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