FOI Act: Where His Lordship Got It Wrong

By Edetaen Ojo[1]

In a recent ruling, his lordship, Justice Gabriel O. Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja suggested that the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 was somehow defective because it provides in Section 1(2) that an applicant seeking information from a public institution should not be required to demonstrate his or her interest in that information and called on the National Assembly to amend the Law to restrict its application.

Delivering his ruling in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/402/2013: Between Paradigm Initiative Nigeria vs. Dr. Reuben Abati, his lordship declared confidently, but unfortunately, quite erroneously, that there is no “country in the world, where access to all forms of public records are thrown open even to an Applicant who is not required to show any specific interest in the information requested from a public body.”

Perhaps, if his lordship had been more circumspect on a matter which, by his own admission, he is not very knowledgeable about or if he had focused strictly on the issue that was before him or if he had invited counsel in the matter to first address him on the issue, he would not have fallen into such a grave error.

It is clear from reading through the ruling that although the issue was not even before him, his lordship had an intense desire to express his unhappiness with the Freedom of Information Act as most of his ruling dwelt on extraneous issues, which unfortunately betrayed his lack of understanding of the applicable principles and the specific provisions of the Law.

It is now well established under international law that the right of access to information is a human right which States are obliged to give effect to through appropriate legislation.  This view is now well settled in a string of decisions of international courts, most notably the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Claude Reyes and Others vs. Chile, delivered on September 19, 2006.  The judgment is available at: http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/casos/articulos/seriec_151_ing.doc.

Being a human right, people should not be required to give reasons for seeking to exercise or enjoy their human right, in the same way no one should be required to give a reason before they can exercise or enjoy the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, personal liberty, freedom from torture or any other fundamental right.

Indeed, in Claude Reyes case, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights held in Paragraph 77 of the decision that every person has a right to request information while states are under a positive obligation to provide it, adding that “The information should be provided without the need to prove direct interest or personal involvement in order to obtain it, except in cases in which a legitimate restriction is applied.”

Most countries with FOI Laws have this basic principle incorporated in their laws to allow anyone to request information without having to demonstrate any interest in the information.  Indeed, in some countries such as Finland, the Law specifically allows people to make anonymous requests to ensure that requesters are not discriminated against.

To give a few examples, stipulations that requesters need not provide reasons for their requests or demonstrate any interest in the information requested can be found in the FOI laws of the following countries: Serbia – Article 15(4); India – Section 6(2); Liberia – Section 3.2; Mexico – Article 40; South Africa – Section 11(3); Finland – Article 13(1); Uganda – Article 6; United Kingdom – Section 8; Sweden – Article 14(3); Brazil – Article 10(3); Australia – Article 11(2); Canada – Section 6; among dozens of others.

His lordship’s assertion that no country in the world allows people access to information without requiring them to demonstrate specific interest in the information requested, could therefore not be more wrong.

Not only do most FOI Laws specifically stipulate that persons seeking information should not be required to demonstrate a specific interest or need for the information, this is indeed one of the defining principles of such laws.  It is also one of the attributes of a good and strong FOI Law such that what his lordship is proposing effectively amounts to urging the National Assembly to weaken the Nigerian Freedom of Information Act.

FOI laws are guided by a set of principles, which define the strength and quality of such Laws.  The very first set of Principles were drawn up by ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship, in London in 1999. Titled: “The Public’s Right to Know: Principles on Freedom of Information Legislation,” the Principles were subsequently endorsed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression as well as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

The Principles state that: “Public bodies have an obligation to disclose information and every member of the public has a corresponding right to receive information. Everyone present in the territory of the country should benefit from this right. The exercise of this right should not require individuals to demonstrate a specific interest in the information.” (Emphasis supplied)

Finally, his lordship’s proposition, if anyone were to actually attempt to give effect to the idea, is so untenable that it would be difficult to implement in any reasonable, practical or effective manner.

The idea would require that the National Assembly provides within the amended FOI Act a list of every conceivable reason or purpose that would be sufficiently acceptable or justifiable to entitle any person seeking information access to the information.  This is because if a person seeking information has to demonstrate a specific interest in the information or justify his or her need for the information, that interest or need would have to fall within a list of such reasons or needs that are recognized by the Law.

