Meeting on media, conflict ends (Thursday Feb 11, 2009 pg 16)

A regional meeting on the Media, Conflict and Democracy in Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member states has ended in Accra.
The participants expressed concern with the military's temptation to intervene in politics, as well as the manipulation of national constitutions and electoral laws, describing the situation as a looming threat to democracy and security in some countries in the region.
In a nine-point communiqué that established a West African Forum of Media Practitioners to promote democracy, peace and security in the region, the meeting noted with satisfaction the improved peace and security in the region, which it said augured well for the regional integration agenda.
It consequently set up a five-member steering committee comprising of media practitioners from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau to promote democracy, peace and security.
The two-day meeting was organised by the ECOWAS Commission in partnership with Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).
The meeting, among other objectives, was aimed at mainstreaming conflict prevention in media practice in ECOWAS member states through the adoption of regional norms and standards on hate media and democracy for media practitioners.
It had participants drawn from journalist associations, media training institutions, media commissions and civil society groups in West Africa
The meeting, in an nine-point communiqué, underscored the peace education role of the media as imperative to the cultivation and deepening of a culture of peace in member states.
It expressed concern about the prosecution of journalists in the Gambia and condemned the infringement of the rights of journalist in the country, calling on the government to "ensure the safety of all categories of media practitioners in line with the rule of law".
It noted that it was essential for media practitioners to play a leading role in breaking colonial barriers to the reportage of regional issues by developing the capacity to think regionally while acting locally.
It urged media practitioners to commit themselves to the ideals of regional integration and common community citizenship based on shared values whiles enjoining the media to commit to " responsible, responsive, objective, factual and circumspect reportage of sensitive events".
The meeting also urged ECOWAS to set up a media commission at the ECOWAS headquarters to advise the commission on the institutionalised involvement of the media in ECOWAS programmes.
It also recommended the need for ECOWAS to urge member states to enact Freedom of Information Acts and build the capacity of media practitioners so they could cover regional programmes more effectively, as well as reminded Heads of State to abide by the ECOWAS Protocols and Decisions such as Supplementary Protocol relating to the mechanism for conflict prevention, management, resolution, peacekeeping and security which they are signatories.
The Director of Political Affairs at the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Musah Abdel-Fatau, in his remarks urged media practitioners in West Africa to partner the ECOWAS Commission to tell its story.
"It’s time we stop depending on the western media to report issues in our region when we can have media houses in the region sharing information," he said.
He said the dependence on the western media had led to a situation where for instance "everybody thinks it was the British who ended the war in Sierra Leone when in fact it was our ECOWAS troops".
The ECOWAS Commission's Advisor on Democracy and Governance, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, who chaired the function, pledged the commission's support for the media to build its capacity to play its role of sustaining peace, democracy and security in the region.
He said media practitioners in the region should also resolve to promote the activities of the ECOWAS Commission in order to bring its activities closer to the people.

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