150 African Journalists Honor Norbert Zongo in Ouagadougou

Thursday, April 19, 2007
150 journalists from the African continent met in the capital city of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on 11 April 2007, in the second International Festival of Freedom of Expression (FILEP) organized by the Bukinabe union of journalists in collaboration with the civil society organizations and their National Assembly. The theme for this year’s festival was ‘Strengthening democracy through safeguarding freedom of expression and the press’.

This has been the second festival since the idea was conceived two years ago, in commemoration of the death of Norbert Zongo, a well known journalist who lived and worked in Burkina Faso until he was killed by the oppressors of freedom of expression on 13 December 1998.

In his opening speech Chereff Sy, Chairman of the Steering Committee of FILEP, told the participants that freedom of expression cannot be suppressed if democracy is to flourish. He called on the government of Burkina Faso to do all within their power to bring the killers of Zongo to book. He lamented that it was nine years that day, since Zongo was murdered, plunging his widow and children into sorrow.

Among other speakers at the opening was the President of the West African Journalist Association (WAJA) Ibrahim Coulibaly. He underscored the importance of responsible journalism. He went further to say that a world without journalists would be a meaningless world. A special tribute was paid to Norbert Zongo and to Deyda Hydara of The Gambia. A minute’s silence was observed.

In delivering a paper on the occasion, Pauline Bend the programme officer of Panos Institute for West Africa, told the participants that there has been much violation of media rights including use of threats, sentencing of journalists, and even killing journalists in this part of our continent. “Freedom of speech requires guarantee from governments.” She called for stronger regulations to protect journalists if they are to do their jobs effectively and fearlessly.

Pauline whose paper is on strategy for the promotion and protection of journalists & media organizations, said press organizations cannot survive if they lack strong economic resources as well as human resources. She said if there is to be any head way, that aspect has to be addressed. She noted further that there are weaknesses in the area of training. A good promotion should go with training. Responsible journalism is what is needed. She concluded her presentation by saying that the media should consolidate pluralism, and that failure of that is what results in the difficulty of consolidating democracy.

Saidou Arji of the Media Foundation for West Africa said media and human rights organizations are strategic allies. He gave the case of the former Liberian leader as an example of the alliance between the two, which resulted in the trial of Charles Taylor. He told the gathering that the struggle against impunity should be one of collaboration between human rights defenders and the media.

He concluded by warning that one should bear in mind that human rights defenders, freedom of expression defenders are unavoidable strategic allies. He called for stronger cooperation between the two.

Chereff Sy also a member of the Burkina journalists union and member of the steering committee of FILEP said in his presentation that journalists are subjected to threats and to the point of killing them. He gave the case of Norbert Zongo as a case of practical examples. Zongo was killed for no crime other than informing the public. He was killed and buried on the 13 December 1998, about a 100 Km from the capital Ouagadougou. Sy said killing journalists’ impacts on freedom of expression. He said most of our colleagues assassinated never saw justice as in most of the cases the killers is still freely roaming our streets. One. That is a very clear indication that there is no freedom of expression in such countries.

Freedom of expression is the spinal cord of all rights. If a State protects freedom of expression that means all other rights are protected. He recalled what was said during the opening ceremony that denunciations of violations of rights must be put into practice. Sy was speaking on the topic ‘Ending impunity’.

In his contribution to the debate, the President of the Gambia Press Union and director of Media Agenda said like the Secretary of the African Union said, “We the journalists should not be content with observing press releases any time one of us is killed nor have our rights violated.

We should as an international body of journalists resolves security problems to stop the mess, by taking our cases before international bodies”.
Author: By Madi M.K. Ceesay
Source: The Daily Observer
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