People seek information for such widely varied reasons, including a simple desire just to know, that it is difficult to imagine how the Law would approach such an exercise.  Going by his lordship’s views, the need or desire to know would, of course, not be an acceptable reason under this new FOI regime that he envisages.

An alternative could be having the National Assembly prescribe some standards that the interest or need stated by the person seeking information has to meet or satisfy.  Consequently, the Law would also have to give officials in all public institutions the discretion to determine if the stated interest or need meets or satisfies those standards.

In effect, officials of public institutions would have the right and power to say if your reason for seeking information is acceptable to them and, if not, to deny you the information.  It is not difficult to imagine how such a provision would be applied.

His lordship also expressed the view in his ruling that the FOI Act creates “a situation where scarce public resources, time and energy are permitted to be squandered in attending to a request for information which the person applying for it need not show that he needs”

It is quite unfortunate that his lordship considers it a waste of public resources, time and energy for public institutions to attend to the information needs of citizens and is unable to see the inherent benefits of a public policy which enables and indeed encourages citizens to demand accountability of their institutions and obliges those institutions to be transparent and accountable.

It has not been shown and indeed public institutions are not suggesting that operating a FOI regime in Nigeria has resulted in any substantial increase in costs to the government and other public authorities because most government agencies and departments in the country already have existing mechanisms for record keeping, although they might not be very efficient.  But even if the public institutions have to spend significant resources to improve their record-keeping and be accountable to citizens, such resources cannot be said to have been wasted by any stretch of the imagination.

The minimal cost element that may have arisen as a result of the enactment and implementation of the FOI Act would be justifiable given the immense benefits which a regime of access to information brings to the society by instituting greater transparency, accountability and efficiency.  Such costs ought to be seen by the government and his lordship in the light of the capacity of a Freedom of Information Act to advance democracy and enhance public participation. In addition, as time progresses and the public institutions become more efficient in their record keeping and in handling requests for information, the cost issues will reduce progressively.

The position of his lordship on these issues highlights the fact that while a good number of judges in Nigeria have made tremendous efforts to empower themselves on the jurisprudence of access to information laws, there is a burning need for the proper training of judges on what Justice Kolawole himself described in his ruling as “the novel nature of the rights” created by the FOI Act.  It is hoped that the National Judicial Institute (NJI) will take up this challenge and work with various interest groups sufficiently knowledgeable in this area to meet this need, which could be potentially embarrassing to the Judiciary if not addressed.



[1] Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos is a former Chair of the Steering Committee of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), based in Kampala, Uganda, and is a member of the Working Group of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), in Windhoek, Namibia.

Press Statement: Judge Calls on National Assembly to Restrict Application of FOI Act

A Federal High Court judge sitting in Abuja, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, has called on the National Assembly to amend the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 to prevent persons who do not need information for specific reasons from applying for such information.

The judge said the Act at present had created legal rights without a corresponding legal duty, adding that this would “create a situation where scarce public resources, time and energy are permitted to be squandered in attending to a request for information which the person applying for it need not show that he needs.”

Justice Kolawole expressed the views in a ruling declining to grant leave to a non-governmental organization, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) in a suit seeking an order of mandamus to compel the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, to disclose to the organization detailed information on the multi-million dollar contract awarded sometime in April 2013 to an Israeli company, Elbit Systems, to monitor internet communication in Nigeria.

The Stop Impunity Nigeria (S.I.N.) Campaign filed a Motion Ex-Parte on behalf of Paradigm Initiative on June 5, 2013, seeking leave of the court to apply for:

  • A declaration that the denial of access and refusal to make available to PIN detailed information on the contract awarded to Elbit Systems, a company based in Haifa, Israel,  for the supply of the Wise Intelligence Technology  System for Intelligence Analysis and Cyber Defence for Nigeria by Dr Abati without an explanation constitutes an infringement  of PIN’s rights  guaranteed and protected  by section 1 (1) of the Freedom Information Act, 2011.
  • A declaration that the continued refusal of Dr Abati to make the information available to PIN despite the organization’s demand violates section 4 of the Freedom Information Act.
  • An order of mandamus compelling Dr. Abati to make the information available to PIN.

