem the flow of credible information if content providers from the traditional domains of print and electronic media develop strong and mutually beneficial partnership agreements with the technical sector.

The possibility of every cell phone user becoming a content provider exists in today's digital society, potentially rendering censorship and media house closures lame-duck attempts to stem the free-flow of information.

While traditional media is far from dead, new technology offers the ability to reach those who have had little or difficult access to global, regional and local news streams up to now, and will in fact add value to existing traditional technologies.

Recent events in Kenya demonstrated the power of text messaging following the government's banning of live current affairs broadcasts.

Delegates recognise the need for a more robust approach to disseminating vital and credible information in Africa's zones of crisis, noting that in Zimbabwe

There are increased physical attacks, torture and other forms of intimidation against the general population but in particular against the media, civil, and human rights groups by ruling ZANU PF party supporters, the security forces and extra-legal militia ahead of the presidential run-off election in June.

Food distribution is amongst the weapons being used to influence voting patterns.

The MDC says that more than 40 of its supporters have been killed since the March 29th elections.

These acts of violence are meant to force the population to vote for President Robert Mugabe.

Delegates condemn this barbaric action and urge the Zimbabwean Government to respect the rule of law and the will of the people.

While in Ghana –

The Government is working to pass a freedom of information bill into an act which aims to empower the populace, more so media practitioners easier access to information. While the Ghanaian population is pleased with the prospects of an environment offering freer expression, there is general apprehension that the process is too slow.

The Ghana Government is therefore urged to finalise the process without any further delay.

And in South Africa

Delegates condemn recent and ongoing acts of xenophobic violence and in particular the government's slow reaction to publicly condemn and stem these horrific acts.

A more pro-active approach by the government and security forces, in concert with civil society, human rights organisations, medical service providers and the media, to operate as an efficient communications conduit is strongly urged.
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