The Southern African Development Community (SADC) joins the international community in commemorating the World Press Freedom Day which is celebrated annually on the 3rd of May.

The day is set aside to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom.

SADC is proud that the World Press Freedom Day traces its origin from the SADC region following the adoption of the Declaration of Windhoek, which emphasizes that a free press is essential for democracy and fundamental human rights.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 3rd May, the day of the adoption of the Declaration of Windhoek, as World Press Freedom Day on the recommendation of UNESCO’s General Conference.

SADC executive secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said it is encouraging to note that since 1991, when the Declaration of Windhoek was adopted, the SADC region has witnessed a proliferation of state and private controlled media outlets.

In most SADC member states, journalists continue to report freely in the exercise of their freedom of expression, as stipulated in the Constitutions of most member states.

Dr Tax said the region has also made great strides in media training and SADC values the important role of media, recognising that the media helps to inform, educate and entertain a large, heterogeneous and scattered group of people that would not be reached through interpersonal means.

SADC also acknowledges the influence of the media in shaping public opinion and perceptions.

“Today as we commemorate the Press Freedom Day, I call upon the media in the SADC region to exercise their influence responsibly with a view to enhance social cohesion, promote peace and stability and advance the SADC Regional Integration Agenda. There are a number of areas where the media can make positive contributions to the SADC region,” she said.

Between 2018 and 2019, there are 10 SADC member states that will be holding national elections.

“In this regard, I would like to encourage the media in the region to familiarise themselves and follow the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections and the guidelines on media coverage of elections in the SADC region, agreed by media practitioners under the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). These guidelines define the role of the media during the entire electoral process to ensure that voters make informed choices. They are premised on the recognition that the media is required to provide relevant information, analyse it and offer substantive opinions to the public, while also serving as a platform for debate and discuss,” said Dr Tax.

During the up-coming elections, SADC looks forward to the media to provide election coverage that gives voters comprehensive, accurate and reliable information on all aspects of the electoral process.

Dr Tax also called for the media to assist in the promotion of the SADC industrialisation agenda.

In 2015, SADC adopted the regional Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap (2015 – 2063), which was developed as an inclusive long-term modernisation and economic transformation scheme that enables substantial and sustained improvements in people’s living standards, intensifying structural change and engendering a rapid catch-up of the SADC countries with industrialising and developed countries.

In this regard, the SADC Secretariat stands ready to partner with the media to inform citizens on the identified regional value chains and the opportunities presented by the industrialisation strategy for different member states, including the private sector.

As the regional bloc SADC commemorates the World Press Freedom Day, Dr Tax said she is cognisant of the sheer speed and intensity of ‘fake news’ and the dangers it poses.

“I, therefore, urge the media in the region to desist from sensational reporting and propagating ‘fake news’ which can be detrimental to our society,” she said.

The SADC Secretariat reiterated that, through the annual Media Awards, SADC will continue to reward journalists whose photo, print, television and radio content supports the process of SADC regional co-operation and integration.