West African media: News needs more professionalism -interim Burkina Faso president Cherif Sy

Professional journalism is key to getting citizens involved in governance across West Africa, but governments like Ghana's need to give them access to information to do this, media experts have urged.

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play President of the Transitional Parliament of Burkina Faso Hon. Cherif Sy (rfi.fr)
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Professional journalism is key to getting citizens involved in governance across West Africa, but governments like Ghana's need to give them access to information to do this, media experts have urged.

A panel of media experts spoke at the opening of the West Africa Conference on Media and Participatory Governance on the theme of promoting professional journalism for good governance in West Africa, hosted by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA).

Board chair of MFWA, Edetaen Ojo said that while good governance relies on a professional media, press freedom and access to information are key to keeping citizens informed, and that included citizens being allowed the right to access government information through Right to Information (RTI) bills.

RTI laws allow the public to ask for information and documents on government spending, contracts and statistics.

However, only seven countries across West Africa have passed these bills, and only 17 in Africa.

Keynote speaker at the conference, president of the Transitional Parliament of Burkina Faso Hon. Cherif Moumina Sy, a seasoned journalist and advocate of the free press helped pass this bill into law for his country last year.

Passionate and outspoken on the role of the media to create just societies, he urged journalists to increase professionalism to be able to empower citizens to think critically.

He also spoke of a new generation of journalists who do not hold high standards in the profession.

“I am embarrassed to hear their questions and to be in the same profession,” he lamented.

Minister of Communications Edward Omane Boamah was scheduled to open the conference but instead had a speech read out by a director at the Ministry of Communications, Patricia Sampson.

His speech noted the need for citizens to have access to information and to express themselves and participate in government.

“The Government of Ghana fully acknowledges the importance of access to information and remains fully committed to continuously increase citizen and media access to information held by government agencies to promote transparency and accountability in the government," Sampson read, without specifically naming Ghana's Right to Information Bill.

Civil society groups in Ghana have been advocating for passage of RTI legislation for the last 13 years. So far in West Africa, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Guinea, Burkina Faso have all passed RTI laws making it possible for citizens in those countries to legally seek information from public entities.

In Ghana, the bill is currently in a consideration stage, but there have been many amendments made on it by MPs.

It has been in knocking about it Parliament since 1999, though majority leader, Alban Bagbin has assured the public that the bill will be passed before the dissolution of the current Parliament.

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