Media watchdogs form African network to champion press freedom

Thirteen African media councils have formed an organisation that will bring independent media content regulators together to discuss media freedom, ethics and public accountability.

In an African first, the Network of Independent Media Councils in Africa (Nimca) has been formed to enable professional media to report freely, without fear of reprisal, while being accountable for upholding ethical standards and codes of practice.

Independent and professional journalism is a critical pillar of society that holds governments and other powerful actors accountable, informs the citizenry and helps them understand their societies and events as they unfold.

Nimca was formed at an inaugural meeting of 13 media councils from East, West and Southern Africa on Thursday. The meeting was convened by the South African Press Council and held in Cape Town.

Nimca calls on independent media regulators in other African countries to join the organisation, which will convene regularly to discuss the strengthening of media freedom, ethics and public accountability across the continent.

The participating regulators agreed that self-regulation is the cornerstone of free, professional and credible media in an evolving communications landscape, where social media is often responsible for unethical and low-quality content.

Nimca’s ethos and operations will be guided by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, issued by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2019.

The Cape Town meeting took place during Africa Month and shortly after World Press Freedom Day. A range of issues was discussed, from the governance of digital platforms and companies, to developing a pan-African media ethics framework, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s (Unesco) principles for a communications regulatory system that fosters ethical and credible journalism.

Trust in the media vital for survival

The regulators emphasised that in jurisdictions where co-regulation is constitutionally stipulated, media councils and similar bodies must be allowed to self-regulate and act independently from government.

They agreed that trust in and credibility of the media is vital for its survival, and that self-regulatory mechanisms are key to upholding professional standards and considering complaints where media fall short of meeting these.

Delegates also highlighted the issue of gender equity and sensitivity in the composition of regulatory bodies. Nimca’s executive body will in future have equal representation of men and women.

Best practices and challenges

Delegates shared their best practices and challenges about press freedom and how to foster ethical journalism in an environment where the media and its regulatory bodies face a crisis of funding and sustainability.

In a fast-changing digital environment, the media regulatory bodies said they need to provide guidance on how media should deal with ethical issues related to the emergence of artificial intelligence, convergence, and the need for new journalism curricula and training models.

Delegates highlighted the risks of social media being treated as a news source by the public, although this environment lacks effective quality standards and ethics.

The media councils recognised the importance of exploring new financial support models for the media to promote, support and sustain journalism and the related independent self-regulation mechanisms in the industry.

The councils urged journalists, photographers and other media practitioners to uphold the basic tenets of journalism to fend off state regulation and punitive measures by those in positions of power.

They also commented on developments in Zambia and welcomed the commitment of the Zambian government to encourage media self-regulation as opposed to state regulation. They urged other countries to repeal repressive laws and policies gagging the media.

In the case of Eswatini, where the government has warned that it may consider statutory regulation, delegates urged stakeholders to vigorously pursue a path towards self-regulation.

Delegates from Unesco also participated in the meeting and reaffirmed the organisation’s commitment to support and collaborate with African media councils in advocating for freedom of expression, universal access to verified information, and safety of journalists and media professionals in line with regional and internationally agreed goals and frameworks.

Nimca will initially be led by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), which also chairs the East Africa Press Council, represented by MCT executive secretary Ernest Sungura. Also on the inaugural executive board are Latiefa Mobara, executive director of the Press Council of South Africa; George Sarpong, executive secretary/CEO of the National Media Commission in Ghana; and Kennedy Mambwe, chairperson of the Media Self-Regulation Council of Zambia.

The MCT will host the 2025 Nimco meeting, with support from Unesco and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and will also act as the organisation’s initial secretariat.

“This is an important day for our media sector and eco-system. For too long our media councils have operated in silos with little engagement or information sharing. In a world that is increasingly connected, but also fracturing into echo chambers, Nimca heralds a new era for building common approaches, deepening media freedom, fostering stronger accountability systems and supporting credible, sustainable journalism across our continent,” says Sungura.

Participants from the following independent media regulatory bodies, some statutory and others non-statutory, participated in the inaugural meeting:

East Africa

  • Media Council of Tanzania
  • Media Council of Kenya
  • Media Council of Uganda
  • Rwanda Media Commission
  • Ethiopia Media Council

West Africa

  • National Media Commission, Ghana
  • Nigerian Press Council

Southern Africa

  • Namibia Media Ombudsman
  • Media Council of Malawi
  • Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe
  • Zimbabwe Media Commission
  • Media Self-Regulation Council of Zambia
  • Press Council of South Africa

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