The right to Freedom of Expression of all persons and that of the media is one of the tenets of democracy guaranteed by the constitution of Ghana.
Though this fundamental human right is enshrined in chapter 12 of the constitution, there are pockets of violations and abuses of these rights by individuals and some members of society with impunity.
This has been a source of concern to many Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organisations which have charted the path of advocating the need for these freedoms to be respected. One of such organisations that has consistently advocated the need to ensure that the right to freedom of expression of all persons is respected, is the Media Foundation for West Africa.
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that has carved a niche for itself in promoting democracy and good governance in Ghana and across the West African sub-region. It has devoted and committed itself to promoting, protecting and defending the right to freedom of expression of all persons and also of the media.
It seeks to ensure that abuses and violations of right to freedom of expression, particularly of individuals and that of the media in West Africa, is curtailed since it is an affront to democracy and good governance.
The organisation, since its inception in 1997 has been working tirelessly to improve media freedom. To achieve this milestone, the Foundation has crafted two main programmes as the pivot around which its activities revolve. These programmes are: “Freedom of Expression,” and “Media, Good Governance and Development”. Some of the activities being carried out in fulfillment of the promotion of freedom of expression programme by the organisation are advocacy on access to information, safety of journalists, law and policy reforms that relate to digital migration, internet freedom and decriminalisation of defamation laws.
The organisation also conducts freedom of expression right monitoring and campaigns as part of the Freedom of Expression programme. This enables the Foundation to report on incidents of violations of free expression across the sub region. These activities are carried out on regular basis in anticipation that both the main stream media and online platforms will be free and open to all, including critical and dissenting voices by the media and individuals in all the 16 countries the Foundation operates in.
The MFWA also performs other activities such as media monitoring where radio stations are monitored to ensure no one uses abusive language on any media platform. This monitoring is the Foundation’s contribution to sanitizing the airwaves and also by way of ensuring cleaner campaigns during electioneering years. All these activities are geared towards creating an enabling environment for the media and society to exercise their right to freedom of expression without any inhibition.
The Foundation believes also, in the ability of a vibrant media to help address some of the developmental and governance challenges facing the region. As a result, the MFWA, under its Media, Good Governance and Development programme, to ensure that the media in the region are more independent and operate professionally. This, the Foundation believes will enable the media contribute to democracy and development in the region. To this end, the MFWA’s main focus is on promoting development reporting on socio –cultural, political and economic issues, including the sustainable development goals. The organisation also promotes media professionalism, investigative journalism and media sustainability as catalysts in promoting good governance and development.
Through its country partners and network of correspondents across West Africa, the Foundation conducts research to enable it substantiate its advocacy activities with empirical facts. Most of the research it undertakes cover freedom of expression situation (online and offline) in the region and participatory governance issues at the local governance level and media professionalism and development.
The MFWA has indeed, chalked some successes in its area of work. It is noted for being a leading crusader and campaigner against abuses and violations of right to freedom of expression in the West African sub region. A typical case in point is its crusade in The Gambia against violation of freedom of expression. It has also defended the right of journalist in the ECOWAS Community Court in Abuja.
In its quest to inform stakeholders and keep them abreast on happenings in the Organisation, the Foundation produces a monthly newsletter called “the Gong Gong”. The newsletter captures all the programmes and activities the Foundation undertakes on a monthly/ quarterly basis.
The activities and programmes. It is ably assisted with funds from its donor partners- Open Society Foundation, IBIS, Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the Canada Embassy in Ghana and Global Partners Digital. The rest include UNESCO and MTN Ghana.
The MFWA is a member of both national and international networks and coalition such as International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), the Right to Information (RTI) Coalition and the African Freedom of Information Center (AFIC).The organisation works in collaboration with these partners to do advocacy on a larger scale.
By Munira Karim, Intern at MFWA