Students from the Duke University Law School, Durham, North Carolina, USA on Monday, March 11 2013, paid a learning visit to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) head office in Accra, Ghana.
The visit was to help the students learn about the media landscape and the freedom of expression (FoE) environment in Ghana and West Africa.
The 10 students, led by Prof Joseph Blocher, engaged the management and staff of the MFWA specifically on issues of FoE violations, quality of media outputs, media credibility, corruption and other related issues.
The Executive Director of the MFWA, Professor Kwame Karikari briefed the students on the peculiarities of freedom of expression situations in West Africa.
He mentioned that the political orientation and excesses of the different governments and regimes of West African countries over the years have greatly impacted the freedom of expression environment in each of the 16 countries.
Citing Mali as an example, Prof Karikari said Mali used to be one of the few countries in West Africa that was described as free in terms of media freedoms and freedom of expression, however, with the political instability in the country since January 2012, the country has moved from being free to not free.
He, however, indicated that to a large extent, there has been an improvement in media law reforms and freedom of expression in the Region with a wave of regional discussions around policies such as access to information, broadcasting legislations etc.
"Even in countries where people are sometimes assaulted for expressing themselves, the fact that those people could even talk about issues in the first place is a step in the right direction.
Insult laws and other inimical laws suppressing the freedom of expression in some countries, however, make it difficult for citizens to air their views and that is one of the areas that the Foundation's Media Law Reform Programme seeks to address," Prof Karikari said.
Touching on attacks and violations against the media, Prof Karikari explained that it still remains a major concern in the region even though the magnitude of attacks - murders, kidnapping and disappearance of journalists, vandalisation of media infrastructure - has reduced significantly except in few countries such as The Gambia.
Prof Joseph Blocher was grateful to the MFWA and thanked Prof Karikari in particular for taking time to share knowledge and experiences on the West African media landscape with his students.