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Veteran SA journalists launch bid to rid Africa of insult and criminal defamation laws
Basildon Peta, Cape Times (SA)
May 06, 2005

Lusaka: Two veteran South African journalists have launched an ambitious campaign to persuade African governments to rid the continent of "insult and criminal defamation laws" which shield governments from public scrutiny and stifle the work of the media.

Raymond Louw, former editor of the Rand Daily Mail, and journalist turned media consultant Jeanette Minnie, are hopeful that President Thabo Mbeki will help them in getting African governments to commit themselves to scrapping insult laws and criminal defamation before they can be accorded a rating of practising good political governance under the Peer Review Mechanism of the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

They will shortly make representations to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Commission for Africa to get it to insist on the removal of insult laws and criminal defamation by all countries hoping to get good ratings on political governance and gain access to greater trade advantages and donor aid.

They have already written to Mbeki, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other leaders to seek assistance for the campaign, launched here yesterday in the presence of top African journalists and representatives of various media bodies including the World Press Freedom Committee, the Southern Africa Editors' Forum, the South African National Editors' Forum, the Southern Africa Journalists' Association, the Media Foundation for West Africa and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange.

The launch conference discussed the extent to which African governments use insult laws and criminal defamation - and lately immigration laws - to restrict public criticism of their conduct.
The laws have not only targeted journalists but other citizens who use the media to express their opinions.

Professor Kenneth Good, of the University of Botswana, was given a 48-hour deportation order after he co-authored an article critical of President Festus Mogae. In Zambia, columnist for the Post newspaper George Clark was arrested and issued with a deportation order after he wrote a satire equating President Levy Mwanawasa to a baboon. He was also accused of having insulted the president.
In Cameroon, journalists have been jailed for insulting President Paul Biya.

In Zimbabwe, the use of these laws to arrest and jail journalists has become routine.

But Louw said South Africa's northern neighbour was not an immediate target of the campaign because the situation there was very serious, needing a separate and more comprehensive strategy.

The launch conference heard that about 122 media groups and journalists were charged under insult laws in 35 African countries over 10 years.

The approach to Mbeki has not as yet yielded any dividends as the president referred Louw and Minnie to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which has not given any positive feedback.

But the two remain hopeful Mbeki will help them.

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