Broadcasting Africa

Published: 07-JUN-04

Literary giants like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thingo, have tirelessly campaigned, written, talked about, and lectured on the need to develop and maintain African institutions of expression. Whether it be Ngugi's fostering and encouraging African literature in Gikuyu, or the eloquent expression of the African cultural and socio-political triumphs and contradictions in Things Fall Apart. The unfortunate reality remains that Africa has yet to overcome the obstacle of being defined and imagined by semi-literate journos sitting in plush offices in the west.

Although the documentation and transmission of information by fellow media institutions around the globe is encouraged, the content of media reportage about Africa remains on the level of sensational presentation of political turmoil and plagues of disease and war. There is, on top of all these negative aspects, other key determining factors show that the African media infrastructure is being dwarfed by international competitors. Some of these matters concern the fact that most African economies are still emergent, and therefore grappling with basic infrastructure such as food, electricity and running water. It is also true that African states have only recently started to focus on integrated planning - which has devasted such key development sectors as aviation, trade and investment.

Our cover story assesses the limitations that undermine media ownership and expansion in Africa. Key eyesores that have paralysed the African broadcast landscape are, ironically, the lack of capital and infrastructure. While there is more than enough room for some African governments to draft repressive, anti-free media statutes, or corruptly stack social development funds in Swiss bank accounts, the excessive red tape involved in granting broadcast licences means that better positioned foreign broadcast media, such as CNN and the BBC, are doing their best to exploit and take ownership of Africa's media.

This is particularly sad in that the advent of globalisation and rapid electronic transmission of information means greater demand for education and access to accurate and responsibly packaged information - a recipe for media expansion. Africans are aware that there is a need to develop integrated regional media institutions, and merge audiences and capital to promote access to trade and related information. There are also growth opportunities presented by global media trends of increased deregulation and liberalisation. A shift from government-owned media enterprises means greater access to privatisation and investment opportunities by local and international media conglomerates.

There is still, however, a strategic role that African governments should play, when it comes to the development of broadcast policies which regulate the quality of broadcast output, and ensure skills development and transfer, while at the same time shielding the industry from exploitation by wealthier media institutions.

It must be, however, stated that it is not just dark and gloom. Africans are making huge strides in overcoming limitations posed by underdeveloped sectors such as the media and investment frontiers. Africa, particularly South Africa, has seen positive flourishing on solid business developments in areas of mining, property development, as well as publishing. It is also important to note that problems facing sustainable expansion of media institutions, such as repressive government statutes, are not particular to Africa.

A global survey on media independence, The Freedom Press 2004, also identified countries such as Russia, Bolivia and Italy as not having media friendly environments. Development isssues are complex, have multiple teething problems, and require solid vision. There is, to say the least, a lot of thinking that needs to be done.

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