PIN’s lawyer, Mr. Kelechi Nnajiaka argued the motion on June 6, after which Justice Kolawole adjourned his ruling to enable him “garner sufficient judicial decisions” on the provisions of the “novel” legislation.

Ruling on the motion, Justice Kolawole noted that in his written address, Mr. Nnajiaka had referred to the provisions of Order 34 Rule 3(1) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009 and submitted that under the Freedom of Information Act, an applicant “needs not demonstrate any specific interest in the information being applied for”.

Disagreeing with the view, the judge said unless adequate statutory safeguards are embedded in the Act, the underlying intention of the government when it enacted the Law may be undermined or subverted as “irate individuals or busy bodies will abuse the rights which it has created with regard to information on public administration.”

Saying he should not be “seen as an advocate for a restrictive or secretive process in public administration”, Justice Kolawole claimed that there is no “country in the world where access to all forms of public records are thrown open even to an Applicant who is not required to show any specific interest in the information requested from a public body.”

He insisted that “the responsibility to use the Act by Nigerians responsibly as an instrument to ensure transparency in governance should not be left so loose and at large without any form of checks and perhaps, balances.”

According to him, “The checks or safeguards may be legislative in nature or judicial in form as was the case in the provision of Order 34 Rule 3(4) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009 which requires an Applicant for any of the prerogative orders for judicial review to demonstrate that he has ‘sufficient interest in the subject matter to which the application for leave relates’”.

Noting that the “safety valve as a judicial instrument to prevent abuse of a resort to the provision of Order 34 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2009 has been exempted from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act,” Justice Kolawole stressed that: “it is my view that it is also part of transparency that rights created by enactments such as the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 are themselves not abused by irate litigants or those one may describe as ‘busy bodies’”.

He said: “I really cannot see any logic in terms of correlative duties and of jural relations between an Act that creates and vests a right in a person on the one hand, and the same Act, on the other, states that such person does not have to demonstrate any specific interest in the information being applied for!  The Act has created legal rights without a corresponding legal duty.  This is to create a situation where scarce public resources, time and energy are permitted to be squandered in attending to a request for information which the person applying for it need not show that he needs if it he is excused by the Act from showing that he has any specific interest in the information being applied for.”

Justice Kolawole called on the National Assembly to undertake “a review of the Act so as to ensure that access to information is only made available to such Applicants who genuinely need it for specific purpose(s).”

The judge noted that reading through the processes filed on behalf of PIN in the case, the Applicant merely stated in paragraph (iii) of the Statement filed that the Respondent is the “Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity” but did not state that the Respondent in that capacity was being sued as one who awarded the contract in issue.

The judge also questioned whether it was sufficient for Dr. Abati to be sued for being a “Special Adviser” to the President on Media and Publicity, when he has not been shown under any law to be involved in the award of the contact on which information is being requested.

He said he was not aware of any legislation by which the “Office of a Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity” was created as to make “the Respondent as sued in the Motion Ex-parte to be seen as a public body, authority or officer who is prima facie amendable to prerogative orders of mandamus which are judicial instruments to enforce the performance of public duties.”

Justice Kolawole held that “it will be an injudicious exercise of  my discretion, pursuant to the provisions of Order 34 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rule, 2009 to proceed by granting leave to the Applicant to apply for an order of mandamus against a Respondent who has not been sued or shown to be a public institution or authority, and even as an ‘officer of the Federal Government in charge of information’, that has not been shown to have awarded any contract and to be amenable to the issuance of prerogative writs of mandamus to compel the performance of a public duty after a refusal to do so has been established.”

He said for these reasons, he was “unable to accede to the Applicant’s Motion Ex-parte” and therefore struck out the Motion.

For further information, please contact:

Edetaen Ojo
Executive Director
Media Rights Agenda
Email:  edet@mediarightsagenda.net

NGOs Call on Federal Government to Take Urgent Steps to Qualify for Open Government Partnership

Tuesday, July 23, 2013: Three Nigerian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), today called on the Federal Government and its relevant agencies to take urgent steps to comply with the eligibility requirements of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global initiative launched on 20 September 2011 to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

The three organizations working in the areas of transparency and accountability in governance – Media Rights Agenda (MRA), BudgIT Nigeria, and Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) – are convinced that Nigeria’s inability to meet OGP’s eligibility requirements constitutes a major slur on the country’s image and reputation, particularly in the light of the fact that six other African countries are already members of the OGP.

