The Purpose of Media (4)

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By AMI CEO Eric Chinje

In a preceding segment of this series I discussed what I referred to as “the governance loop” in which media serves as the informational cord that binds government and the governed.  I posed the question as to how well media in Africa plays its role within the loop and whether, in doing so, it contributes to that ultimate goal of raising the quality of life on the continent?

I contended that some in the industry would argue that these questions were irrelevant to what is essentially a business – the news business – that should have no other determinants than the quality of content and audience size, the imperatives of survival in a highly competitive environment, and making a profit for investors.  There are obvious practical reasons for taking such a position but how does one not find common ground with those observers who believe that this is what accounts that “a race to the bottom” by media in Africa – one in which trash talk, celebrity gossip, political and social scandal, and sports results have become standard offerings on the media menu.

I believe the role of media in society must go beyond the justified but often mundane and the self-serving concerns of media owners and professionals.  Media in 21st century Africa is the single most important instrument for engendering the social and political transformations taking place on the continent.  It has, in the view of many, become the First Estate!  New technologies in this digital age have strengthened both the reach and power of media, forcing all the other levers of state power to defer to it in ways hitherto unimagined in the quest for control of society.

It is important to recognize its power and to act with responsibility and foresight.  There are important reasons why it must go beyond the very limited agenda of content production and delivery.  Media has a duty and self-serving reasons to work with the other arms of the state to ensure society’s survival and growth.

First of all, the media industry is more likely to thrive in a society that thrives than in one that does not.  Societies thrive when governments adopt and implement appropriate policies in critical sectors of national economies, and citizens are able to weigh in on the shaping of these policies.  Secondly, the single most important source of what goes into media content is very often the direct consequence of government action. Understanding the whys and wherefore of such action allows media to play its role from a perspective of knowledge.  That intermediation role, delivering information from government or reacting to the consequences of government action, and providing feedback from citizens, is core to what media is and does.

The prevailing school of thought within independent media in Africa is that the longer the distance from government the better the credibility of the media organization.  In the corrupted socio-political environment of most countries, this makes absolute sense. The question remains, however: can a media industry that is permanently in the dark as to what goes on within the corridors of political power successfully serve its purpose vis-à-vis society?  How does it intermediate when it sits only on one side of the social equation?

 

The purpose of media in a changing Africa commands media professionals to not only seek and gain access to where policies are made but also to understand why certain policy choices are made over others.  New technologies have increased the possibility of obtaining needed access to knowledge and, in the process, redefined the profile of who the journalist should be and what he or she should be doing.  It is in this regard that we will, in a next segment, look at who media managers should be looking to hire today and in what proportion.  What should be the mix of professionals in a modern newsroom: techies, journalists, business managers, good writers, sociologists, political scientists, financial analysts, and so on?  Which all begs another question as to whether traditional norms should still be in play in a non-traditional digital environment? Is change within the media an imperative?  Are today’s media leaders up to the game?  These will be examined in the next delivery in the “Purpose of Media” series.

 

Looking to journalists’ safety

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Unesco’s Jaco du Toit moderating a discussion on Journalists’ Safety Indicators.


Over the past year, the African Media Initiative has been examining the media environment in Kenya to assess the level of journalists’ safety against a set of specific indicators. The study, commissioned by Unesco, involved data collection from key media stakeholders such as media, state and political actors, civil society organizations and academia, the UN and other international organizations.

 

The indicators – Journalists’ Safety Indicators – are an initiative of Unesco and are designed as a tool to measure progress in efforts to implement the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

 

As Unesco says in its guidelines, Applying UNESCO’s Journalists’ Safety Indicators (JSIs) A Practical Guidebook to Assist Researchers (published on 11 February, 2015), “The purpose of the JSI indicators is to pinpoint significant matters that show, or impact upon, the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. ” The indicators “especially serve as a basis against which changes can be systematically registered over time’’, the guidelines add.

 

The Guidebook goes on to explain that the JSIs cover “a variety of actions, including: monitoring safety issues (information collection), promoting norms on safety (which includes the publishing of information, amongst other steps), co-ordination with other actors, training and capacity-building programmes, as well as other activities”.

