" ITREALMS: May: Editorial independence & shaping future of human rights - ITREALMS

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May: Editorial independence & shaping future of human rights - ITREALMS

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The importance of shaping the future of human rights within the media, especially on editorial independence, cannot be over-emphasised in a digital era, writes ITREALMS ' REMMY NWEKE.

What about May?

Yes, what about May? It’s no longer news that the month of May globally is recognised yearly within the media space for the upholding of media freedom of expression and invariably, which left most followers this year with some great expectations both from the practitioners and society at large.
May: Editorial independence & shaping future of human rights - ITREALMS
Freedom of the press or freedom of the media, has been posited as the fundamental principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely.


Editorial independence and press freedom:
An instance is editorial independence which is the freedom of editors to make decisions without interference from the owners of a publication. According to Wikipedia, editorial independence is tested, for instance, when a newspaper runs articles that may be unpopular with its advertising clientele or critical of its ownership.

Experts at BusinessPerspective.org, posited an understanding that “Šµditorial independence” as full freedom of journals’ editors when making decisions on whether or not to publish, as well as make corrections in the papers or withdraw them; only based on their scientific value and without intervention of the founders and the publisher of journal or newsletter, the authors and their sponsors, any other institutions and persons.” Maintaining also that these institutions or persons cannot affect the timelines of papers’ publication.

With the above, shaping the future of rights, especially human rights have become a source of concern.

But just three days into the month of May, the World Press Freedom was held on Wednesday, of the fourth month of 2023, to celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement of press freedom principles issued by African newspaper journalists in 1991. The Declaration was a response to the oppressive media policies of the then Apartheid regime in South Africa.

After the initial Declaration of Windhoek, how has Africa and African media precisely fared?

Digital editor’s travails:
Recently a senior African media practitioner, identified as 'Lekan' narrated how a body of practitioners made a fuss over where an electioneering form dividend should go into.

According to Lekan, he was involved in organising a media-based professional electoral process and based on the constitutional requirement, it must be an online election to accommodate those who may not be immediately physically available, moreso in this digital era.

Being a member of a three-man Election Committee in the month of May, they decided to sale the forms to draw revenue for the association. Unknown to them, that was to create another chapter of albatross and the Executive Committee became interested in the potential revenue and began to interfere in the EC mandate instead of waiting for the Committee to execute their mandates and retire any inflow or even remains from their already approved budget.

Media ownership, political will & transparency:
Due to this pressure because of the token realizable from the form sales, Exco began to give counter orders against the direction of EC and Lekan ended up resigning from the EC to give peace a chance.

As if that was not enough, a few weeks later within the same month of May, Lekan, who used to edit and in fact pioneered an intercontinental newsletter suffered yet another executive interference due to some political interest of Exco of the intercontinental organisation whose newsletter he has pioneered in the past three years rather than allow Lekan a free hand to run the newsletter professionally.

For the newsletter, the leader of the intercontinental group had a member who was elected in a related global body and did not want that featured in the Newsletter due to opposition influence on him, despite that Lekan was the one who personally sourced the story and used same only to discover that the opposition at the "global body" were not happy and the overbearing leader wanted the story pulled down, while Lekan insisted that professionally, their politics in another association even though they were all members of the newsletter organisation should not be allowed to be a motivating factor, which assenting to such a request will spell doom.

To have his professional integrity intact, Lekan, once again decided to step aside.

As said by Lekan, he saw a lot of people especially professionals including in the media who visualise the best of things to happen to their world but don't have the political will to stand up for what they desire, either as an individual or for family sake, aside the political overbearing of media ownership upon the editorial leadership and politicization of editorial content or what some other folks observed as editorial weaponization.

Essence of freedom:
Generally, freedom is very essential as it offers us the right to be ourselves, which assists us to work together after maintaining autonomy. Freedom is quite significant as the opposite is detrimental to our own individual and collective well-being, which is inconsistent with human nature.

2023 theme and fulfillment of human rights:
This brings us to the theme of 2023, which is “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.”

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This year, 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day. Yes, three decades have passed since it was proclaimed in 1993, in which we have seen substantial progress towards achieving a free press and freedom of expression around the world. The proliferation of independent media in many countries and the rise of digital technologies have enabled the free flow of information.

However, media freedom, safety of journalists and freedom of expression are increasingly under attack, which impacts the fulfillment of other human rights.

Media Freedom:
Britannica defined media freedom as the freedom of various kinds of media and sources of communication to operate in political and civil society, hence, “Freedom of the media is the fundamental right of various forms of media, including print, radio, television, and online media entities to operate freely in society without government control, restriction, or censorship.

In other words, freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the fundamental principle and do the right things even in a socio-economic situation like professional elections transparently within the media space.

Proliferation of disinformation:
Though the international community faces multiple crises not limited to conflicts and violence, persistent socio-economic inequalities driving migration, environmental crises and challenges to the health and wellbeing of people all around the world. Overtly, disinformation and misinformation online and offline proliferate, with serious impact on the institutions underpinning democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Centre of discussion:
Therefore, it is to exactly counter these critical situations and threats that press freedom, safety of journalists and access to information have become the centre of discussion nowadays. The right to freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a prerequisite and a driver to the enjoyment of all other human rights.

This year’s special 30th anniversary celebration of World Press Freedom Day is, therefore, a call to recharge press freedom, as well as independent, pluralistic, and diverse media, as key to the enjoyment of all other human rights.

The internal workings of media environment depend on professional bodies to ensure entrenchment of what they preach. As they say, you cannot give what you do not have including ‘editorial independence’ if we must shape the future of human rights and especially in the media industry.

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