Amadou Mahtar Ba, the CEO of the African Media Initiative (AMI), writes about the need for a balanced media in Africa.
EVENTS ON THE CONTINENT indicate that the 21st century might well be that of Africa – unprecedented economic growth, important democratic strides, growing numbers of investment partners, and a lot more. But ensuring that Africa claims the 21st century and that the necessary economic and democratic dividends are distributed in a transparent, equitable and inclusive manner depends to a great extent on a professional, ethical, and balanced media.
The search for such an equilibrium is not limited to Africa; it is also a matter of concern to the world media as testified by the on-going Leveson Inquiry into phone-hacking by sections of the British media.
The sheer size of the continent and its many socio-political contexts mean the media scene in Africa is a patchwork of the good, the bad and the ugly.
This rather lopsided media landscape should not be allowed to persist. To a certain extent, it can be addressed through the training of journalists and the establishment of standards and codes across the media.
The objective of this endeavour would be to create a lasting framework – not merely supported by donor money but also embedded within journalists and the media houses they belong to.
In an era of huge technological transformation that has seen the emergence of so many “news and information” sources, that is the price to pay to stay relevant in a besieged profession.
It goes without saying that governments and African regional institutions must also play their role by genuinely creating, without further convenient delay, the conducive environments for the media revolution needed to promote democratic governance, economic growth and transformation, as well as human development.
For a long time, Africa was left on the sidewalk of the development of communication technologies. However, this is no longer the case as the continent is leapfrogging the technological development stages that others have gone through and thereby allowing it early access to the enormous life-changing benefits of the digital revolution.
This is most visible in the mobile technology space where penetration in Africa has reached over 600 million – some 30 million smart phones were sold in the first quarter of 2012 alone, making it the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world.
Here, media houses have a unique opportunity to benefit from this revolution by investing in new digital technology, thereby allowing them to produce content for the hundreds of millions of mobile customers who need to be informed and entertained. It is believed that the survival of traditional media lies in its capacity to strategically use digital technology, enabling it to make media content more relevant, useful and functional to its users.
Tapping into the potential of open data journalism does not only offer the ability to tell the story differently, but it also makes good business sense with the creation of apps and other web-based interactive content.
Freedom is of no value if not balanced by responsibility. The traditional media have learnt that painful lesson.
As the new offerings brought by the advent of digital technology and social and political online movements make their way into our societies, those in the media business should ensure that all the necessary ethical, moral and legal features are abided by to ensure that the media serve the greater interest of the public good.
As an endnote, it is important to stress that robust, ethical, adaptable and financially sustainable media do not just happen in a vacuum. On the contrary, the necessary support and network must be in place.
This is why the African Media Initiative (AMI), a pan- African effort aimed at providing the continent’s media owners and practitioners with the tools and support needed to play an effective role in their societies. Through various projects and programmes – technology adaptation, access to finance, ethics and leadership, training and capacity building skills – the AMI is working with all the relevant stakeholders to help create the ecosystem necessary for a new kind of media development on the continent, where innovation and citizens’ respect through positive engagement remain the core.