A one-day conference to commemorate the 2009 World Press Freedom Day was held in Lagos on Monday, May 4, 2009. Organized by the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Lagos and Media Rights Agenda (MRA), the Conference brought together scores of media owners, media managers, editors and other media professionals as well as representatives of civil society and other stakeholder groups to discuss the conference theme: “The Role of the Media in Fostering Dialogue and Mutual Understanding between the Government and the People”. Full story…
Participants Adopt Strategies to Promote the Right of Access to Information in Health Matters in Nigeria
Participants at two pilot workshops organized by ARTICLE 19, the Global Campaign for Free Expression, in partnership with the Center for the Right to Health (CRH) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA), have adopted strategies to promote the right of access to information in health matters in two states of Nigeria, Enugu and Lagos. Full story…
1. Freedom of Information Advocacy Programme
The efforts to ensure the enactment of a freedom of information law in Nigeria continued throughout the year 2003. Media Rights Agenda has been the driving force behind the energetic campaign for the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act by Nigeria’s National Assembly. In July 1999, it presented a draft Freedom of Information Bill to the House of Representatives through three members of the House and mounted an aggressive advocacy programme to ensure the enactment of the Bill into law.
In 2003, Media Rights Agenda conducted a series of Freedom of Information advocacy activities, including the publication of a report on the legislative advocacy programme so far, entitled: “Campaigning for Access to Information in Nigeria: A Report of the Legislative Advocacy Programme for the Enactment of a Freedom of Information Act“, two meetings with editors, political editors, correspondents and reporters from print and broadcast media establishments in Lagos; and producing briefing documents on Freedom of Information for the 30 political parties to secure their support for the Bill.
Media Rights Agenda also made two sub-grants to the Akwa Ibom State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Uyo and the Kaduna Branch of Women in Nigeria (WIN) in Kaduna, to organize one-day meetings around the Freedom of Information Bill in the South South Zone and in the North West Zone.
The implementation of various activities under the grant resulted in a greater awareness is wider Nigerian society about the Freedom of Information Bill, including in the media, among the political parties, and among civil society organisations in far flung parts of Nigeria with an increase in media output with regards to news and reports on the Bill. It also resulted in the expansion of the membership of the Freedom of Information Coalition with greater vitality in its operations as the Secretariat became more responsive to the needs of its members and through better communication, created a greater sense of belonging.
The publication of the report on the earlier advocacy efforts also provided invaluable documentation for members of the Coalition and non-members alike on the range of activities conducted so far, the various strategies used and their effectiveness, which the result that other organisations interested in legislative advocacy would be better placed to plan their own project and programmes.
A major shortcoming of the project was the fact that the impact of the advocacy project was also limited by the fact that they took place in the heat of elections and electioneering campaigns as members of the National Assembly were deeply engrossed in politicking and did not really have much time in the final months of their tenure to devote to legislative business. As a result, the Bill could not be finally considered and passed by the House of Representatives despite the repeated promises made to Media Rights Agenda and members of the Freedom of Information Coalition by the then Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Honourable Lawan Farouk, that he would present the Committee’s report from the Public Hearing to the full House and that the bill would be passed before the dissolution of the National Assembly.
Most of the advocacy activities were carried out with the support of the Partnership for Advocacy and Civic Empowerment (PACE) project of the International Human Rights Law Group funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as funding from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI).
Under the project MRA undertook the following activities:
1.1 Meeting with Editors
On Monday, March 24, 2003, Media Rights Agenda and the Freedom of Information Coalition organized a meeting between members of the Coalition and editors from the print and broadcast media. The meeting was organized in collaboration with the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and was held at the Lagos Airport Hotel, in Ikeja, Lagos.
The main objective of the meeting was to solicit the assistance of editors from media establishments in the print and broadcast sectors in making the enactment of a Freedom of Information law an electoral campaign issue. Through their involvement in the campaign, it was expected that politicians seeking to stand for election into various offices would be compelled to make public statements on their position on the twin issues of transparency and accountability in government, and also make a commitment to support the efforts to enact a law, which gives a legal right to citizens to have access to public information.
