Media Watch

No to criminal trials for the press-President Sall

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Senegal President Macky Sall says he is in favour of abolishing criminal trials for journalists as a way of supporting African media further hold governments to account.

Sall also urged the media to offer a counterweight—including a robust code of ethics– for dealing with those who breached responsible journalism practices, including during extraordinary circumstances such as rebellions and conflict.

African review reported that President Sall said fellow African leaders should not look to muzzle a free press since it is critical for the continent’s development.

“I am for the decriminalisation of press offences but we need to see what can be offered in turn for example in cases of libel,” President Sall told a meeting of African independent media leaders in Dakar Friday.

Many African countries have laws that provide for criminal charges for journalistic offences, the definition of which is in most cases blurred and often used to intimadate the media.

Mr Sall, who was elected in February this year’ said that Senegal’s robust media had brought a “breakthrough” in the west African country’s democracy especially during ballots and “deserved to be appreciated”.

He also urged African governments to support the industry’s growth, including through subsidies such as tax incentives, as a way of shielding them from a tough operating environment such as that in the West that has seen a number of prominent publications move to online only editions.

The round table discussion was organised by the Nairobi-headquartered African Media Initiative (AMI) and brought together 375 media chiefs from some 54 African countries.

AMI chief executive officer Amadou Mahtar Ba said the continent’s media was committed to instilling a culture of ethical journalism and professionalism, while also supporting innovation and upholding governance ideals.

The African Media Leaders Forum, now in its fifth year, is held annually in a different African capital and has become the foremost industry gathering to discuss challenges and trends.

“I am really proud of how this organisation has grown and its is meeting a critical need for the industry,” Sudanese-born British telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim said, urging often reluctant African leaders to open up space in their countries for the media to operate.

“The media is a mirror; if you look at the mirror, if you look at the mirror and see something ugly, maybe you are ugly,” he said.

President Sall, in response to plenary questions, said that he was committed to promoting democratic ideals and reiterated that he would keep his pledge to shorten Senegal’s presidential term from seven to five years.

He also said that Africa leaders would not allow Mali to be divided in keeping with AU ideals on the indivisibility of borders.

The leader said that he had agreed to negotiate with Casamance separatists on their land and marginalisation grievances but his presidency would not entertain any demands of secession from Senegal.

“I told them I am a new President and I come with a new spirit,” he said. “Conflict prevents development of a region. I think we are on the right track to solving the [Casamance] problem.”

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