Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) says filtering of online content and blocking of some websites is retrogressive.
In a pre – Freedom Day statement, PSAf regional executive director Lilian Kiefer also implored media practitioners and media institutions in Southern Africa to embrace digital advancements to improve the quality of content and expand outreach.
Kiefer said, ‘for example, the use of digital platforms enables television and radio stations to have more efficient bandwidth compared to analogue, and enables broadcasters to have improved quality signals.’
She said that the digital age also enables newspapers and other print publications to disseminate their content through digital platforms such as e-papers.
‘This in most cases enables the newspapers to earn extra income from users who would not normally buy newspapers. A number of newspapers in the region have also developed mobile applications through which users can access the same content as the printed version,’ she said.
Kiefer observed that the digital era presents many opportunities for increased citizen participation in content generation content sharing and increased collaboration with the media platforms. She said this is a big plus for inclusive governance and citizen participation especially for rural communities who in most cases are left out of the developmental debates due to limited platforms for participation.
But Kiefer regretted that some elements try to fight digital advancements.
She said: ‘while celebrating the digital advancements, it is critical to reflect on the numerous barriers and threats that hinder the advancement of journalism in the digital age. These include filtering of online content and blocking of some websites. Such practices are retrogressive and an infringement on not just freedom of the press but also on citizens’ rights to self-expression
and access information.’
She said said ‘Freedom of the press remains very important in the digital era. It should therefore continue to be protected to ensure that the millions of people that have access to information via digital platforms enjoy its benefits.’
Kiefer said her organization PSAf is therefore urging those who ‘have made it their hobby to muzzle the media and abuse or bully digital platforms to change their ways, and instead work towards creating a conducive environment to allow the media to inform and educate all citizens without fear or favour.’
‘We are also calling on governments and other stakeholders to put in place measures to address the various factors that hinder freedom of expression in digital platforms, to allow journalism to thrive in the digital spaces,’ she said.
World press Freedom will be commemorated on 3 May 2015 under the theme”Let Journalism Thrive – Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Safety in the Digital Age”.
Kiefer added that the use of new information and communication technologies presented by the digital age also give women and girls increased access to platforms for expressing themselves to demand equal participation and opportunities.
She said more needs to be done to increase access to digital platforms for women and girls, but the current progress still provides something to celebrate.
‘The use of digital platforms such as social media has made it easier for media practitioners to interact with each other, with their sources and their audience. The digital age has also made research and sourcing of news much more accessible and less time consuming for journalists. With just one click, a journalist can access most of the information they need through social media, and other platforms,’ she said.
She explained that ‘this is why over the past few years, PSAf has implemented a number of initiatives aimed at empowering community radio stations to use digital platforms to generate and share content.’
She said PSAf acknowledges the current limitation posed by the existing digital divide whereby many poor and marginalized people cannot access and/or use digital platforms. However, we still note that increasingly there is progressive outreach in terms of access to the Internet and other digital platforms. There is need to put in place measures to contain this digital gap between those who have access to digital platforms, and those who do not have access.’