1.2 Meeting with Political Editors/Correspondents
On Monday, March 31, 2003, Media Rights Agenda and the Freedom of Information Coalition again organized another meeting for members of the Coalition and political editors/correspondents from print and broadcast media in Lagos as a follow up to the meeting with editors. The meeting was held at the Lagos Travel Inn in Ikeja, Lagos.
Like an earlier meeting with editors, this meeting was also expected to provide a platform for Media Rights Agenda to sensitize the political editors and correspondents to the issue of access to information, brief them on the campaign effort so far and the status of the Bill at the National Assembly. It was also expected that through greater commitment and involvement in the campaign, they would ensure that politicians seeking to stand for election into various offices would be asked questions and forced to make public statements on their position on the issue of transparency in government, and commit themselves to supporting the campaigns to enact an access to information law in Nigeria.
1.3 Production of Briefing Documents for the 30 Political Parties
In the course of the political campaigns preceding the 2003 general elections held in April and May, Media Rights Agenda produced briefing documents on Freedom of Information Bill. These documents will include copies of the Freedom of Information Bill, other materials on the Freedom of Information Bill, the rationale for a public right of access to information held by government and linkages between freedom of information and good governance. These documents will be distributed to the principal officers of the various parties as well as the presidential and vice presidential candidates of the parties that had contestants.
1.4 Sub-Grant to Nigeria Union of Journalists, Akwa-Ibom State
In May 2003, Media Rights Agenda made a sub-grant to the Akwa Ibom State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) to organize a one-day symposium/stakeholders meeting on the Freedom of Information Bill. The symposium was held at the Agatha Garden Hotels in Uyo on May 27, 2003. It was attended by about 50 participants, including people from the academia, the Nigeria Police Force, community-based organisations, human rights NGOs, the media and the general public. It was also attended by the Coordinator of the Freedom of Information Coalition, Mr. Osaro Odemwingie.
1.5 Sub-Grant to Women in Nigeria, Kaduna Branch
Also in May, Media Rights Agenda made another sub-grant to the Kaduna branch of Women in Nigeria (WIN) to organize a one-day meeting in Kaduna on the Freedom of Information Bill. The meeting was held on May 30, 2003. It was attended by editors, reporters as well as some members of the House of Representatives in the National Assembly from Kaduna State and the Kaduna State House of Assembly. Presentations were made at the meeting by WIN Kaduna Coordinator, Miss Ngukwase Surma, and the Coordinator of the FOI Coalition, Mr. Osaro Odemwingie.
1.6 Publication of Legislative Advocacy Book
In June, 2003, Media Rights Agenda published a report in book form, documenting its experience in the legislative advocacy for the Freedom of Information bill. The report is entitled “Campaigning for Access to Information in Nigeria: A Report of the Advocacy for the Freedom of Information Bill”.
The 69-page book, in three parts, contains detailed information about the origins of the Freedom of Information Bill, the process of getting sponsorship and its submission to the National Assembly, various advocacy activities undertaken since 1999 to ensure the passage of the Bill, including advocacy visits to legislators and other government officials, the processes it has gone through in the National Assembly, public enlightenment and mobilization activities, etc. The report also contains the text of the Freedom of Information Bill with the recommendations of the House of Representatives Committee on Information on the various sections and MRA’s analysis of and comments on the implications of these recommendations.
The report is intended as a tool for MRA to share its experience and those of its partners in legislative advocacy using the Freedom of Information Bill as focus. It is also intended to document in a permanent form the contributions of civil society organizations to the process of making the Freedom of Information Act to provide a rich resource or practical material for civil society organizations, academics, researchers and other interested persons and individuals.
1.7 Strengthening the Freedom of Information Coalition
Media Rights Agenda also embarked on a process of strengthening the Freedom of Information Coalition through capacity-building for its Secretariat and expanding its membership base. A full-time staff was deployed to undertake the coordination of the Coalition’s activities while Media Rights Agenda provided office space and resources for his use.
