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Lots of entertainment, not much politics

by D+C | E+Z

In brief

Zeitungsverkauf in Ghana / Paperboy in Ghana

Zeitungsverkauf in Ghana / Paperboy in Ghana

The lot of a journalist in Africa is a great deal better today than it was 15 years ago. But many newspapers and media broadcasters are strapped for cash and short of well-trained staff. Quality suffers as a result.

Because the government was criticised in a radio debate, the state media council in Niger banned all live broadcasts about the Tuareg rebellion in the country’s north. In Kenya’s capital, journalists protested against a draft media law that would have obliged them to disclose confidential sources. President Mwai Kibaki sent the bill back to Parliament for revision. In South Africa, TV broadcaster SABC banned staff from reporting on allegations of theft and corruption made against Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. In Nigeria, on the other hand, the new Senate President David Mark announced that, on his watch, Parliament would finally pass the Freedom of Information Act for which Nigerians have waited for so long.

These four news items were reported last month. They reflect the findings of a recent report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on sustainable and pluralistic media systems in the continent. According to the report, the conditions have significantly improved for radio and TV stations as well as newspapers in the past 15 years. The wave of democratisation in the 1990s made journalists’ work a great deal easier in many African countries. Moreover, technologies like Internet and mobile telephony have opened new channels for established media and, at the same time, given rise to alternative initiatives, especially at the local level.

However, the UN report sees five areas with need for reform: First of all, press freedom is still severely curtailed in many parts of Africa, even though nearly every country has signed the relevant treaties on civil and political human rights. Second, inappropriate legal and political environments have often hampered the growth of the media industry, especially where the use of new communication technologies is concerned. Third, there is a need for quality standards and good training facilities. Fourth, there is a shortage of capital for funding professional media operations. Finally, the content of African newspapers and broadcast programming could improve. Today, they deal extensively with entertainment, sports and religion, but there is a lack of political information and analysis.

The ECA study sums up the findings of a number of conferences as well as an online debate that received input from journalists and representatives of governmental and civil society organisations in over 40 African countries. The report proposes the establishment of a new African Media Development/Support Fund which would issue loans and grants to media initiatives that merit support. (ell)