 

On February 23, Unesco convened a stakeholders’ validation workshop at the United Nations office at Gigiri in Nairobi. It brought together a cross-section of representative groups – Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association, Association of Freelance Journalists, National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (K), Kenya Human Rights Commission, African Media Initiative, Twaweza Communications, Association of Bloggers, Article 19, Association of Parliamentary Journalists and the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. State actors had also been invited but did not attend.

 

The lead researcher, Dr George Nyabuga, of the School of Journalism, University of Nairobi, presented the research findings with Unesco’s Jaco du Toit moderating the discussions. Feedback from the stakeholders will help refine the report in preparation for its launch on May 3, 2016, as part of activities to mark the World Press Freedom Day.

 

Musings of a budding journalist

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By Mary Chumbow

Communications Intern

In a journalism ethics class last year, the lecturer posed a question the sat back and let us debate the answer for a while since, as she pointed out, she was sure it would not be an easy one to resolve.

“If teenagers were involved in a murder and you were assigned to cover the murder trial, would you see it fit to take photos of these children and post them as part of your story, thus exposing their identity, or would you use aliases with your story?” She asked.

The question was informed by a 1993 incident in the UK in which two 10-year-old boys on a murder charge had their photos splashed all over the media. What followed in class was a very heated debate as each student weighed in on the issue. Opinion was divided almost right in the middle. Some students felt it would be unethical to use aliases in the interest of the children and their families. Others argued that to do so would be unethical and would amount to protecting the juveniles with the attendant risk that they could carry on with their criminal behavior once released.

Needless to say, the debate ended with a divided class and that was exactly what the lecturer was hoping for, a stalemate, otherwise called, an ethical dilemma in journalism. But how do we overcome these dilemmas and still maintain our credibility as journalists?

Being credible is one thing but to prove credibility is another, and this is the point at which, I dare say, a major part of the African media is. I get the feeling that the African audience has lost confidence in its media and find international media more believable.

As a journalism student, who could be referred to as a baby taking her first steps in the industry, I feel a little bit entitled and always want to speak up for journalists when others are criticizing them. However, even I find that difficult at times am persuaded to agree, as accusatory as this may sound, with the public perception of journalists as integrity-deficient biased puppets of vested interests.

Nurturing a discipline of compliance with journalistic ethical standards is a continuing challenge for many in the profession and as as Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta once stated, the country, and Africa, can simply not afford to accommodate unqualified journalists or those who do not observe the highest ethical standards of the profession. The President was speaking at Kenyatta International Convention Centre during a regional forum organized by the Media Council of Kenya as part of preparations for the World Press Freedom Day celebrations of May 3, 2014.

Undoubtedly,the African media has been in a perennial struggle with the ruling class over press freedom. Many journalists and media personalities have been heard to speak out against oppression of the press by presidents and/or governments. For a journalist in a country such as Cameroon, I would like to think that our first worry would be the lack of quality facilities or resources.

However, in countries like Kenya, the media has had to face opposition from not only the government but the public as well. Nowhere is this assault on media more vicious and sustained than on social media. In a sense, the media has itself to blame for this for publishing, for instance, one-sided stories loaded with innuendos with little evidence of verification of what comes through as outlandish claims and allegations, misplaced comments and outright bias.

Media credibility can only be renewed by the journalists themselves. Apart from qualifications acquired in journalism schools that allow us to practise the trade, journalists need to maintain a persona that is beyond reproach. Neutrality is key, and I feel that this is what is mostly lacking in the profession. The moment a reader or viewer notices bias or questions the timeliness of one’s story, a seed of doubt is planted and credibility is lost.

The Media Council of Kenya’s Deputy CEO and programmes manager, Victor Bwire, was spot on in an article published in January 18, 2016 issue of the Standard Digital Media, when he wrote: “Media regulation is not going to be done through external means by non-media organizations creating some laws and administrative codes, but by journalists themselves, through a conducive legal regime that accepts that journalism is a profession and not a craft.” (See article here).

By treating journalism as the profession that it is, journalists will be able to retain that respect and credibility that is so much needed. This is what will bring a change to the face and voice of the media.

As a budding journalist, I would like to believe that this is actually possible. However, as I was told once by those already in the profession (and as I am sure you, the reader, might be thinking), reality is quite different from class work. “Once you’re in the real world, you’ll soon come to realize that all is not as it seems,” I was told in an almost hectoring manner.