The coordinator was also provided with communication facilities to enhance the coordination with members. A mobile telephone through which members of the coalition could contact the coordinator was provided for the Secretariat while an email account (firstname.lastname@example.org) was also opened and dedicated to Freedom of Information communication. In addition, a discussion platform and listserv (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FOIcoalition) was created to facilitate exchanges and discussions on issues relating to access to information generally, the Freedom of Information Bill, transparency and accountability. Members of the Coalition and other persons who are either journalists or civil society activists, seeking to share information or make inquiries on issues relating to the Bill, simply send an email to FOIcoalition@yahoogroups.com and all members receive it.
Bedsides coordinating freedom of information related activities, the secretariat also embarked on a massive campaign to recruit organizations from all parts of the country into the Freedom of Information Coalition in order to ensure that all the six geo-political zones of the country are represented in the Coalition. At the end of the year, the Coalition had 87 member organisations in 18 states of the federation.
1.8 Petition to members of the National Assembly on the “Right to Know Day”
Media Rights Agenda joined counterparts in Nigeria and around the world to observe the “Right to Know Day” on September 28, 2003. The annual international “Right to Know Day” was being celebrated for the first time in 2003. September 28 was designated as the “Right to Know Day” by Freedom of Information organizations from various countries at a meeting held in Sofia, Bulgaria, in September 2002.
Media Rights Agenda, in collaboration with the Freedom of Information Coalition, members undertook advocacy visits to members of the country’s National Assembly in an effort aimed at sensitizing and lobbying members to enact at the earliest possible time the Freedom of Information Act.
The advocacy teams presented each member of the National Assembly signed letters asking them to support the enactment of the Bill into law and expedite action on the legislative process.
In addition to a widely published press statement issued on that day, there were also discussion programmes on freedom of information and the significance of the Right to Know Day on television stations, including the Channels Television and on the popular morning magazine programme on Africa Independent Television, Kaakaki.
1.9 Technical Assistance to Joint Committee of the House of Representatives
In November 2003, Media Rights Agenda provided technical assistance to the Joint Committee of the House of Representatives, made up of the Committee on Information, the Committee on Human Rights, and the Committee on Justice, which were charged with reviewing the Freedom of Information Bill in detail and submitting a report to the full House.
The meeting was necessary as most the members of the House were new and therefore lacked experience of legislative processes generally and, in particular, of how to review bills at the committee level and write their reports.
Media Rights Agenda organized meetings with members of the Joint Committee as well as some of their support staff as a platform for providing guidance to the members on how to go about reviewing the bill the preparing their reports. The Committee was also assisted in producing its final report to the House. Back To Top
2. Civic Education Programme
In an effort to ensure broader participation of the non-elite members of the society in media debates on the political process and the general elections held in April 2003, Media Rights Agenda implemented a civic education programme aimed at giving the disadvantaged members of the society a voice in the media. The project took place between the months of February and April.
The project was implemented in two phases. The first phase was a one-day meeting between journalists from different media organizations, cutting across print and broadcast, and leaders of traditionally excluded civil society sector groups such as students, market men and women, mechanics, butchers, motor cyclists, furniture makers, drivers, artisans and other non-elite members of the society. It was held on February 18, 2003, at the Chemical and Allied Products Centre (CAPL) in Ikeja, Lagos and was attended by 15 journalists and 45 leaders of civil society sector groups.
The meeting provided an opportunity for representatives of these civil society groups to engage media professionals over their exclusion from the debates in the media about the political process and elections and to be educated on how they can have effective access to the media. On their part, the journalists present had a better understanding of the perceptions of a vital section of the society about them and their work.
In the second phase of the project, which began after the meeting, Media Rights Agenda purchased airtime on EKO 89.75 FM radio station and on Lagos Television (LTV), both in Lagos, for a weekly 30-minute discussion programme titled: “Grassroots Voices” where different persons from these sectors of civil society were featured every week to discuss political issues on various aspects of the political process and elections on each of the programmes. The programme on EKO 89.75 FM aired between 8.05 p.m. and 8.35 p.m. every Friday. It began on February 28, 2003 and ended on April 18, 2003.
The programme on Lagos Television aired between 7.00 pm and 7.30 p.m. every Sunday and also ran for eight weeks. It began on March 2, 2003 and ended on May 18, 2003.
