Gabon: The Head of UNOCA calls on journalists to contribute to a peaceful electoral process

According to Abdou Abarry, the support of men and women who work in the media is critical to avoid "the episodes of violence which have marked elections in the past." Photo UNOCA/Samperode Mba Allogho

4 Aug 2023

Gabon: The Head of UNOCA calls on journalists to contribute to a peaceful electoral process

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Central Africa and Head of UNOCA, Abdou Abarry, took part, on 3 August 2023, in Lambaréné, in the official opening ceremony of the capacity-building seminar for journalists on "the fundamentals of a free and regulated media ecosystem during elections." The institution for which he is responsible has joined forces with the High Authority for Communication (HAC) to organize this important meeting, which is also supported by the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). In his speech, Mr. Abarry appreciated the seminar as opportune in view of the presidential, legislative and local elections of 26 August, and noted its contribution “to the prevention and the fight against the possible rise of hate speech and stigmatization of certain candidates, but also, the high exposure of the public to misinformation, disinformation and distortion of information.” He underlined that the seminar would allow the 50 participants from the nine provinces of Gabon "to discuss the ways and means of avoiding these scourges that undermine democracy and coexistence in most of our societies during an election period.”

Safeguard the principles of balance, fairness and equality

The Special Representative welcomed the participating experts’ recalling of the responsibilities of men and women who work in the media, in particular those laid down in the Code of Ethics and Conduct of the Journalist and the Communications Code. They will also provide them with the tools and techniques necessary for the appropriate processing of information, particularly during the election period when it is important to scrupulously maintain the principles of balance, fairness and equality. “You are […] invited to show neutrality and impartiality in the coverage of information in order to allow each citizen to access reliable sources," said the Head of UNOCA. "By doing so, you are also helping voters to fully understand the societal projects and the political offer of the candidates so that they can freely form their opinion in order to make an informed choice," he added.

In this regard, Mr. Abarry noted his satisfaction that one of the expected outcomes of the seminar, as per the terms of reference, was that participants should be better "equipped" to provide "free, judicious and responsible media coverage of the ongoing electoral process.” He stressed that UNOCA is very attentive to all other relevant issues on the event agenda, including those related to the responsibility of journalists in the era of social networks. In this regard, he stressed journalists’ crucial role in promoting peace and social cohesion before, during and after the elections. "I am counting on each and every one of you to play this role selflessly, bearing in mind the general interest of your readers, listeners and viewers," pleaded Mr. Abarry, encouraging the journalists to make good use of the freedom of expression they enjoy. It is a question of using it "not to fuel violence and the settling of political scores perpetuated by slander, insult and defamation, but to contribute, alongside other actors, to maintaining a climate of peace and security during the crucial period that begins on 11 August with the launch of the electoral campaign."

In this context, the Head of UNOCA noted that the participation in the seminar of advisors, members and experts of the HAC was important as it would help to recall the mission and prerogatives of the regulatory body in this essential area. Similarly, he said that the participation of professional associations of journalists in the seminar offered the opportunity to intensify exchanges on self-regulation. Mr. Abarry went on to say that the charters of good conduct for media and journalists during elections were part of this dynamic. He invited the participants to reflect on such a tool, the usefulness of which had already been mentioned in the context of the 2016 presidential election in Gabon and in other Central African countries where UNOCA had contributed to the training of information professionals.

For a credible, transparent, participatory and sincere process

The Special Representative reiterated his commitment to work for “inclusive and peaceful elections in Gabon,” in accordance with the mandate of UNOCA. He also reaffirmed his readiness to offer the good offices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to guarantee their success. “I call for electoral results that will reflect the choice or choices freely expressed by the people, after a credible, transparent, participatory and sincere process,” he said. He revealed that through exchanges with political leaders, he could "perceive, already, a real desire for dialogue among political actors." He welcomed this approach, the only one that would “allow for a smooth running of the electoral process." He also recalled the commitment made before the Security Council on 5 June on the preventive measures that should be deployed to ensure that "the episodes of violence which have marked elections in the past are avoided at all costs." Moreover, he noted that the journalists’ support would be “precious because it is about the stability and sustainable development of Gabon, which is and must remain a country where peace and social tranquility reign."

Guarantee the physical and intellectual integrity of journalists

It should be noted that the involvement of UNOCA in the organization of the Lambaréné seminar is a continuation of its actions in favor of the development of a pluralist and economically viable press and of the promotion of the safety of journalists, in accordance with resolution 2222 adopted on 27 May 2015 by the United Nations Security Council. Beyond the issues related to the protection of media professionals, this resolution recalls the importance of free, independent and impartial media in the construction and consolidation of a democratic society. “It is therefore necessary to strengthen the mechanisms facilitating access to official sources of information and those which guarantee the physical and intellectual integrity of journalists, among others,” concluded Mr. Abarry. And in this spirit, he indicated that "UNOCA also encourages interactions with other professional bodies, including the defense and security forces, which constitute a valuable partner of the media, particularly during elections.”

In addition to the intervention of the Special Representative, the opening ceremony of the Lambaréné seminar was marked by the welcome speech of the Mayor of the 2nd arrondissement of the municipality of Lambaréné (Brigitte Koumba), the remarks of the President of the ECCAS Commission (Gilberto da Piedade Veríssimo), and the speech of the President of the HAC (Germain Ngoyo Moussavou). The event, ending on 5 August, took place in the presence of several senior local authorities, including the Governor of the province of Moyen-Ogooué, Abdu Razzaq Guy Kambogo. Shortly before the ceremony he had received the three personalities at the Governorate, during a courtesy visit.