In November 2012, Nigeria indicated its interest in joining the OGP. Since then, however, the country has been unable to meet the minimum requirements of transparent, effective and accountable governance to be eligible to join the multilateral initiative.

Countries intending to join the OGP are required to secure a minimum score of 12 points out of 16 to be eligible.  The 16 points are shared equally across four areas in the country’s governance system and processes, namely Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Income and Public Asset Disclosure by Elected or Senior Public Officials, and Citizen Engagement.

Nigeria has only been able to muster 10 points and is thereby ineligible for OGP membership, although other African countries like South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania and Malawi are already members of the global initiative that currently has 60 member countries.

Nigeria’s non-qualification arises mainly as a result of the fact that there is no open disclosure of audit reports of public accounts; assets disclosures made by public officers are not publicly available while incomes are not disclosed; and government engagement with citizens is considered inadequate.

With the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 2011, Nigeria has the full four points available in the area of Access to Information, which is an aspect of membership that gives effect to citizens’ right to information.  Under the OGP framework, four points are awarded to countries with access to information laws in place; three points are awarded if a country has a constitutional provision guaranteeing access to information; and one point is awarded if a country has a draft access to information law under consideration.

However, Nigeria’s performance in the three other categories has been insufficient to enable it meet the minimum eligibility criteria.

In the area of Fiscal Transparency, Nigeria’s score is only two points out of a possible four points based on a number of shortcomings in its constitutional and legal frameworks as well as institutional practices.

Nigeria publishes the Executive budget proposals publicly with a sample available online on the Budget Office website; the budget proposals also conform to the Fiscal Responsibility Act while the 2013 budget was presented by October 2012. However, there is no explicit requirement under the Fiscal Responsibility Act for an audit report of public accounts to be made publicly available.  Besides, in practice, there is no record of public availability of the audit report.

In addition, although the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation is an autonomous body under the 1999 Constitution, it does not enjoy fiscal autonomy like other independent bodies of the government while its budgetary allocation has recently faced decline with its audit reports not acted upon by the National Assembly.

With respect to asset declarations and disclosure of incomes, Nigeria has two points out of a possible four points under the OGP assessment because although it has a law which requires declaration of assets by elected and senior officials, the declarations are not made public or publicly available while incomes are also not disclosed.

Despite the provisions of Paragraph 3 of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) shall “retain custody of such declarations and make them available for inspection by any citizen of Nigeria on such terms and conditions as the National Assembly may prescribe” and the existence of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011, the CCB has refused to make declaration of assets available to members of the public, claiming that the National Assembly has not made any law or regulation for their disclosure.

Nigeria was also only able to muster two out of a possible four points in the area of citizen engagement, which requires that policy-making and the entire governance framework should be open to civic participation and engagement.   We note in particular that even on the issue of Nigeria’s proposed membership of the OGP, there is hardly any citizen engagement on the issue with the result that there is widespread ignorance about it within the general populace as well as about its desirability benefits.

The organisations said in their view, Nigeria has a number of realistic paths for improving its transparency and accountability frameworks and bringing about improvements in governance. These will also enable it to meet the OGP minimum eligibility criteria and begin the process of membership.

They therefore called on the Federal Government and the relevant agencies to pursue these options with sincerity and commitment, namely:

  • Ensure that audit reports of public accounts, particularly by the Auditor-General of the Federation, are proactively disclosed and made available to members of the public.
  • Ensure that incomes of all categories of public officers are proactively disclosed as required by Section 2(3)(d)(vi) of the Freedom of Information Act and other applicable laws.
  • The Code of Conduct Bureau should bring itself into compliance with the Freedom of Information Act by acceding to requests from members of the public for it to disclose asset declarations in its custody submitted by elected and senior government officials, which constitute information maintained by it as a public institution within the meaning of the Act.
  • Improve citizen participation and civic engagement in policy-making and in all aspects of governance, including around the issue of Nigeria’s membership of the OGP.

