The 2023 Media Leaders’ Forum was held in Yaounde, Cameroon, on 28 April 2023, bringing together more than 60 media leaders and stakeholders from different sectors. The theme of the forum was “Upholding Free Speech and Countering Hate Speech: Striking the Balance,” and it aimed to provide a platform for media leaders to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the media in Cameroon, especially in the context of ongoing political, cultural, and social crisis and tensions. The forum was organized by the Rainforest Centre for Policy Research in partnership with Association Civic Watch and r0g agency for open culture and critical transformation with the support of various partners. The speakers at the forum included a representative of the Cameroon Minister of Communication, the German Ambassador to Yaounde, as well as prominent journalists, academics, and experts on media and democracy. The head of the European Union delegation in Cameroon also attended.
The forum aimed to foster dialogue, collaboration, and action among media leaders to promote free speech, counter hate speech, and misinformation, and contribute to peacebuilding and development in Cameroon. At the end of the forum, participants made the following declaration:
- We, the participants of the media leader’s forum on hate speech and free speech held in Yaounde, Cameroon, on 28 April 2023, hereby declare our commitment to upholding the principles of democracy, human rights, and pluralism in our work as journalists, editors, publishers, and broadcasters. We recognize the vital role of the media in informing, educating, and empowering the public, as well as in promoting dialogue, tolerance, and mutual understanding among different groups and communities. We also acknowledge the challenges and risks that we face in fulfilling our professional and ethical responsibilities, especially in situations of conflict, violence, and polarization.
- We reaffirm our commitment to the principles of freedom of expression and information, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international instruments. We recognize that free speech is essential for democracy, human dignity, and social progress.
- We also acknowledge our responsibility to prevent and combat hate speech in the media, which we define as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group based on who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or another identity factor.
- We condemn hate speech as a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion and peace. We reject any attempts to justify or legitimise hate speech as a form of free speech or expression.
- We believe that upholding free speech and countering hate speech are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary and interdependent objectives. We pledge to strive to strike a balance between protecting the right to express diverse opinions and perspectives and preventing the dissemination of harmful messages that incite hatred, discrimination, or violence.
- We pledge to adopt and implement ethical standards and codes of conduct for our media outlets and professionals that promote respect for human dignity and diversity, and that reject any form of hate speech. We pledge to adhere to the highest standards of accuracy, fairness and balance in our reporting and commentary and to avoid sensationalism, distortion or manipulation of facts or opinions.
- We commit to respecting the diversity of views and perspectives in our society and to providing space for constructive debate and dissent.
- We vow to refrain from spreading misinformation, disinformation or propaganda that may harm the public interest or undermine trust in the media. We promise to correct any errors or mistakes that we may make promptly and transparently. We also commit to raising awareness among our audiences about the dangers of hate speech and the importance of critical thinking and media literacy.
- We call on all media stakeholders, including governments, regulators, civil society organisations and media associations, to support and cooperate with us in our efforts to combat hate speech and promote free speech. We urge them to create an enabling environment for independent, pluralistic, and professional media that can operate without fear or favour. We also urge them to respect and protect the independence and safety of journalists and media workers who are often at risk of harassment, intimidation, or violence for exercising their right to free expression. We appeal to them to foster a culture of media literacy and critical thinking among the public, especially among young people, that can help them distinguish between facts and opinions and between credible and unreliable sources of information.
- 10. We believe that by adhering to these principles and practices, we can contribute to building a more peaceful, inclusive, and democratic society in Cameroon and beyond.
- 11. Finally, we express our gratitude to the organisers and hosts of the Media Leader’s Forum 2023 for providing us with this valuable opportunity to exchange views and experiences on this vital topic. We look forward to continuing our dialogue and collaboration in the future.