afrol News, 5 June - The South African President, Thabo Mbeki, is not at ease with the "negative type-casting of Africa." This was revealed in Cape Town where he opened the 60th annual World Newspaper (WAN) Congress. President Mbeki also challenged his Gambian counterpart to stop media harassment.
1,600 delegates from 109 countries are attending the world's biggest gathering of journalists.
President Mbeki appealed to journalists to avoid "negative type-casting of Africa."
Instead, he said, the media should endeavour in sharpening its research methods, ethics and know Africa to the fullest.
"Ensuring peace and security is no longer the assumed province of formerly metropolitan powers, but matters for engagement by Africans themselves," he said.
Mr Mbeki also asked the world's media to conduct itself "in ways that will enhance and not undermine acceptable standards of public morality and good behaviour."
The South African President's call was directed to both governments and media, asking them to "act responsibly."
Mr Mbeki said the onus of responsible reporting of events lies on the media. "Though making up a proud fourth state, which is rightly opposed to any government interference, surely the media also carries the basic responsibilities of citizenship," he said.
President Mbeki was applauded when he admitted challenging President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia for restricting the media in his country.
Trevor Ncube, the President of National Association of Newspapers in South Africa, first hammered President Yahya Jammeh and other African dictators for continuously repressing journalists for merely exposing the truth.
Mr Ncube quoted Mr Jammeh as responding to attacks on journalists by saying "the whole world can go to hell." Mr Ncube scolded President Jammeh for creating a volatile environment characterised by brutality thus resulting to the closure of media institutions and exile of most journalists.
But the South African leader failed short of responding to the media repression in Zimbabwe, despite appeals from Gavin O'Reilly, the President of WAN.
Thabo Mbeki has been tasked by the Southern African Development Committee (SADC) to bring sanity in Zimbabwe. Perhaps, he fears that talking about the Zimbabwean issue might have derailed his efforts to broker peace between President Mugabe and his opposition.
"We readily recognise that the Mugabe regime sees fit to discount any legitimate commentary from the international community, but we hope that a fellow African nation like South Africa can actively encourage real progress and bring normalcy and true liberty to that country," Mr O'Reilly said.
President Mbeki further hailed the efforts of The African Editor's Forum (TAEF) for championing press freedom initiatives in the continent. He said AU and TAEF planned to declare a year of African media freedom and an annual day for media freedom.
Besides, there will be a debate between five African Presidents and five editors during the next AU summit in Ghana.
"This kind of dialogue is new and holds hope for breaking new grounds in extending freedoms and understanding between political leaders and leaders of our media community," he said.
Mr O'Reilly expressed disappointment about the African Union's failure to allow the free and independent press to assess good governance in Africa.
"I would very much hope, Mr President, that you will take a leadership role in trying to convince your colleague heads of state to put this vital question back on the developmental agenda."
WAN chief commended President Mbeki for making sure that "clarity, equity and plurality" of the constitution was passed in South Africa. Gavin was not however happy about recent attempts to limit access to information and free expression, citing the Film and Publications Amendment Bill as an example, which understandably makes the media anxious.
He said it appears the pre-publication censorship on the media legislation was set to be amended after eight months of media protests. Mr O'Reilly also appealed to the South African leader to scrap the legacies of apartheid laws that repress the media.
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