A time should come when journalism students will not have to defend those who preceded them in the field and on the way, possibly become disillusioned. We need the best African brains working in the media, to tell the African story, in the best way possible.

Is it at this point that I should say I have a dream? Well… yes, I have a dream. That said, anyone looking to hire a freshly minted journalist with great ideas on how to better tell the African story?

 

 

Telecommunications and Media Forum held in Johannesburg

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Best practice decision making to drive connectivity, accessibility and competitiveness

The International Institute of Communications held its final Telecommunications and Media Forum of  2015 in Johannesburg. The event was marked by a robust debate by speakers and delegates on what constitutes “best” practice policy and regulatory decision-making.

Over two days, senior executives representing regulators, industry, academia and civil society from Africa and beyond analyzed the opportunities and challenges of driving connectivity, accessibility, affordability and competitiveness in the global economy.

Participants also reviewed the progress of digital migration and examined planning and implementation of broadband infrastructure, through National Broadband Plans. A review of the Ghana migration experience showed that funding was the biggest challenge to the project as the country’s initial funding arrangement of a concessionary loan from China did not materialize.

Ghana also struggled to fund a public education campaign on the migration, as well as supporting the economically vulnerable in the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting. Governments still have a lot to do in reviewing existing broadcasting legal frameworks in order to support a successful analogue switch-off.

The Telecommunications and Media Forum was supported by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), and featured keynote addresses from South African ministries. Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, set the scene on the opening day where the focus was on infrastructure, funding and supply side issues with affordable, sustainable access recognized as a key development goal.

Looking for free content for your online news outlet? You might want to check The Conversation Africa

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Great content can sometimes be hard to come by, and with few media organizations in Africa possessing the resources required to engage foreign correspondents, a new site might just be the what many need. The Conversation Africa is a news and analysis website which is a collaboration between African and international academics and their editors, who are journalists. It’s a Creative Commons website – so it’s free to republish any of the articles on the site – and it is a great source of expert opinion that is edited for the general reader in mind.

The Conversation Africa launched in May as part of the global group (with sister websites in the US, the UK, Australia and France) and are regularly picked up by publishers such as the Guardian, CNN and Time magazine, among others.

Take a look at the website – https://theconversation.com/africa – and see which articles you might be interested in republishing. The site just asks that you follow its guidelines – https://theconversation.com/africa/republishing-guidelines – which includes attributing the academic, their university and The Conversation Africa and linking back to the original story. You can pick up a tracking code on individual articles, which is a small string of code that will go into the HTML coding on your website (those instructions are attached).

Some recent pieces which might be of interest are:

How toxic leaders destroy people as well as organisations
https://theconversation.com/how-toxic-leaders-destroy-people-as-well-as-organisations-51951

Why reaching and staying middle class is a lifetime challenge
https://theconversation.com/why-reaching-and-staying-middle-class-is-a-lifetime-challenge-52322

Four common myths about exercise and weight loss
https://theconversation.com/four-common-myths-about-exercise-and-weight-loss-52855

Why the UN isn’t winning its battle against sexual abuse by peacekeepers
https://theconversation.com/why-the-un-isnt-winning-its-battle-against-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers-52866

How the rise in ethnic tensions at Kenya’s universities is hurting the academy
https://theconversation.com/how-the-rise-in-ethnic-tensions-at-kenyas-universities-is-hurting-the-academy-50730
To pick up the tracking code:
1. Go to article page. For example https://theconversation.com/how-africa-can-instil-entrepreneurship-as-a-tool-of-development-47393

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2. Click on the Republish button, which is on the right side of the screen.

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3. You will see a pop-up screen. Click the Advanced tab on the pop-up screen.

4. In the Advanced tab, you will find the small string of code in the top window. In the above example, it is this: <img alt=”The Conversation” height=”1″ src=”https://counter.theconversation.edu.au/content/47393/count.gif” width=”1″ />

5. Insert into HTML for story.

Election Coverage: A Central Role for Media

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By Eric Chinje

Africa is emerging as a player on the global stage. This should not be news to anyone. Mention of the fact should, however, serve as an invitation to reflect on its significance.

For the first time in history, events and outcomes in Africa will impact and be directly impacted by what goes on in the rest of the world. Even as late as 2008, less than a decade ago, the sub-prime crisis and global economic meltdown of that year had nary an effect on the continent. Africa was essentially outside the global economic system – too small a player to matter!