Discussions on both programmes were conducted primarily in pidgin to enable members of these target groups participate effectively. While the radio programme was pre-recorded, the television edition of the programme was live thereby giving opportunities for viewers to phone in and contribute to the discussions.
The project created a platform for non-elite members of civil society, particularly the market women, drivers, artisans and students, to engage media professionals in a process of giving such groups a better understanding of how they can access the media while at the same time ensuring that journalists appreciate the importance of reflecting their perspectives in the media.
It also provided access to the media to non-elite members of civil society, particularly the market women, drivers, artisans and students to ventilate political and other views so as to ensure greater participation in the political process.
The programme was highly successful. The forum between leaders of civil society organizations and journalists provided an opportunity of both sides to frankly put across their views on what they think about the other, the challenges that members of the civil society sector face while attempting to access the media. The journalists also had an opportunity to dispel what they called the wrong notion that members of the civil society have of them and the problems that they face while trying to obtain information and views from members of the civil society.
Most importantly, the form provided an opportunity for journalists present to explain to members of the civil society how they can easily secure access to the media and members of both groups exchanged addressees to further their contact.
The programmes on radio and television served to demystify access to the media for guests, members of the civil society organization and the generality of civil society people. This fact was easily confirmed by the utterances of many of the guests while on air. They confirmed that they had never had an opportunity to be interviewed by a journalist, much less appear on a radio or television programme.
Guests on the programmes consistently urged their members never to lose faith in democracy, to ensure that they participated meaningfully in the elections as well discourage violence.
The project was supported by the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) with funds provided by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Union and UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
3. Voter Education Programme
Media Rights Agenda also conducted a voter education project titled: “Operation Get Out the Voters at Ajuwon/Akute Communities” ahead of the April/May 2003 elections. The project activity was based on the conviction that a politically conscious and active citizenry, participating fully and meaningfully in the elections, would constitute a restraining factor to electoral manipulations and malpractices.
Under the project, Media Rights Agenda organised a series of mass mobilisation activities to galvanise the people of Ajuwon and Akute communities in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State on the border with Lagos State to participate actively and positively in the 2003 elections.
Representatives of Media Rights Agenda also paid advocacy visits to the Baales-in-Council (the community leaders and council of elders) of Akute and Ajuwon communities and the Community Development Committee, which is made up of all the Community Development Associations in Ifo Local Government area.
In addition, Media Rights Agenda recruited 60 youths from the communities and trained them to undertake a mass mobilisation of residents of the communities through rallies, drama and the distribution of IEC materials as well as by teaching them voting procedures and how to conduct themselves at polling stations.
The programme was executed with the support from the Partnership for Advocacy and Civic Empowerment (PACE) project of the International Human Rights Law Group funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
4. Publication of Media Rights Monitor
Throughout the year, Media Rights Agenda sustained the publication of its monthly newsletter, “Media Rights Monitor“, for the seventh year running.
Under this project, Media Rights Agenda monitored all forms of attacks on the media and media practitioners and conducted researches on how various laws and administrative practices relating to the media in Nigeria comply with constitutional provisions and international standards for the protection of media freedom and freedom of expression.
These were published the journal with about 3,000 copies printed monthly and distributed primarily to journalists in Nigeria, press associations and human rights organizations within and outside Nigeria, government departments and agencies including the police public relations departments, whose functions and activities affects the media, and diplomatic missions.
5. Media monitoring of Access to Justice Issues
During year, Media Rights Agenda carried out a Media Monitoring Project of Public Perceptions on Accessible Justice issues in radio stations and newspapers in different parts of the country. The monitoring exercise took place between April and August 2003.
The broad purpose of the project was to provide independent and objective data on public perceptions on accessible justice, as reflected in the media. The project monitored the coverage of issues of accessible justice, human rights and public accountability with respect to justice sector issues in general and the “voices of the poor” in particular, on the selected radio stations, which cut across different forms of ownership. These were the Federal Government, state governments, and private ownership.
It also monitored these issues on selected daily and weekly newspapers with similar forms of ownership.
The project activities involved recruiting and training of a number of media monitors to carry out the content monitoring exercise. The trained individuals were deployed with materials and monitoring equipment to the Benue, Ekiti, Enugu, and Jigawa States as well as Abuja and Lagos.
