Speech by Eric Chinje CEO, African Media Initiative; At the Opening of the 7th AMLF


The 7th Edition of the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF), Johannesburg, South Africa

                                                                   November 12, 2015

                                                                     Opening Remarks

Your excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen: welcome to the seventh edition of the African Media Leaders Forum and the first to take place in the southern half of the continent. Thank you, South Africa, and thank you Johannesburg for hosting us this week.

For those among us who pray, I will pause for a second for you to intercede with the one you pray to, to give us the wisdom to make of this gathering a successful convergence of the minds on the things that we must do to strengthen the role of media in our changing African society.

We have a fairly unique gathering here today and I hope we succeed in making this a unique event. We have a Head of State who is unique in many ways within the African leadership constellation; we have a member of the top leadership of the United Nations; we have a most effacing member of the elite club of Nobel Prize winners; we have globally recognized authors and academics, and we have some of the continent’s top media leaders in the room today.

We are gathered here to discuss a subject that was defined after extensive consultation with media leaders across Africa: “Shaping Development Conversations in Africa: the Role of Media in a Digital Environment.” Respondents seemed to have reacted to the findings of a survey we carried out last year that concluded, in essence, that media was generally absent from discussions on major quality-of-life issues in Africa and they wanted us to put that on the agenda. An equally high number wanted us to focus on the critically important question of where technology was taking the media industry. We decided to combine the two questions and came up with what will be the focus of the next two days of deliberations..

We all agree that media in Africa continues to face some daunting challenges. Political opening and technological innovation in the last two decades resulted in an unprecedented expansion of media, bringing in new and often ill-prepared players into the industry. These developments brought to the fore some previously latent issues of capacity, professionalism, financing, technological adaptation, regulation, and management. The quality of journalism dipped, the place of the journalist in society slipped, and the role of media in accompanying the social, economic and political transformations became open to question.

AMI was established some eight years ago to help drive the search for solutions to the problems of the industry. The need for a structure of this nature was identified in one of the most extensive research projects ever carried out on media and at the behest of the 2005 summit meeting in Gleneagle, Scotland, of the Group of Eight.

AMI came into being in 2008 and has since incubated ideas that are helping redefine the African media landscape: the leadership and guiding principles that emphasize ethics in journalism; the Story Challenge that is driving quality content production; the Digital Innovation Programme that seeks to mainstream innovation and technological adaptation in the industry, and the AMLF itself. AMI has supported such initiatives as Code4Africa, Africa Check, and others as a way to improve the quality of media in Africa.

The organization is moving on today to strengthen and deepen the work of media professionals. It is working to encourage the creation of platforms for knowledge-sharing across Africa and build practice communities around those issues that citizens care the most about. It is leading the effort to capture, package and share the Africa Story. We are engaged in a process to help media find its purpose in 21st century Africa!

I invite you today, ladies and gentlemen of the press, to open your minds to the possibilities of a new journalism that not only innovates but supports innovation in a modernizing continent; that not only grows but underscores growth and development of society; that not only generates the ideas that are the engine of social transformation but also moderates the debates that must sustain these societal changes.

Media does not exist for media’s sake alone! It cannot be all about some vague notion of power and a Fourth Estate, or about choosing winners and losers in politics, or about celebrating victors in sports or about celebrity gossip. The focus of media should not be only on survival strategies and financial gain, or about politics and corruption. There has to be a purpose that is bigger, nobler and more elevating! We need a new, collective and disruptive consciousness of the role of the media in Africa today.

So I invite you, once more, to see the challenges you face through the prism of the greater challenges that our continent faces, and to commit yourselves to contributing to the greater good by doing that which media does best: building an informed citizenry! You cannot inform if you are not informed! You cannot tell a story you do not know or understand! Your media organization cannot grow sustainably if the society in which it operates and our economies do not grow. You cannot gain the trust and respect of society if you are not driven by the urge to contribute to making society better. You will not regain the luster of a noble profession if your professional ethics are open to question and your mission is seen to be narrow and self-serving.

As we seek purpose in media, who else to tell us but our readers and audiences, consumers of the media product? Are we reaching out enough to them? Are we engaging them as we should: talking to the farmer in the rural community, to the young graduate seeking her first job in a tough labour market, to the entrepreneurs who is on a growth trajectory or the one who has fallen on hard times? Are we talking to the teacher and the pupil, the doctor and the patient, the judge and the prisoner? Do we know those we serve and strive to meet their needs?

These questions and much else will inform our discussions over the next couple of days. Let us take them on with clairvoyance and humble determination to find those answers that will allow us to strengthen media in Africa and accompany and strengthen 21st century transformations on the continent.

I thank you!