That has all changed. The world will not catch a cold when Africa sneezes – not yet! – but the threat of a cold is becoming real. The continent’s growing middle class complete with its voracious consumerist tendencies, its potential as a source of essential minerals such as coltan, uranium, manganese and others, and a growing desire and ability to seek value-addition prior to exports, all of this is moving Africa ever closer to the economic heart of global affairs. It is about time, therefore, that Africans – citizens and governments – recognize this and talk about it.

The challenge of injecting this fact into the public discourse mostly lies, I believe, with media professionals and, to some extent, with academics, social commentators and other opinion leaders on the continent.

Citizens and their leaders have to be reminded of this important fact because their actions today and tomorrow at the individual, micro level have consequences at the collective, macro level.

The discussion must focus on the quality of leadership on the continent. What quality of men and women are in leadership in Africa today? What quality of men and women should lead Africa in the 21st century?

The answer to these questions will bring us to the one element that is increasingly central to the choice of leaders today: elections!

One of the most important drivers of change in Africa now is the system of governance that came into prominence after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Freed from the imperatives of a bipolar world, people in Africa ultimate rose to demand the right to participate in the governance of their countries.

The result was the slow but steady collapse of centralized states and single party rule, and the rise in Africa of participatory democracy. Elections have since become the mode for determining entry into the circle of national leadership. And the leaders who will ensure that Africa remains an actor in world affairs this century will come to power through elections. Other options have proved to be disastrous for regional stability and economic growth.

The future of the continent is inextricably linked to what happens during elections. And in this, the role of media is critical! That is why it is important that journalists and other media professionals get into the game, understand what elections represent, and figure out how they cover these intensely political, economic and social activities in the life of any nation.

Elections strengthen national democracies and institutions; they determine the quality of leaders who will govern the nation; they help ensure the sustainability of peace and progress, and ultimately they define the pace and quality of development and change.

Key to electoral outcomes is the quality of public information and debate. Informed citizens are empowered citizens. Never before in its history has the need for quality public information in Africa been in greater demand. Never before has the role of the communication professional been more important.

What journalists and other opinion leaders do in the lead up to elections, in the organization and coverage of the elections, and in bringing the country together again after elections may be the single most important role played by the media in any country. Their actions may be the one factor that reinforces the bonds that bind the nation, strengthen its governance institutions, and ensure national progress and development.

 

There are elections each year somewhere in Africa. Even in cases where outcomes are known before ballots are cast, elections present an opportunity to bring out the issues and general debate on them. There is hardly a country on the continent that does not face issues related to youth unemployment, inadequate infrastructure, public health and education, economic and financial management, energy, agriculture and food security, and challenges to peace and security. Who is offering the public viable policy options for dealing with these? There is no better time to put out these issues and have aspirants to power discuss them.

 

The African Media Initiative will be partnering with some global institutions to help strengthen the ability of media professionals to adequately cover elections and to make sure that media in Africa play that central role in defining the future of this continent.

 

 

 

 

Inspired speech on Africa’s future and the media’s role in developing the continent

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During the 7th Edition of the African Media Leaders Forum, we were honored to have Dr Carlos Lopes, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa as a keynote speaker in the opening session. Dr. Lopes specializes in development and strategic planning has more than 24 years of senior leadership experience at the United Nations that include serving as Executive Director of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

 

In his speech to delegates, Dr Lopes outlined why, despite all the bad news about Africa, he still remains optimistic about the continent’s growth and future prospects. He urged the media to use quality data in telling the African story, and to remain resolute in delivering a public good through unbiased, in-depth journalism. Dr Lopes’ speech has greatly inspired the AMI team and will inform our work going forward, into the New Year. Read the entire text of his speech HERE.

Charting the way forward for African Media: AMLF 2015 convenes over 600 delegates

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By Mary Chumbow

Media leaders and news organizations in Africa have been urged to focus on giving greater emphasis to development issues. Speaking at the 7th annual African Media Leaders Forum held last week in Johannesburg, Mauritius President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim noted that negative publicity had taken the place of much needed coverage of development issues on the continent. She urged the gathering, which brought over 600 media leaders and owners from across the world, to actively tackle developmental issues, provide solutions and nurture citizen engagement at the same time.

