afrol News, 30 March - In meetings with media stakeholders, Niger's transitional Prime Minister Mahamadou Danda is promising full press freedom. Already, prison sentences for journalists are repelled and the Niamey House of the Media is reopened.
Nigerien media are sincerely optimistic following the promises of the ruling junta. The leading state media 'Le Sahel' in its issue today is titled "Emergence of a free, independet and professional press," referring to the PM's meeting with media stakeholders.
The ruling military junta has earlier promised to establish "a model democracy" in Niger. It has already started a series of public meetings with political parties and civil society organisations, where the path of the democratisation process is to be determined. As part of these consultations, this week junta members are discussing the way forward with the press.
The junta already before the meeting made an important announcement. With immediate effect, it decreed that libellous news reports would no longer lead to prison sentences for journalists, reducing maximum sentences to simple fines. During toppled President Mamadou Tandja's regime, the increasing number of libel sentences developed into the most serious threat to Nigerien media.
During a three-day mass debate, which started yesterday, the junta is engaging legal experts, human rights defenders and representatives of the media and the government. The meeting was attended by transitional Prime Minister Danda and headed by veteran journalist Harouna Niandou.
Mr Niandou set the tone at yesterday's opening of the consultancies at the Niamey Congress Centre, calling for full press freedom, but also for responsible reporting by Nigerien media. "Press freedom is not anarchic, it is the responsibility of the journalist," he told the gathering.
The meeting was opened by Communication and Culture Minister Aminata Takoubakoye Boureima, asking media to take part fully in developing a new framework for the press and "a decent working environment" for journalists. She opened up for discussions around decriminalisation of media offences, questions around media funding, a possible new national media policy and the question of regulation or self-regulation of media.
Prime Minister Danda announced he agreed to media demands to reopen the Niamey House of the Media, which had been forcibly shut down during the Tandja regime in 2008. The Media House was a resource centre and meeting place for the Nigerien media, where journalism training was organised.
Press freedom had been deteriorating under the Tandja regime, although the situation for Niger's media was far from the worst in the region. An increasing number of libel sentences and self-censorship developed into the most serious threats to Nigerien media during the late Tandja period.
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