They monitored a number of select media outlets to obtain first hand information on the perspectives, experiences, understanding, and expectations of poor people as reflected in the radio and newspaper coverage of accessible justice issues.
Media Rights Agenda produced a fortnightly summary reports and at the end of the project exercise, produced a comprehensive report which analysed the findings of the entire project. The report enrich the resource of available information on the voices of the poor as well as establish the extent of coverage given to accessible justice issues by the monitored radio stations and newspapers in terms of the airtime or space devoted to them and how comprehensively events relating to these issues are reported and analyzed.
It also revealed the pattern of reporting events relating to accessible justice issues such as the prominence given to them, and the order in which they are reported relative to other events.
Similarly, it established how much effort was made by the media to report on accessible justice issues in order to reach the poorer and less advantaged communities, especially in the rural areas and lastly assessed the differences in the perceptions of issues of accessible justice, human rights and public accountability, as expressed in the media, by different groups such as rural populations, the urban poor, the elderly, youths and migrants.
The project was supported by Access to Justice programme of the British Council in Nigeria through funds provided by the Department for International Development of the UK government (DFID).
6. Litigation project
In the course of the year, Media Rights Agenda continued its free expression litigation programme both in domestic courts and before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The free expression cases conducted by Media Rights Agenda were of two types. The first was in the form of legal aid to individual journalists under which the organization provided legal assistance and support for journalists who were arrested and detained, unfairly dismissed from their work, harassed and intimidated or whose rights were violated in some other way as well as journalists who were unfairly accused of criminal offences or subjected to oppressive criminal proceedings as a result of their professional duties.
The second type of free expression litigation was more geared towards broad freedom of expression issues and generally aimed at expanding the frontiers of media freedom through the judicial process. This was also used in an effort to bring about the reform of media laws in Nigeria.
This is in accordance with a strategy agreed by participants at a Media Law Reform Workshop jointly organized by Media Rights Agenda; Article 19; and the National Human Rights Commission at Ota in Ogun State, from March 16 to 18, 1999, and attended by 61 representatives of the media, both independent and state controlled; regulatory bodies; the legal profession; international institutions; local and international non-governmental organizations; and other interest groups. In “The Ota Platform of Action on Media Law Reform in Nigeria”, a consensus document which emerged at the end of that workshop, the participants agreed that the sponsoring organizations should undertake to develop appropriate strategies through which the programme of media law reform can be realized. In addition to dialogue with the government and broader strategies of advocacy, they suggested that litigation should also be pursued.
Media Rights Agenda continued in 2003 to use this strategy in an effort to bring about a corpus of favourable judicial pronouncements which would create an enabling legal environment for the practice of journalism and free expression in Nigeria. Since 1999 when it began the litigation programme, Media Rights Agenda has filed cases in different courts in Nigeria dealing with a broad range of issues, including access to information, the regulation of the press, taxation on newspapers and magazines through the introduction of a regime of value added tax, the regulation of broadcasting, the management of publicly funded media, etc.
7. Regional and International Activities
Media Rights Agenda continued in the course of 2003 to be involved in a number of regional and international activities in the field of media freedom, freedom of expression and human rights generally. Some of these activities include:
7.1 Partnership for Media and Conflict Prevention in West Africa
In 2003, Media Rights Agenda joined other regional and international organizations to form the Partnership for Media and Conflict Prevention in West Africa. The objective of the Partnership is to facilitate the provision of collaborative support to the media to pre-empt and mitigate the effects of conflict and their humanitarian consequences. The understanding is that the Partnership would utilise the diverse expertise and resources available amongst national, regional and international stakeholders, thereby offering a unique approach for the provision of assistance.
The process leading to the formation of the Partnership began with discussions at the “Assistance to Media in Tension Areas and Violent Conflict” seminar hosted by United the Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in Stockholm in May 2003.
Following those discussions, between July 6 and 8, 2003, a meeting was held in Accra, Ghana, to analyse media and conflict in West Africa, with a specific focus on Liberia and Ivory Coast. Participants at the meeting came from a broad mix of intergovernmental organisations, government agencies, donor institutions, as well as human rights organisations, media associations and NGOs of national, regional and international character.
