- Title: VARIOUS: Journalists in West Africa hit the catwalk seeking greater press freedom
- Date: 7th May 2007
- Summary: MAN READING A NEWSPAPER (2 SHOTS) NEWSPAPER VENDOR IN THE STREET (3 SHOTS)
- Embargoed: 22nd May 2007 13:00
- Topics: Communications,Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVA6MY77MX6LWMTVLW7CIKIR42Q8
- Story Text: As the world marks "Press Freedom Day" Togo has managed to shake off harsh laws that violate press freedom and no longer allows the imprisonment of journalists, but neighbouring Benin is still struggling to decriminalize their media law. Recently journalists from the region gathered in Benin to discuss ways to promote press freedom in their respective countries.
There are 60 radios stations, six TV stations and 200 newspapers operating in Togo. But although the constitution provides for freedom of the press, the government does not follow this in practice. Journalists are still subject to harassment and legal action.
But there is now some cause for celebration. The media law has been ammended so that 'press offences' cannot be punishable by imprisonment.
Before the law was passed, 'contempt of the Head of State' was punishable by a prison sentence of one to five years or a 5 million CFA francs fine.
Journalists here see the law as a positive step towards creating more freedom for the press in their country.
"Fortunately, this new law has arrived and we have since then noticed that our colleagues are no longer put in jail, I can say that we commend this new law," says Tchabode Bouraima, a journalist in Lome.
"At the psychological level, we are freed. Journalists are not afraid to write their stories and to be thrown to jail anymore," added Augustin AmÃ©gan, the Secretary General of the press union of Togo.
Media watchdogs say press freedom is still an unachieved goal in Africa, with independent journalists battling censorship and violent attacks.
"We have highlighted the top ten countries where we feel that press freedom and the rights and working conditions of journalists are actually deteriorating. Unfortunately, five of the countries on this list are actually on the African continent. Three from Sub-Saharan Africa and two from North Africa," said Robert Mahoney, the Deputy Director of the Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York.
The media rights body Reporters Without Borders says press freedom is better in neighboring Benin than in many African countries.
But harsh libel laws have been used against journalists, and unlike Togo, journalists are still working in fear of imprisonment.
Journalists and rights groups have been struggling to have the government decriminalize press offences.
"Presently, there are two sides. One side is in favour of the decriminalization and the other is against it. We have to find a common ground in order to have a solid and reliable document, but I am in favour of the decriminalization," says Alain Assogba chief editor of 'La nouvelle Tribune' in Benin.
Some people are worried that if this happens, journalists may lose their integrity.
"Sure it has to be decriminalized, but we also have to find a way to make journalists more accountable," says Ludovic Guedenon, a journalist in Benin.
Recently, journalists from Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Togo came to Benin to create awareness on press issues.
On a lighter note, they held a fashion show dubbed 'Press on the Catwalk' having journalists model clothes from top designers.
"Our job is already stressful enough. The politicians see us journalists as pyromaniacs and it was time to show them that we can be useful because if on top of the stress caused by the job we start to think about the long list of all our colleagues who have passed away, its going to be a disaster. It is time we add some fun to our job," says Abiath Oumarou, a journalist and the organizer of the show.
The only condition for entering the show was that the contestants had to be journalists.
It was good fun for the participants but it was also a chance for them to share their experiences so that they could help improve conditions for journalists back home.
The United Nations set aside May 3rd to raise awareness of the importance of freedom of the press and to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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