Pambazuka News is planning a special issue on the media in Africa. We are inviting our readers and contributors to celebrate as well as critique the media on the continent.
The media landscape in Africa is quite diverse. Over the years, persistent campaigns for media freedom and freedom of expression as essential components of democracy have resulted in the repeal of repressive laws in many countries, leading to the emergence of vibrant media that freely inform, educate and entertain.
In the last two decades, radio stations have mushroomed across the continent since the start of liberalization of the airwaves in the 1990s. People now have a good variety, not the thin menu of state and ruling party propaganda previously dished out by state broadcasters.
The growth of investigative journalism continues to play an important role in governance by exposing corruption and other illegal activities.
Currently, increased access to the Internet has spawned social media as alternative platforms for sharing of information and free expression of opinion.
But still, there are major challenges. Hardly a week passes without a report from Africa about attacks on journalists and media establishments mostly by state agents, but also increasingly by non-state actors.
Criminal libel, the so-called “insult laws”, existence of laws and policies that support official secrecy, etc, all work together to impede journalists from effectively discharging their watchdog roles in many places.
There are also concerns about threats to media freedom by big business. In many cases, the owners of successful media houses in Africa are also associated with certain private companies. There is pressure on journalists not to report freely about those companies when they are involved in corrupt practices, environmental degradation, tax evasion, violation of labour rights of their workers and other illegalities.
In other instances, media houses are owned by powerful politicians and this has often led to skewed reporting in favour of the political beliefs of the owners.
Professionalism is compromised by inadequate training of journalists and the much-decried phenomenon of the “brown envelope”: bribing journalists. There are many other ethical issues in the media.
Sections of the media have been accused of fanning violent conflict in parts of the continent. Organisations are going around conducting training on conflict-sensitive reporting, or peace journalism, which raises questions about whether self-censorship in the interest of peace is justified.
Radio has expanded greatly, but the content of many stations is the subject of a lively debate, with many of the radios accused of offering only entertainment and no programmes that can inform and mobilize people to take meaningful roles in the affairs of their countries.
And as African stories remain poorly told on radio and TV, listeners and viewers turn to powerful Western media houses for news and analysis about events taking place even in their own town.
On the other hand, TV stations are awash with cheap foreign entertainment programmes, leaving critics seething with rage that the stations are channels of cultural imperialism.
Media liberalisation has led to the collapse of public broadcasters (previously state broadcasters). Is this a good thing?
There are questions about media coverage of women and the extent to which they are genuinely involved in the media in Africa and in what roles and capacities? In places such as Somalia some female journalists have been harassed and killed whereas in other African countries such as South Africa and Ghana female journalists exist without persecution.
What is the future of the newspaper in Africa with the rise of the Internet?
These are only a few of the many issues surrounding the media in Africa that we invite study and reflections on. We hope to carry an impressive special issue on this subject.
1. WORD LENGTH: Texts should be between 1000-3000 words. Include your name and a two-line bio at the end of the article.
3. DEADLINE: Friday, 6 September, 2013