How can donors, investors, media and media development organisations collaborate to strengthen Africa’s media sector? This 2006 report from the BBC World Service Trust outlines the findings of a survey of media in 17 sub-Saharan countries. The sector is growing and becoming increasingly diverse, but faces challenges such as state control and lack of investment. Donors underestimate the media’s potential to contribute to development and governance. Support for media development in Africa must be strategic, holistic, collaborative and driven by local needs. Initiatives should be better coordinated and expanded in scale and duration.
Media development involves fostering independence and diversity. Attention should be given to private, state-owned and community media. Private media are viewed as being able to hold government to account, although ‘yellow press’ tabloid newspapers with low professional and ethical standards have spread in Africa. State-owned media, especially broadcasting services, have the widest reach and potentially the greatest influence. Their principal challenge is to serve all sections of the population and to become impartial and free from government interference. Community media are largely small non-profit, private enterprises serving the interests of local communities. Most respondents viewed this sector of the African media in particular as advancing development objectives, giving a voice to communities, and being able to empower communities. Its main challenge is financial sustainability.
The impact and coherence of support to African media has been reduced by unsustainable and short-term approaches to projects, disconnected programmes and unnecessary competition amongst donors. A coherent support strategy should be developed, informed by consideration of the following challenges and opportunities.
- Regulatory reform and the enabling environment: Commitment to principles of democratic governance in media regulation varies in both legislation and implementation. To develop an enabling media environment, a long-term, regional approach is needed that engages multiple stakeholders. Priorities should be: advocacy and lobbying; public broadcasting services and independent regulatory bodies; and private media development.
- Professionalism: Consistently low levels of professional, ethical, management and technical standards require: a tailored national approach with regional support; the development of professional standards (by the media); and evidence of the impact of professional development efforts. This should involve in-house professional development for media organisations and support for training institutions.
- Equipping the sector: Equipment, facilities and maintenance require significant improvement. Central and long-term funding for infrastructure have been effective strategies (alongside media reform efforts).
- Improving financial sustainability: Donors should support private media in low-income countries. Public and community media require creative funding mechanisms, and advertising revenues for all media need to be increased.
- Programming and local content: Priorities include support for local production skills and the creation of content on social and development issues, and audience research and monitoring.
There is strong support for a pan-African initiative to complement national media development interventions. This should facilitate: advocacy to the international community and pan-African governance bodies; greater professionalism and a more widespread public service ethos; and access to resources, reduced costs and better-focused funding. Such an initiative should:
- Provide a partnership structure, rather than create new structures
- Be African-led, and autonomous in its funding and operations
- Involve all stakeholders engaged in media support, and improve inter-agency coordination
- Address the specific media development needs of countries that are at different stages of development
- Promote clear objectives and principles for media development initiatives, including: a locally- or regionally-defined agenda; a needs-based, collaborative approach; sustainability; appropriate timeframes; and integrated monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.