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.

 

Reflections on the purpose of media (2): Defining our role beyond watchdog status

By AMI CEO Eric Chinje

Media action in Africa, we surmised in an earlier piece, had come to reflect the school of thought that ascribed to journalists the very juridical role of watchdog.  They are society’s moral police, the eyes and ears of citizens, the voice of the voiceless, and the divulger of misdeeds in the corridors of state power.  And in that, the media professionals are a power unto themselves: the Fourth Estate.

It is on the basis of this that professionals in public media in Africa were, for a long time, denied the recognition some of them most certainly deserved.  Many were referred to, derogatorily, as “His Masters Voice” – an epithet that referred to the dog on the gramophone record labels of the last century.  As the echo chambers of those with political power, public media journalists were no “watchdogs”; they did not speak for the people! But this, of course, begs the question: when does media – public or private – speak for the people?

The African Media Initiative (AMI) is inviting media professionals on the continent to weigh in on the question and on what exactly should be the role of media in 21st century Africa (www.africanmediaileadersforum.org). What should define the approach to journalism and media action in Africa today?  Is the need to go beyond the watchdog role compelling enough to force a rethink of the philosophical basis on which media operates on this or any other developing continent?

Africa today is in the throes of climactic, political, economic and socio-religious change, with outcomes that could be as promising as they could be devastating.  Across the continent, droughts and floods compete in equal measure; waves of migrants face the prospect of delivery as much as of death on the high seas; insecurity from merchants of terror equally challenge our concept of nation and of communal living as do instability from the terror of power.

Citizens everywhere try to make sense of it all.  The state of the world comes to them in heavy, daily doses on television, radio, newspapers, and on social media.  Does it suffice to simply deliver the news or should media be part of helping them figure things out?  Should the esteemed men and women of the press just relay the complex realities on the continent today and decry what is being done by the first three power estates to address matters?  Or should they seek to go beyond their watchdog role?

As watchdog, media professionals have an obligation to hold governments to account. Do that, they are told, for the voiceless majority! The better they are at it, the more likely they are to win that next journalism award. Thanks in part to this fact, the relationship between government and journalists has come down to one of mutual suspicion and, whenever possible, each has sought to exercise their power to hold sway over the other: coercion by the one or blackmail by the other.

As one ponders the state of the continent today, does it not become necessary to question the nature of the relationship between the two forces that can do the most to transform society for the better?  Before rushing to an answer, it may be helpful to reflect on the lessons one can draw from more developed economies.  When I look at the west and other developed societies, I see the media as curators of information that citizens need to generate the actions and ideas that inform the  policies governments have to develop.  They all are part of a knowledge continuum.  Our reflections on this will be the subject of the next in the series on the purpose of media in 21st century Africa.

African Union Recognizes Critical Role of the Creative Economy

The African Union (AU) commissioned a report on the state of the Africa audiovisual and cinema/film sector to serve as the basis for the establishment of the Africa Audio Visual Cinema Commission (AACC) and the African Film Fund.

The AU, along with the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (Fédération PanAfricaine des Cinéastes, or FEPACI), held a workshop to review the report at the African Union offices in Nairobi. Delegates from 13 countries attended the two-day workshop.

In his opening remarks, Abla Dzifa Gomashie, the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, Ghana, focused on the role of government policy-making in creating an environment conducive to the growth of the industry.

The report talks about the increasing recognition in AU member states of the critical role of the creative economy in human progress and the range of social and economic benefits that derive from it. The report also notes that Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt lead African countries in annual film revenue.

The African Media Initiative (AMI) and FEPACI recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to strengthen and enhance the sector’s ability to contribute to development and to promote the creation of quality African audiovisual and film content. The two organizations will explore mechanisms for promoting widespread distribution of African film on the continent and beyond.

During the reception launching the workshop, Meredith Beal, AMI’s Sr. Technology Advisor, relayed AMI’s commitment to support development in the sector, stating that film and television content are powerful engines driving public opinion.

Delegates at the workshop were asked what they thought the media could do to support the growth of the film sector. Suggestions ranged from having a film column like is done with sports, encouraging greater exposure for African film and television personalities, critical film reviews to raise awareness and promote a film culture in Africa and a number of other recommendations.

In her closing remarks, Amina Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, underscored the importance of the proceedings and for the various stakeholders to work together to chart the way forward.

 

 

AMLF 2015 Video Series: Media in the Digital Era

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AMLF 2015 will focus on the role of media in the digital environment, especially in the context of shaping the conversation on Africa’s development. We spoke to several media leaders, asking them to share their views on some of the digital trends that are going to influence media operations on the continent. Trevor Ncube, Chairman of Alpha Media Holdings and Deputy Executive Chairman of the Mail and Guardian of South Africa, gives his take on trends to look out for.

Follow the conversation on twitter via #AMLF2015 and visit the AMLF website for forum updates. See you in Johannesburg!