Out of this meeting emerged a strategy paper, which sought to provide a broad analysis on the role of the media in West African conflicts and identify how national media communities could be supported by regional and international actors in periods of crisis, as well as play a central role in conflict management, including prevention and resolution. The paper also explored the potential for support between national West African media communities in times of crisis and focused specifically on the situations in Liberia and Ivory Coast as pressing current examples of where joint action could facilitate implementation and maximise impact.
The meeting resulted in the formation of the Partnership. In addition Media Rights Agenda, other members are: ARTICLE 19, the Global Campaign for Free Expression, based in London; Canadian Journalist for Free Expression (CJFE) in Toronto, Canada; Fondation Hirondelle; Ibis–West Africa; the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Brussels; the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), based in Toronto; the International Media Support (IMS) in Copenhagen, Denmark; IREX Europe based in Lyon, France; the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in Accra, Ghana; the Open Society Institute (OSI) in Budapest, Hungary; Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA), based in Dakar, Senegal; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) based in Paris, France; and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), also in Paris.
The Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, has been designated the Coordinator of the Partnership.
7.2 Assessment Mission to Liberia
Between December 10 and 16, 2003, Media Rights Agenda joined a team of regional and international media organizations which traveled to Liberia to carry out an assessment of the media situation in the country. The other organizations involved in the mission were UNESCO, PIWA Media Rights Agenda, MFWA, IMS, the IFJ, the CJFE, IFEX and ARTICLE 19.
The joint objectives of the mission were to:
- Review the media situation in Liberia and the effects of the conflict;
- Compile a list of the main national, regional and international stakeholders in Liberia, including a comprehensive overview of their previous, current and foreseen activities; and
- Produce a list of priority areas clearly outlining both immediate and development related recommendations for support to the media and humanitarian information needs, including proposed activities and funding requirements.
In addition to the above objectives, the team was requested by UNESCO to provide input to the then ongoing joint UNDG/World Bank needs assessment for the transitional period. Under the sectoral cluster on Governance and Human Rights, the mission prepared recommendations for an immediate and medium-term approach to the development of media and freedom of expression in Liberia.
In the immediate term, it was crucial for the mission to provide recommendations that would address issues of relevance to the DDRR process. However, it was also emphasized that whilst the media has a role in peace-building, it is important that it develops as a free and independent actor with a responsibility for watching over good governance, public accountability and transparency.
The mission met with a wide range of Liberian media professionals cutting across the print and broadcast media, national and international civil society and NGO representatives, officials from the transitional government, UN agencies and the European Union, as well as members of the diplomatic community. The team also met with the Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia, Mr. Gyude Bryant, and Mr. Jacques Paul Klein, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who is also the Coordinator of United Nations Operations in Liberia.
Following the mission, the Partnership produced a comprehensive report titled: “Supporting the Media in Liberia: A Review of the Media Landscape for the Post-Conflict Transition Period” to guide its future activities but also to give other actors, either already active in Liberia or interested in working in the country, an insight what the urgent needs are.
The 90-page report outlines collaborative approaches for supporting the media during the immediate and longer-term transition periods, both in overcoming obstacles and developing capacities and resources, as well as contributing towards the creation of lasting peace, stability and democracy.
The report addresses areas of media policy and legal reform; the print media; the independent broadcast media; public service broadcasting; humanitarian information; associations and networking; monitoring and advocacy; safety and legal aid; as well as training and media content.
Two of the activities recommended in the report are at the initial stages of implementation. These are the development of a Press Resource Center at the Press Union of Liberia and a comprehensive review of the legal, institutional, regulatory and policy framework for the media in Liberia.
The Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda is in charge of coordinating the implementation of activities under the report.
7.3 Advocacy on Zimbabwe
Media Rights Agenda became interested in Zimbabwe early in 2002, in the run up to the general elections which took place in March that year. Its primary focus was the plight of the media in Zimbabwe following the enactment Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, among other repressive laws. It conducted a study then on the state of the media in Zimbabwe and examined the implications of the new law for journalism practice. Subsequently, issues and developments concerning the Zimbabwean media were regularly highlighted in the Media Rights Agenda’s monthly journal, the “Media Rights Monitor”.