Signed:

Mr. Edetaen Ojo
Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Lagos

Ms Seember Nyager
Chief Executive Officer, Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC), Abuja

Mr. Oluseun Onigbinde
Team Lead, BudgIT Nigeria, Lagos

National Assembly Drafts Bills for Constitutional Amendment

As part of the ongoing constitution review process, both Chambers of the National Assembly have produced separate draft amendments to the 1999 Constitution.

The draft amendments follow hundreds of memoranda submitted by individuals and interest groups as well as a series of public hearings conducted at the national level and in various parts of the country in 2012 by the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Click here to download the Draft Amendments to the 1999 Constitution proposed by the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution.

Click here to download the Senate’s Bill for an Act to Further Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and for Other Matters Connected Therewith, 2013.

CGAP Calls for Photo Entries

The Washington D. C based Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), is calling for entries for its 2013 photo contest. The contest is aimed at highlighting stand-out photography from amateurs and professionals around the world depicting poverty alleviation and transformation through financial inclusion.

CGAP is looking for original, striking images that illustrate the complex financial lives of people living in poverty and how financial inclusion makes a difference.

Photos may represent a range of products, institutions, and methodologies, and may touch on a broad range of social, economic, developmental, and technological issues. CGAP encourage entries from all regions, in both rural and urban settings. The grand prize is a $2,000 gift certificate for photography equipment and accessories.

CCAP works towards a world where everyone has financial access to the financial services they need to improve their lives. CGAP develops innovative solutions for financial inclusion through practical research and active engagement with financial service provider, policy makers, and funders.

CGAP which was established in 1995 and housed at the World Bank creates a platform for the poor to access finance.

All entries should be submitted online at cgap.org/photocontest between June 26 and October 2, 2013.

PAP Adopts Declaration to Launch Press Freedom Initiative in Africa

The Pan African Parliament (PAP) has adopted a declaration to launch a campaign with the theme “Press Freedom for Development and Governance: Need for Reform” in all five Regions of Africa.  The Parliament also decided to establish an annual “PAP Award on Media Freedom in Africa” for individuals, organizations and Member States as well as an annual“PAP Index on Media Freedom in Africa”.

The parliament adopted these decisions at its Dialogue on Media Freedom in Africa held on May 15, 2013 in the Pan-African Parliament in Midrand, South Africa.

The PAP at its dialogue considered Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which guarantees everyone the rights to receive information and to express and disseminate his/her opinions within the law.

It acknowledged the Windhoek Declaration of 1991 which promotes an Independent and Pluralistic African Press and has stated explicitly the Right of Freedom of expression and information for every individual;

It also noted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa 2002, the Declaration of Table Mountain 2007, the African Charter on Broadcasting 2001, and the Declaration of the African Platform on Access to Information 2011.

The Parliament also considered the Protocol to the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Relating to the Pan-African Parliament (PAP), which states in the objectives of the Parliament that it shall, among other things: “Promote the principles of human rights and democracy in Africa and “Encourage good governance, transparency and accountability in Member States”.

It congratulated the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) for its commitment to promote the right to freedom of expression by appointing a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa by the Resolution ACHPR/Res.71 (XXXVI)04.

The PAP called upon AU Member States to use the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Right (ACHPR) Model Law on Access to Information in adopting or reviewing access to information laws.  It also requested Development Partners to support the implementation of the related Resolutions with assistance and support.

 

IRCE And FOJO Publish Online Report On Exiled Media

Inter-Media Research and Consulting Europe (IRCE) and FOJO Media Institute (FOJO) have published online, an in-depth report on the challenges and training needs of exiled media practitioners.

The purpose of the report is to assess the status and professional, ethical quality of work output of FOJO’s exiled media partners. The report looks at the challenges and skill gaps they face and to identify training needs. The report also provides a baseline to measure the impact and outcome of embarked training.

The report titled independent media in exile; A baseline consultation, states that in 2011, the year of the Arab Spring and large scale street protests, the number of reporters killed rose by 16% , arrests almost doubled, with attacks and threats to journalists up by 43% and kidnappings up by a third.

The report also states that there was a 10% increase from the previous year in the number of countries routinely experiencing state censorship. The result of which, many journalists have been forced to flee their countries and operate from exile in order to carry on their work as reporters.

