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What Is the Windhoek Declaration?

On May 3rd, the world celebrates World Press Freedom Day, established by the United Nations and championed by UNESCO. This date is essential to promote democracy, freedom of speech, and independent media globally. That is why we discuss the Windhoek Declaration today. The reason that World Press Freedom Day falls on May 3rd dates back to 1991. Back then a number of African journalists drafted the Declaration of Windhoek, a document that calls for meaningful steps towards democratizing the press in Africa and around the world. This declaration continues to bear relevance today.

History of the Windhoek Declaration

In the 1980s, a strong ripple of conflict and war shook much of the African continent. Meanwhile, the Cold War was still raging and disproportionately affecting the global South. This, along with failing democratic institutions, prompted an urgent need for change, particularly in the way the press was able to report facts to the public. As part of this process, UNESCO held a seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press͟ in Windhoek, Namibia from April 29th to May 3rd, 1991. Over the 4 days, a number of African journalists drafted what has come to be known as the Windhoek Declaration.

This document refers to the violence and repression felt by the press and the need for a fully independent and free media in order to achieve a meaningful democratic process.

How is the Windhoek Declaration Relevant Today?

With the spread of the Internet and social media, information has become widely available to many people around the world. Since 1991 and the implementation of the Windhoek Declaration, media around the world have seen more freedom to report honestly and freely.

That said, many countries continue to practice information censorship. Sometimes through laws or by way of pressure tactics to suppress the freedom of reporting by media outlets. This distorts the public’s perception and limits the availability of reliable information for people to make evidence-based decisions about their social and political circumstances. In a nutshell, this hinders the democratic process.

For this reason, the Windhoek Declaration, the World Freedom of Press Day continue to be meaningful within the global context of freedom of speech, opinion, and access to information. In fact, the Sustainable Development Goals also recognizes this need. Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements is part of a meaningful democracy.

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