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Media freedom is of fundamental importance to political and social systems that have transparency, accountability and participation of people in the shaping of their own destiny - in short: good governance - at heart. And the main principle behind media freedom is the right to know. This publication is about sharing the knowledge and experiences gained on some key issues when it comes to transforming authoritarian regimes into democratic ones.
The idea to commission a study to look into basic regulatory requirements for these transitional phases in order to provide a fairly leveled playing field for all political and social contenders was born with some of the present developments in Southern Africa in mind. But once I saw the result for the first time it became very obvious that the lessons to be learned out of the several case studies could be of use also elsewhere. Not only because cases were chosen not only from the African continent but also from the former GDR and Yugoslavia. More importantly, some of the inherent tendencies seem to be fairly similar on both sides, no matter, what country you are looking at: those who see the control of media "as vital for authoritarian governments to remain in power" as well as those who want "to (re-)gain their basic freedoms" (quotes from Bussiek's introduction).
Hendrik Bussiek is not only a professional broadcaster, he has gained experience as head of media projects of Friedrich Ebert Foundation in different parts of the world and, since a couple of years, as freelance media consultant, based in South Africa. He was involved, in one way or the other, in most of the transitional cases that he is referring to in this study. That made him the obvious choice as researcher and author for this undertaking.
The result, no doubt in my mind, gives justification to that assumption.
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These days, `good governance' is the buzzword all over Africa. As with all these fashionable terms its inflationary use threatens to lower its value and obscure its meaning. Essentially, `good governance' is governance by the people in the intererest of the people. `Good governance' is democracy, nothing more and nothing less.
Some countries on the continent are well on their way to achieve this goal and many still have a long walk ahead. In some countries, governments seek to narrow the meaning of the term, i.e. to the fight against corruption, in order to deflect criticism. Others have abandoned the ideals altogether and suppress their people, often in the name of a cheap and narrow nationalism. What they forget - even though they could have learnt it from their own history - is that democracy is not a fashion. It may take different forms, but essentially it is a human right that all peoples will demand sooner or later.
Transitional societies are those which have begun the long walk or are about to (re-)gain their basic freedoms. Given their vastly different conditions and circumstances as well as the geopolitical framework in which they operate, such a process may take only a few years in some countries, while others will be struggling for many more.
An important part of any such transition is the reform of media legislation and regulation. With the media being both a tool in as well as one of the objects of the transformation process, this reform is as essential as it is difficult to achieve. Control of media is seen as vital for authoritarian governments to remain in power. Letting go of that control for them equals the beginning of the end.
This paper describes a number of attempts to reform the media dispensation against all odds, their objectives and the strategies employed to reach them. The case studies are either based on the author's own experience, on research undertaken by others or on a mix of both. All countries selected have only recently gone or are still going through a period of transition from authoritarian rule to a democratic dispensation. And this period does certainly not end with a first successful democratic election.
The case studies provide a host of lessons which may be of use for media activists in other countries about to embark on a similar transition process as well as organisations supporting them. One can and should learn from mistakes made and successes achieved elsewhere. The chapter on `lessons learnt' is followed by a list of basic regulatory requirements for a transitional period, and some principles that will guide the consolidation of a democratic media policy. These are not to be understood as prescriptions - where applicable they should be adapted and tailored to the specific circumstances of each individual country. It is also hoped that they will provide some useful pointers for further debate.
© Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | technical support | net edition fes-library | Oktober 2003