 

As she formally opened the forum at the Birchwood hotel in Johannesburg, President Gurib-Fakim was adamant that the media should “become activists, not pacifists in the search for Africa-centric development solutions that are economically viable, socially relevant and environmentally benign.”

 

The African Media Leaders Forum is the annual flagship event of the African Media Initiative, which seeks to bring together Media Leaders, Media Personalities and those interested in the media, to discuss pertinent issues related to the media and the development of the media in Africa. This year’s forum featured extensive talks on the development of the media by Bineta Diop, African Union Envoy on Women, Peace and Security; Dr Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; and Mamadou Biteye, Managing Director, African Regional Office, Rockefeller Foundation.

 

The 3-day forum took place from 11th to 13th November 2015 under the theme Shaping Development Conversations in Africa: The Role of Media in the Digital Environment, and focused mainly on media development, content generation, ethics and professionalism. As part of the forum, a gala dinner for the Zimeo “Excellence in Media” awards took place on Thursday 12th November, at a gala celebration to recognize those who had proven themselves beyond doubt in excellence reporting. The awards covered up to 18 categories which included Business and Finance reporting, Education reporting and Maritime reporting. African Media Initiative (AMI) CEO, Eric Chinje, congratulated the winners and thanked the Zimeo sponsors for their continued investment in journalism in Africa. The awards had received well over 500 entries from all over Africa. Speaking at the awards dinner which also served as the launch of the Zimeo awards, Mr. Chinje also expressed AMI’s hope to grow the competition in the coming years.

 

The African Media Leaders Forum is now in its seventh year. Every year, the forum is held in a different city on the African continent. The host country for the next edition of the AMLF was revealed at the end of the forum, and delegates can expect an even bigger event in 2016, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

Accessing Information in Africa: It’s your Right

Video: The importance of access to information

Exercising one’s right to information is the oxygen for democracy. It is increasingly recognised as a prerequisite for transparency and accountability of governments, as a means of safeguarding citizens against mismanagement and corruption, and facilitating people’s ability to make informed decisions about their lives.

The purpose of Media (3): Our role within the governance loop

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Continuing series by AMI CEO Eric Chinje

Read: Reflections Part 1 & Reflections Part 2

In my last posting, I pointed to the need to examine the relationship between three of the most important actors in the building of nations: Citizens, government and media. I suggested we examine what operates in the more developed societies and see if there were any lessons Africa could draw from their experience.

The relationship between government and media should be seen not in terms of people and sentiments, but of roles and responsibilities. Both are tied in a governance loop with citizens. Media curates the information that citizens need to generate the actions and ideas that inform the policies governments have to develop and implement.

Their actions sit within a circular knowledge continuum (the loop) that has citizens playing the roles of encoder and decoder. In a perfect state, media would feed into the system, providing the information that citizens need to generate the actions and ideas that fuel the policy machine of government.

Western and other developed societies operate a version of this, especially in crisis situations. An example will suffice. Early in the summer of 2015, European society had to deal with two overriding issues that questioned the fundamentals of its communal existence: The Greek question and immigration. The two issues became the staple of media and the overarching concerns of government.

Media provided the latest updates, debated the options, and kept the stories in the headlines as governments held interminable meetings on what to do about both issues. Citizens in Greece took to the streets when necessary to react to what was coming to them and voted in ways that informed government action. The governance loop was respected and functioned as it should.

African societies are, for the most part, in a permanent state of crisis. There are multiple reasons for this and range from state fragility, terrorism threats and external economic shocks to social discontent. A number of issues could just as easily provoke a crisis.  In any given country, these could include food insecurity, youth unemployment, climate change effects, power shortages, or institutional weaknesses.

These developmental challenges have often provoked an existential crisis in one country or the other. Yet, a recent study by the African Media Initiative concluded that development reporting accounts for less than 10 percent of total media coverage on the continent. The gap remains extremely wide between media content and Africa’s development agenda, and the bulk of media fare is skewed towards entertainment and sensational politics.

It is important to ask the question: How well does media in Africa play its role within the governance loop?  Does it contribute to that ultimate goal of raising the quality of life on the continent?

Some will argue that these questions are irrelevant to what is essentially a business – the news business – that should have no other parameters than the need to survive in a highly competitive environment and to make a profit. This will be the subject of a debate that I plan to generate in a forthcoming segment in this series on the Purpose of Media in Africa.