The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has addressed the Pan African Parliament as part of a session on media freedom in Africa and the launch of the "Press Freedom for Development and Governance: Need for Reform" campaign.
The Midrand Declaration on Press Freedom in Africa was also endorsed by parliamentarians, recognising WAN-IFRA's Declaration of Table Mountain Campaign and launching an annual media freedom index in Africa.
Alison Meston, WAN-IFRA Director of Press Freedom, cited studies that show independent media have a positive impact on democratization in Africa and on political, economic and social development.
"WAN-IFRA believes the ability to report the news, without fear or reprisal, is an antidote to corruption. There is an inexorable link between a free press, poverty reduction and good governance and I urge you to repeal laws in your country that restrict a free press," she told the Parliament on Wednesday.
The Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the repeal of criminal defamation and 'insult' laws across the African continent, was adopted at the World Newspaper Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2007, the annual meeting of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
Media freedom and human rights organisations, including UNESCO, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the Media Foundation of West Africa took part in the dialogue with the more than 100 parliamentarians.
"To promote a dialogue on media freedom as it relates to good governance and democracy is a significant step for this parliament", said Ms Meston.
"We are delighted that Pan-African Parliament members have contributed to this discussion and have recognised that a free press lies at heart of the political and economic progress they seek. Now the hard work begins, and we urge heads of state to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain and repeal laws which restrict press freedom".
Parliamentary members were encouraging of a free press and its link to good governance.
The Honourable Sam Ammoti Otada, Uganda, said, "We believe in the media as the fourth estate, because in Uganda, we understand where there is no free media there is no democracy. If you are defamed, use the natural process of litigation. It is not a matter for the state to intervene."
The Honourable Patrick Mucheleka, Zambia, told the parliament that where there is a free flow and access to information, economic growth, democracy and good governance could thrive. He appealed to fellow parliamentarians saying, "We need to support the work of journalists. We need to repeal laws that institutionalise sanctions against journalists and we require reforms that promote press freedom and democracy".
The dialogue and final declaration was spear headed by the Justice and Human Rights Committee of the Pan African Parliament, chaired by Ugandan member and ex-journalist, The Honourable Onyango Kakoba. In the lead up to yesterday's dialogue, the Committee met with stakeholders in September 2012, leading to the first resolution on Press Freedom for Development and Governance: Need for Reform to be passed by the parliament at its sitting in October 2012.
The parliament will now start a campaign of engagement with civil society and media professionals in the 5 regions of Africa to implement the resolution and reform restrictive media legislation on the continent.