The indelible memories of the year 2020 can never be lost in history giving the havoc that the outbreak of COVID-19 has caused across the globe. The devastating effect of the pandemic has been felt in almost every sphere of life, including the operations of state, private and civil society organisatons. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) was equally impacted in all its operations. The situation, however, did not bring the operations of the MFWA to a standstill.
The organisation remained resolute in executing its mandate and implementing practically all its project activities slated for 2020. Through continuous environmental scanning, strategising and proactive engagements, the organisation was able to turn around the misfortune that COVID-19 would have brought to its operations into significant milestones.
Monitoring Violations, Deepening Digital Rights Appreciation
Through virtual and face-to-face engagements (after the partial/full lockdown imposed by governments in many countries was lifted), the organisation was able to monitor and report on freedom of expression (FOE), media development, and digital rights violations, and other developments across West Africa. Through the monitoring, the MFWA published over 100 reports, statements, alerts, and other articles on freedom of expression and digital rights developments.
Specifically, on digital rights, the organisation produced six research reports on internet-related laws with FOE implications in six francophone countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Niger, and Mali. Also, about 130 female journalists, bloggers, and activists in Ghana received capacity building on digital literacy and women’s rights online.
Improving the Safety of Journalists in West Africa
The organisation also championed safety of journalists advocacy in the region by organising three webinars on the safety of journalists in their line of duty. The MFWA also organised four forums on improving the relationship between the media and security agencies in Ghana and Guinea to help reduce attacks against media personnel by security agencies and bring security agents who fall culprits to book. The organisation also mapped out safety of journalists’ policies and practices among media houses in Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone to inform advocacy interventions. To complement the mapping, a total of 210 journalists were trained on safety of journalists practices in Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
In addition, there were targeted safety of journalists campaigns in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria. The MFWA also championed a number of campaigns, including the one that led to the release of jailed Beninois journalist, Ignace Sossou.
Strengthening the Capacities of Local Government Officials and Journalists on Right to Information
Following the passage of the RTI Law in Ghana, the MFWA has been engaging various assemblies to improve their knowledge and understanding of the law to facilitate proactive information disclosure. In 2020, the organisation trained 50 District Assembly Officials on the said law. As a complementary effort to the trainings, 15 citizens-authorities dialogue programmes were held on radio to enable community members engage the officials of District, Municipal and Metropolitan Assemblies on a number of development issues.
Also, in 15 Districts, the organisation supported local radio stations to produce programmes on accountability and citizens’ voices. This created a platform for citizens to engage duty-bearers and demand responses to the management and utilisation of public resources.
The MFWA also published a guide book on Ghana’s Right to Information Law (Act 989) titled, Essentials of the RTI Law. The book is a toolkit to help journalists, citizens, and information holders understand the Act and how it operates. It is a five-chapter book containing practically all and everything in the Right to Information Act, 2019 (Act 989). It presents an easy understanding of the law and its operations, and empowers the reader to use and assert the law to procure information to which access is guaranteed under the law.
Promoting Issues-based Campaigning and Peaceful Elections in West Africa
2020 was an election year for some West African countries, including Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, and Niger. To contribute to issues-based campaigning and peaceful elections, the MFWA, with support from its funders, engaged in a number of activities. Key among them was the monitoring and reporting of hate speech and other indecent expressions on radio – the most accessible media platform in many West African countries. Close to 100 radio stations were monitored for ethical infractions, use of hate speech, and other incendiary expressions before, during, and after elections in Ghana and Niger. Daily results from the monitoring were collated, analysed, and shared with the public in the form of 25 biweekly and monthly reports.
Countering Fake News, Mis/Disinformation about COVID-19
When COVID-19 broke out, the organisation, again through continuous scanning of the environment identified a major challenge – mis/disinformation about the virus, its spread, and cure. The MFWA engaged some of its funders who supported a project on countering fake news and mis/disinformation on COVID-19 in Ghana. As part of the project, the MFWA partnered 50 national- and local-level radio stations to counter fake news, mis/disinformation, dispel myths and sensitise over 10million Ghanaians about COVID-19. Altogether, close to 200 fact-checked reports and explainers, 14 audio/video documentaries, and about 15 newspaper articles and features were produced.
At the regional level, the MFWA worked with its partner organisations across the region to produce 22 country situational reports on Media and COVID-19 to highlight the impact of COVID-19 on the media industry. All the COVID-19 reports were widely publicised and referenced at national, regional, and international levels.