Subsequently, Media Rights Agenda developed more formalized links with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (ZCC). The ZCC is a coalition of more than 350 civil society organisations in Zimbabwe formed in August 2001 as a collective response by Zimbabwean civics to the multi-faceted crisis facing that country. The Coalition represents a broad cross section of Zimbabwean civil society, including labour, students, women, church groups, human rights activists, media practitioners, war veterans, farmers, lawyers, doctors and pro-democracy actors.
Between September 28 and October 8, 2003, a delegation of the ZCC made an advocacy visit to West Africa where they visited three countries in the sub-region to raise awareness about the political, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe. The delegation, made up of Wellington Chibebe, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU); Mrs. Sara Moyo, representing the Human Rights NGO Forum; Mrs. Emilia Muchawa, representing the Women’s Coalition; and Pastor Chims Phiri, representing the churches, visited Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana.
The trips were organised in collaboration with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA). In Nigeria, Media Rights Agenda served as the host organisation and organised a series of advocacy meetings for the delegation with various media organisations, civil society groups and parliamentarians in Lagos and Abuja to raise awareness among different sectors of the Nigerian society about the political, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe.
In the course of their visit to Nigeria, Media Rights Agenda also organised a series of press interviews and press conferences with local and international media in Lagos and Abuja for the ZCC delegation. It organised meetings with civil society organisations, including the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Civil Society Forum hosted by the Catholic Secretariat, the United Action for Democracy (UAD), a coalition of 46 human rights and pro-democracy organisations in Nigeria, and a civil society roundtable.
The delegation also met with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, along with other key figures in the parliament, including the Deputy Speaker, the Chairpersons and Deputy Chairpersons of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Human Rights, the Committee on Cooperation and Integration in Africa, and the Committee on Media and Public Affairs.
The visit was founded on the belief that the political and human rights situation in Zimbabwe was largely misunderstood across Africa, particularly by African governments and leaders, because of deliberate misinformation about the true situation and that because of this lack of proper information and understanding, policy responses by African countries have been faulty and have been ineffective in addressing the situation.
The meetings were therefore intended raise the profile of Zimbabwe in political discourse within Nigeria, enlighten various government officials as well as members of civil society organizations about the true situation of human rights in Zimbabwe and to raise awareness among these sectors in the hope that Nigerians would become more enlightened about what is going on here and that Nigerian government’s policy on Zimbabwe will be geared towards tackling the real issues.
The delegation’s visit to Nigeria strengthened the links between Media Rights Agenda and ZCC and a process was established through which Media Rights Agenda would receive regular updates, sometimes several times a week, about developments taking place on the political, economic, social and human rights landscape in Zimbabwe. This information is subsequently circulated through established channels and networks in Nigeria to a variety of interest groups, including the media, in continuation of the awareness raising efforts.
Following the delegation’s visit, Media Rights Agenda was invited to a lobbying and Advocacy training workshop held in Harare between October 30 and 31, 2003 to share experiences with Zimbabwean civil society organizations on advocacy strategies for addressing the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. Organised by the Media Monitoring Project-Zimbabwe (MMPZ) and the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe), the theme of the workshop was “Let the People Speak – Effective Civil Society Lobbying for Zimbabwe.”
The workshop was attended by about 40 participants, including representatives of Zimbabwean civil society organisations and coalitions as well as representatives of regional and international organisations such as Amnesty International (AI), ARTICLE 19, the International Media Support, International Bar Association (IBA), the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
At the end of the workshop, a 12-point “Plan of Action” was agreed upon. The Plan of Action gave specific roles to Media Rights Agenda, in addition to other general proposals in which the organisation would also have to play a role. Media Rights Agenda was charged with assisting MISA-Zimbabwe, MMPZ, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) to produce a draft strategic plan on national, African and international advocacy and lobbying on the media crisis in Zimbabwe and a strategic communications document for international lobbying purposes that would outline the media crisis in Zimbabwe. Media Rights Agenda was also given the task of helping to organise access for Zimbabwean NGOs to the Commonwealth Peoples Forum taking place alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which took place in Abuja in December 2003.