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ECOWAS ministers adopt a legal framework for freedom of expression and the right to information in west Africa.

ECOWAS ministers adopt a legal framework for freedom of expression and the right to information in west Africa.

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The Ministers in charge of information and communications of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met at the weekend in Abuja to adopt a Supplementary Act for a Uniform Legal Framework on Freedom of Expression and Right to Information in West Africa.   The uniform legal framework which was an initiative of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) had prior to the ministers’ meeting received approval from the meeting of ECOWAS experts in communication and information after extensive discussions and review.

Although some critical sections which sought to expand the frontiers of free expression in the sub-region were removed by the meeting of Ministers, the substantial part of the provisions of the document was accepted and this will certainly go a long way in promoting the right to free expression, the independence of the mass media and the rights of journalists as well as the right to information within the Community.    Two main provisions were removed. They are the section dealing with de-criminalizing and abolishing the offences of criminal libel, sedition, false news and insulting/defaming the President on the one hand and the provision proscribing the bringing of criminal action to protect the reputation of the state.  It was the view of the meeting of experts that such offences were a violation of the right to freedom of expression and were inconsistent with international human right instruments and norms as well as best practice in a democratic society.

Notwithstanding this, the MFWA considers the adoption of the document by the ECOWAS Ministers as historic because by the doctrine of supra-nationality, provided under the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, the framework titled, ‘Supplementary Act on a Uniform Framework for Freedom of Expression and Right to Information’ once signed and adopted by the Heads of States and Government of ECOWAS, becomes effective and applicable in ECOWAS member states.  The MFWA will continue to advocate for the repeal and proscription of such offences that restrict the space for free expression within the region.

As the title suggests, the document is to provide common expansive and libertarian legal framework for free expression, including media freedom, and for the right to information, thereby setting the condition for the reform/repeal of anti free expression legislation in member states of ECOWAS.

Issued by the MFWA, Accra, January 18, 2011

The MFWA is a regional independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Accra. It was founded in 1997 to defend and promote the rights and freedom of the media and all forms of expression.


Alison Meston's picture

Alison Meston


2011-01-19 17:06

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WAN-IFRA’s Declaration of Table Mountain is an earnest appeal to all Africans, particularly those in power, to recognise that political and economic progress flourishes in a climate where the press is free and independent of governmental, political or economic control. Read more ...

The African Press Network (RAP21) is a digital network that supports a strong independent press throughout Africa by sharing, distributing and exchanging information between newspaper publishers, editors, journalists and human rights advocates. Read more ...