Media and the entrepreneurial movement: Business reporters converge in Lagos

Entrepreneurship is on the rise in Africa, and has the potential to drive the continent’s development to the next level. There are abundant opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, but there are also many challenges. One of these is financing. Mentorship is also lacking for hundreds of entrepreneurs looking to grow and scale their businesses across Africa.

In December 2014, the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) was launched as a US$100 million initiative aimed at identifying and supporting 10,000 African entrepreneurs over the next 10 years. The programme offers training, funding, as well as mentorship to selected entrepreneurs.

Five business journalists travelled to Ota, Nigeria, at the invitation of the African Media Initiative (AMI) and the Tony Elumelu Foundation to meet 1,000 entrepreneurs who had converged for the first TEEP boot camp held at the Covenant University. The TEEP Class of 2015 had been selected from 51 African countries and territories, representing all of Africa’s geopolitical regions — North, East, Southern, Central and West Africa – and major language blocs – Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone, and Arabic Africa. The journalists interacted with the entrepreneurs, who represent a diversity of sectors that range from agriculture to education, energy, fashion and ICT, emphasising Africa’s potential in various industries.

The media’s portrayal of entrepreneurship has a strong influence on people’s desire to become entrepreneurs, as well as on the performance of entrepreneurial and start-up ventures on the continent. The media, therefore, has an important role to play in shaping the public’s perception of the entrepreneurship process as well as in supporting start-up businesses through relevant programming and insightful coverage of the topic.

Journalists had a chance to interact with the entrepreneurs, who will each receive US$5,000 to grow or establish their start-up ideas.  As a result, various articles were published in print and online media that delved into entrepreneurship, and highlighting some of the projects that entrepreneurs interviewed at the camp were engaging in. The journalists expressed their excitement at the opportunity to carry on the conversation on entrepreneurship beyond the boot camp, by following the entrepreneurs’ journey as they strive to grow their businesses using the seed capital awarded by TEEP.

 

http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/In-East-Africa–over-200-get-grants-for-business-/-/2558/2809212/-/item/0/-/eggdw5z/-/index.html

http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/670864–100m-up-for-grabs-for-startups.html

http://www.gfm.sn/lagos-capitale-des-jeunes-entrepreneurs-africains/

 

 

Reporting terror in Africa

This article was written by Kemantha Govender and originally published at the University of the Witwatersrand website on 7th July 2015. Republished with permission.

Journalists are no longer professionals who can freely do their jobs but are now targets for kidnapping, said Radio France International’s (RFI) Sophie Marsaudon at the Wits Radio Academy’s annual conference, Radio Days Africa.

The conference ran from 1 to 3 July 2015 and attracted participants mainly from a number of African and European countries.

Marsaudon was speaking about journalists’ experiences reporting terror and conflict in Africa. In a session with Tunde Akpeji,  a journalism Knight Fellow, the duo gave accounts of losing their colleagues and suggestions on how journalists could better protect themselves.

“Journalists are no longer considered as natural witnesses or professionals. The number of journalists being taken as hostages in Syria and Libya are incredibly high because it is a good source of income and publicity for these movements. If you take a journalist as a hostage all media across the world will talk about it and that is exactly what these organisations want,” said Marsaudon.

She said when she started her job 13 years ago, she really thought that the fact she was a journalist protected her from everything.

“My job was to speak to everybody. I was not supposed to (be/play) part in the conflict. We have been extremely naïve in our way of working ,” she said.

Protection

Marsaudon said she doesn’t believe that journalists should stop doing their jobs, especially in conflict areas but stressed the importance of knowing how to protect themselves.

Following the death of two RFI employees, the organisation designed training courses for journalists who work in dangerous zones. The training covers everything from physically protecting one’s self to how much information to share on social media and how smart phones can be used against journalists. The courses also cover the emotional health of journalists and looks at things such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Akpeji spoke about ethical considerations when covering conflict, arguing that there must be a balance between providing information and not acting as a propaganda machine by increasing attention of organisation that participate in terror activities.

He also noted that in radio, the choice of words and language used can also be challenging.

“We take our stories directly from newspapers… There is no agreement on what terms to call organisations like Boko Haram. Do we refer to them as insurgents or extreme terrorists?” he said.

Other speakers at the conference included Eric Chinje of the African Media Initiative, Radio 702’s Pheladi Gwangwa, Kevin Fine of Jacaranda FM, Gareth Cliff of CliffCentral, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Deputy Minister of Communications and Jonathan Wall from the BBC. Read Minister Ndabeni-Abraham’s speech here.

Professor Franz Kruger, one of the conference organisers, said among the key themes were the podcasting revolution. Nick van der Kolk of US podcast Love Radio and Gareth Cliff of CliffCentral were among the speakers who discussed the reasons why this new form of media is taking off in the way that it has.

“We were also very pleased with the sessions focusing on radio sales and marketing, and delegates enjoyed hearing some ground-breaking examples of creativity in radio advertising.  The conference also focused on the prospects for digital audio broadcasting, with a demonstration of this new technology – the radio version of TV’s digital terrestrial television,” said Kruger.