It indicated that a large number of particularly independent exile media organisation currently generate revenue through non-donor funding streams. Funding challenge has led a number of independent exiled media organisations to question the likelihood of achieving sustainability. The report signified that the challenge from culture and language barriers affect their application for funding since it hinders them from effectively explaining their unusual business models to donors.

It also noted that aside financial challenges, they also face staffing challenges. These have emerged in four areas which are; recruitment and retention, workload, and time management, awareness of media standards and free lance volunteering.

The report expressed the need for donors and trainers to address the expressed technical requirements and organisational challenges of the participating media organisations. The report suggested that trainers can assist exile media organisations  by helping them understand the composition and information needs of their varied target audience including donors.

FOJO has trained 50,000 journalists from more than 90 countries and has, as a core competence, the creation and development of independent media institutes in countries as diverse as Palestine, Sri Lanka, Belarus and Zimbabwe.

FOJO has been commissioned to design and deliver a three-year programme of training interventions to strengthen the organisational capacity of their partners in exile, with funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

IRCE is an independent non-profit research centre, providing insight-driven research in developing countries. IRCE conducts applied research, technical training and knowledge-sharing workshops globally.

Inter media and FOJO believe this report will stimulate and encourage others to ask important questions about how they design and deliver journalism training, both now and in the future.

For more on this report, click here.

IREX Releases Africa’s MSI 2013 Index

The International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX)  on June 27, 2013 released its latest Africa Media Sustainability Index (MSI). IREX found out that traditional media still remains the preferred source of news.

By “sustainability” IREX refers to the ability of media to play its vital role as the “fourth estate.” How sustainable is a media sector in the context of providing the public with useful, timely, and objective information? How well does it serve as a facilitator of public discussion?

To measure this, the MSI assesses five “objectives” that shape a media system: freedom of speech, professional journalism, plurality of news, business management, and supporting institutions.

Comparing 2013 with 2010’s index, IREX found out that Africa’s overall average remained static. However, a noticeable jump took place in the Plurality of News objective, with the continental average standing at 2.05, up from 1.99. Offsetting this gain, however, was a drop of .11 in the Business Management continental objective.

The MSI has recorded progress and setbacks since 2007. Gains have been made in press freedoms, as journalists face fewer overt challenges to free speech. Countries adopting the Declaration of Table Mountain, which decriminalizes libel, have further improved.

Business management practices have suffered as revenues dropped during the global economic slowdown. Fears of losing advertising revenues are pervasive, such that editorial and advertising interests often intersect in newsrooms.

The report also shows that in Mali, journalists perceive the online media to be at an infant level. In Botswana a participant for this research stated that his colleagues do not use the online resources adequately for the purpose of gathering and disseminating news.

In Malawi, online advertising seem to be gaining ground but its profitability comes into question. For Namibia it was gathered that the lack of local language creates a huge barrier for many especially regarding content online.

South Africa remains the region’s best performer, despite backsliding in recent years, followed by Namibia and Ghana. Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan were considered unsustainable, demonstrating severe problems with free speech, the quality of journalism, and absence or weakness of supportive institutions of a free media environment.

On the MSI graph for Nigeria, professional Journalism saw a rise from 2.00 in 2010 to 2.17 in 2013, plurality of news source fell by 1 from its 2.25 in 2010 to 2.24 in 2013, business management fell drastically from 2.14 in 2010 to 1.78 in 2013, same for supporting institutions which was 2.70 in 2010 and now 2.59.

IREX is an international nonprofit organization providing leadership and innovative programs to improve the quality of education, strengthen independent media, and foster pluralistic civil society development.

IREX designs education programs and provides consulting that support lifelong learning. Programs focus on primary and secondary levels, through higher education, and continuing into professional training.

IREX media projects work with local partners to advance the professionalism and long-term economic sustainability of newspapers, radio, television, and new media. Working in transitional, conflict and post-conflict and repressive environments, IREX uses specialized training, tailored consulting, and small grants to build skills for balanced, investigative reporting, better media management, and advocacy for press freedom.

