Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Globalization and the Diffusion of Media Policy in Africa: The Case of Defamation of Public Officials

Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Globalization and the Diffusion of Media Policy in Africa: The Case of Defamation of Public Officials

Article excerpt

Introduction

Globalization and the interconnection of nations, cultures, and peoples through information and communication technologies has resulted in a global society, which, despite political, economic, cultural, social, and religious differences, is increasingly receptive to shared values of human rights and freedom of expression. These values often diffuse from centers of international influence and power to the periphery of the global system. The post-World War II international human rights regime that was inaugurated under the auspices of the United Nations (UN) is best known for its emphasis on freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and opinion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that the right of freedom of opinion and expression ". . . includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

However, because of the diversity of political regimes, religions, and cultures around the world, freedom of conscience and opinion are pluralistic concepts that are conceptualized and applied differentially in politico-cultural and religious contexts. In recent years, the UN General Assembly has passed a number of resolutions that equate blasphemy-offensive statements or writings that deny the existence of God; parody, mock, or satirize specific religious faiths, sacred religious texts, revered religious figures, sacred locations, icons, or rituals-with defamation. Since some cultures and societies assign higher status to revealed religions, religious orthodoxy and religious rites often take precedence over the human right of freedom of opinion and expression in many parts of the world, including a number of African countries. The "Mohammed cartoons affair," a global, political, and diplomatic controversy triggered by its publication in 2005, of twelve satirical cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and later in the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, brought the clash of freedom of expression and respect for religion to the forefront of international relations. Muslims in many parts of the world were not amused by the satirical cartoons. Under pressure from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League, the UN General Assembly passed resolutions denouncing the "defamation of religion." This has resulted in the criminalization of blasphemy and globalization of respect for religion in numerous jurisdictions.

The African continent has not been an enclave immune to international debates over defamation and freedom of expression. Althought Africa is said to be on the margins of globalization and international power relations, international public policy on human rights and freedom of expression have diffused to the continent and are being domesticated at the national and transnational levels under the auspices of the African Union. This is especially true of defamation, a form of tortious communication that, in Western context, is defined as "publication of a statement about a person that tends to lower his reputation in the opinion of right-thinking members of the community or to make them shun or avoid him . . . Defamation is usually in words, but pictures, gestures, and other acts can be defamatory." Defamation, as defined in specific social, legal, political, and cultural contexts, is generally considered outside the ambit of protected speech and expression. The evolution of defamation law in Africa is a result of the post-Cold war liberalization and democratization that took place on the continent in the 1990s. During that period, the African media presented post-independence Africa as a "political jungle," complete with animalized, authoritarian military rulers, "strongmen," "fathers of nations," and "presidents for life," and so on, who either presided over systems of "law and disorder," were essentially above the law, and beyond criticism even on matters of public concern. …

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