Association of West Africa Media Lawyers (WAMELA) hosted its first webinar on 24th September 2020 with the theme Regulation of the Media and its Implication for Press Freedom. In his opening remarks, the President of WAMELA Mr. Noah Ajare, Esq traced the history of the organization to a meeting held on 3rd day of June 2019 at Coconuts Groove Hotel in Accra, Ghana where lawyers with specialty in media law and policy from Nigeria, Cameroun, Gambia, Ghana and Sierra Leone came together to form the group.
The panelists include Professor Abiodun Adeniyi of Mass Communication of Baze University Nigeria, Aliue Sowe Country – Director Give 1, Gambia, Korieh Duodu – Principal, Egality Law Ghana & UK, Ruth Atim, Uganda, Joseph Onyekwere – Guardian Newspaper Nigeria, Thobekile Matimbe – Community Manager, Paradigm Initiative, Monica Aigbe – SilverBird Communication, Mojirayo Ogunlana Nkenga – Digital and Press Freedom advocate and Carlos Gaio – Media Defence Initiatives.
The group identified online media as the main casualty in the battle against freedom of the press. It was agreed that there should be a balance between freedom of press and conflicting rights like privacy and national security. It was also agreed that Nigeria Press Council Act be amended to accommodate citizen journalists.
The group admonished government and private businesses to improve media pluralism, reporting and access to information. It warned against shutting down the internet under any guise. It was resolved that internet shutdown is against global practices of freedom of expression
It was agreed that applicable laws regulating online media are broad and vague and there is need for judicial review. Even though the group resolved to challenge any laws that is inimical to freedom of expression in region yet it was agreed that litigation should be supported with public engagement. The group also called on partners to assist in training lawyers in the region on equipment and security.
The webinar was moderated by Kacey Mordecai of JF Kennedy Institute for Human Rights and the closing remarks was given by President Aigbohan, the Country Director of WAMELA. The event started at 12:00 WAT and terminated at 02:00 WAT.
As you may be aware, membership of the organization is strictly for lawyers with bias for media law practice. The objective of the group is to aggregate both service and voice to repel attack on expression through litigation support, advocacy, research and documentation. It stands firmly for responsible and innovative use of the internet but warned against content restriction and advocates for self-regulation.