Click here for more on the MSI Scores

WIPO Adopts Treaty for Visually Impaired, Disabled Persons

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on June 27, 2013 adopted a landmark new treaty that boosts access to books for the benefit of hundreds of millions of people who are blind, visually impaired and print-disabled.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry congratulates Ambassador Selim Kulneralp of Turkey, who presided over a key negotiating committee at the conference. Photo: Emmanuel Berrod/WIPO

The treaty, approved after more than a week of intense debate among negotiators gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, is the culmination of years of work on improving access for the blind, visually impaired, and print disabled to published works in formats such as Braille, large print text and audio books.

“This treaty is a victory for the blind, visually impaired and print disabled, but also for the multilateral system. With this treaty, the international community has demonstrated the capacity to tackle specific problems, and to agree a consensus solution. This is a balanced treaty, and represents a very good arbitration of the diverse interests of the various stakeholders,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.

The treaty, called the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or otherwise Print Disabled, addresses the “book famine” by requiring its contracting parties to adopt national law provisions that permit the reproduction, distribution and making available of published works in accessible formats through limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright right holders.

“There are no winners and no losers, this is a treaty for everyone,” said Morocco’s Minister of Communications and Government Spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi.

The treaty also provides for the exchange of these accessible format works across borders by organizations that serve the people who are blind, visually impaired, and print disabled.

 It will harmonize limitations and exceptions so that these organizations can operate across borders. This sharing of works in accessible formats should increase the overall number of works available because it will eliminate duplication and increase efficiency.

Instead of five countries producing accessible versions of the same work, the five countries will each be able to produce an accessible version of a different work, which can then be shared with each of the other countries.

Currently, it is left to national governments to define what limitations and exceptions are permitted.

In practice, limitations and exceptions contained in national laws vary widely. In many countries copying for private use is free, but only a few countries make exceptions for, say, distance learning. Moreover, the exemptions apply only in the country concerned.

The treaty is also designed to provide assurances to authors and publishers that that system will not expose their published works to misuse or distribution to anyone other than the intended beneficiaries.

The treaty reiterates the requirement that the cross-border sharing of works created based on limitations and exceptions must be limited to certain special cases which do not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work and do not unreasonable prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder.

The treaty calls for cooperation among its contracting parties in order to foster cross-border exchanges.

The parties are committed to increasing the availability of published works as quickly as possible, and this cooperation will be an important step toward achieving that goal.

IFEX, HRNJ-Uganda Protest Police Attacks, Call End to Impunity

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and of its members, the Human Rights Network for Journalists, Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), have protested against violations of freedom of expression and assembly in Uganda.

In a letter dated June 6, 2013 to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, the IFEX members pointed out its concern, particularly about the beating and arrest of the Coordinator and Chair of an IFEX member organisation – the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). The Ugandan Police arrested HRNJ-Uganda’s National Coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, during protests about media closures in Uganda on May 28, 2013.

IFEX in a joint letter with HRNJ-Uganda, described how the HRNJ-Uganda’s National Coordinator, Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, was arrested alongside two other journalists, Mulindwa Mukasa and William Ntege. The letter also said that Ssebagala was freed shortly after and the other two were subsequently released on bail, having been charged with “incitement to violence.”

The group pointed out how on May 28, 2013 the police violently dispersed a crowd of journalists and activists who had camped outside the Monitor Publications Limited, whose offices have been taken over by police despite a court order for the police to vacate the premises.

Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, National Coordinator HRNJ-Uganda

The joint letter said “In addition to those arrested, other journalists suffered injuries as a result of the brutality, including a foreign journalist who was hit with a baton on her left eye. Other journalists injured include Bahati Remmy of NBS television and Sudhir Byaruhanga of NTV (a sister media house to The Daily Monitor), among others.

The group said that “The journalists led by HRNJ-Uganda had walked to the Namuwongo area of Kampala on the morning of  28 May 2013 and camped outside the Monitor offices to show solidarity and demand that the government re-open the Daily Monitor, Dembe FM, K-FM and Red Pepper.

These media outlets were raided and shut down on 20 May by security forces, who were searching for a controversial letter authored by the coordinator of security services about an alleged presidential succession plot”.

IFEX and the HRNJ network urged the president in the letter to investigate the pattern of police violence and hold those responsible accountable; drop charges of “incitement to violence” against journalists Mulindwa Mukasa and William Ntege; and uphold the principles of the resolution supporting a press freedom campaign that was launched at the Pan African Parliament (PAP) in May 2013, which was supported by Uganda.