Media Activists Launch Pan-African Information Network

By Justin Arenstein, African Eye News Service (South Africa), 28 September 2000

Nelspruit—Two of the world's major media advocacy organisations launched a new pan-African e-mail exchange network to support press freedom and build stronger independent media on the continent on Thursday.

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said in a statement that the new RAP 21 network was the first continental discussion group of its kind and was created with the assistance of the Central African Union of Press Publishers to establish an Africa-wide exchange of ideas and information.

The initiative follows the success of a similar regional initiative by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) linking newspapers and journalists in the Southern African Development Community.

RAP 21, which is the French acronym for the African Press Network for the 21st Century, will include journalists and media executives working for the independent media and will provide the first ever 'live' link to the outside world for hundreds of professionals who currently work in complete isolation from their peers and colleagues elsewhere on the continent.

The network will also, the statement said, act as an alert system for press freedom attacks on the continent and will provide information about management and training opportunities.

The failure to create a community of interests and a dialogue among publishers, editors and journalists on the continent has been a serious problem for the independent press in Africa, said WAN director general Timothy Balding.

The extraordinarily rapid growth in the use of low cost e-mail and the internet can now be used to create permanent links among African media.

RSF secretary general Robert Ménard added that watchdog bodies could only improve reaction times and pressure on African governments with the help of African journalists and press activists.

RAP 21, which will carry bilingual messages in English and French, is expected to bridge this gap. It will be based on e-mail, but will also offer a password-protected web site with an archive for members.

RAP 21's 100 founding members have committed the organisation to proactively mobilise African journalists to defend and promote press freedom by adding their voices to protests.

It will also administer an annual African media award recognising individuals or organisations which have made outstanding contributions to the cause of press freedom.

Other priorities include assistance and moral support to imprisoned or threatened journalists, the creation of a permanent information exchange and a forum for editorial material between independent African newspapers. This would include encouraging African media to link their web sites.

RAP 21's administrators, including WAN and RSF, will also provide technical and managerial advice and assistance to private African newspapers in a bid to boost readership, improve marketing and advertising strategies, financial management and human resources.

Newspapers will be encouraged to engage in education projects and association building, while RAP 21 will provide a conduit for information from development agencies to the African press by providing regular information on external initiatives to help African press development.

Ménard confirmed that the network was launched with roughly 100 members and said it was expected to grow rapidly.

The Paris-based WAN is a global organisation for the newspaper industry, defending and promoting press freedom world-wide. It currently represents 17 000 newspapers and 66 national newspaper associations, with individual newspaper executives in 93 countries. In addition, 17 news agencies and seven regional and world-wide press groups are also members.

Reporters Sans Frontieres defends jailed journalists and press freedom throughout the world, focusing on the right to inform and be informed in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

RSF has eight branches, in Belgium, France, Germany, Great-Britain, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as representatives in Bangkok, Washington, Abidjan and Istanbul and more than a hundred correspondents worldwide.

Prospective RAP 21 participants can request membership by sending an e-mail to Coordinator Gamal Niang at