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Africa: Media Matters

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Oct 3, 2010 (101003)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Weak though they may often be, the media, especially the independent outlets, have made remarkable contributions to peaceful and transparent elections in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia; to post-conflict transitions and the restoration of peace in Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone; and to sustaining constitutional rule in times of political crises in Guinea, Kenya and Nigeria. And many continue to push to open up the space for freedom in suffocating environments." - Kwame Karikari, Media Foundation for West Africa

In the latest issue of Africa Renewal (, veteran Ghanaian journalist Kwame Karikari surveys the strengths and weaknesses of African media, faced with constraints both from government repression and from economic weaknesses. Despite the obstacles, however, including imprisonment of journalists in Eritrea, killings of journalists in Somalia, and similar offenses in a a number of other countries, newspapers, radio, and other media, now prominently including on-line media, are a vibrant sector in almost every African country.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains Dr. Karikari's article, a short commentary by journalist Thapelo Ndlovu of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, and a press release from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers on the campaign for the Declaration of Table Mountain, calling for the repeal of insult and defamation laws, which are often used against the press.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today, available on the web at, but not sent out by e-mail, contains several commentaries on debates on proposed new laws threatening freedom of information in South Africa.

Regular reports on the situation of journalists under threat in specific countries are available on the web and by e-mail from a number of international organizations.

These include:

(1) Reporters without Borders,230.html

(2) Committee to Protect Journalists

(3) International Freedom of Expression eXchange

(4) Media Foundation for West Africa

(5) Media Institute of Southern Africa

(6) Press and Media News

[Note: If you know of other key organizations with websites that should be added to this list, please send the URL to]

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on culture and the media, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

African media breaks 'culture of silence'
Journalists struggle to give voice, expand freedoms

By Kwame Karikari

From Africa Renewal, August 2010, page 23

[Professor Kwame Karikari is executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (, headquartered in Accra, Ghana, and heads the School of Communication Studies at the University of Ghana.

Africa Renewal, now in its 24th year of publication by the United Nations, features a wide variety of articles on African development. Issues from 1996 are available on-line at The site also provides a web portal with access to a wide range of news and commentary. See]

When on 18 March this year the Daily Nation, one of Africa's biggest and most successful independent newspapers, celebrated its 50th anniversary, Charles Onyango Obbo, a columnist for the Nairobi, Kenya, paper, wrote, "It has mostly been hell on earth for the African media for most of these 50 years. In fact the freest period for the African media generally has been the 15-year period between 1990 and 2005."

The media boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s, accompanying the movement for democratic reforms in Africa, transformed the continent's media landscape virtually overnight. It ended near-absolute government control and monopoly and ushered in a vibrant pluralism. Suddenly the streets of Africa's capitals were awash with newspapers. The "culture of silence," imposed first under colonialism and then by post-colonial military dictatorships and autocratic one-party states, was rudely broken.

Independent media boom

At independence in 1960 most newspapers were privately owned, organs either of the nationalist political movements and parties or of businesses mostly established by European investors. But by 1970 most newspapers of any significance across the continent were government-owned. Any newspaper expressing independent editorial attitudes was censored, banned or so controlled that most of the owners gave up publishing. Besides apartheid South Africa, only Kenya and Nigeria accommodated private and independent press businesses, even then under enormous political constraints.

In a few countries, such as Gambia and Niger, the first daily newspapers appeared in the period of media liberalization and boom. One man, the Liberian journalist Kenneth Best, started the first daily in Liberia (1981) and the first daily in Gambia (1992). Mr. Best eventually had to flee both countries.

Since the 1990s the independent media have grown like the savannah grass after prolific rainfalls following a long drought. In West Africa, according to a 2006 study sponsored by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), there were over 5,000 newspapers and radio and television stations in 15 countries.

By far the most earth-shaking development was the burst of radio stations. From the capitals to the provinces, the booming force of private and independent voices initially threatened to drown out the states' authoritarian broadcasting systems. In semi-desert Mali, for instance, there are today nearly 300 radio stations. In the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo there are about 196 community radio stations. Across the continent, the Internet and mobile telephony augment old media to expand Africans' sources of information and means of mass communication.

The armed conflicts of the 1990s did not seem to hinder the emergence of independent media anywhere, although many media outlets did become targets. Somalia saw the emergence of its first independent press, radio and even TV after it plunged into continuing anarchy. Numerous stations and newspapers emerged in Liberia and Sierra Leone during their notoriously bloody conflicts, while the state-owned broadcasting systems all but collapsed.

Today, two decades since the media boom, Eritrea is about the only country in sub-Saharan Africa in which government has a total monopoly on press and broadcasting.

Strengthening democracy

Linus Gitahi, chief executive of Kenya's Nation Media Group (NMG), said at the Pan-African Media Conference during the Daily Nation's anniversary, "More Africans live in relative freedom today than they did 50 years ago."

No doubt the media's role has been central in strengthening democracy in those countries where there has been tangible progress in governance and respect for human rights. Weak though they may often be, the media, especially the independent outlets, have made remarkable contributions to peaceful and transparent elections in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia; to post-conflict transitions and the restoration of peace in Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone; and to sustaining constitutional rule in times of political crises in Guinea, Kenya and Nigeria. And many continue to push to open up the space for freedom in suffocating environments.

Radio has expanded local news and information production. And the mobile phone has enhanced citizens' participation in public affairs discussions on the air. Radio, by incorporating many local languages more widely, has promoted positive cultural identity in many communities. At the 10th anniversary this January of Ghana's Radio Ada, a community station at Ada, a coastal town about 100 kilometres from the capital, the chief lamented, "Until the station came here, we did not hear our language on radio. We did not feel that we belonged in Ghana."

In some cases, however, the media have been an instrument of hate, xenophobia and crimes against humanity. While Rwanda's Radio Milles Collines, which played a role in the country's genocide, is the most known, there have been other disturbing examples of media promotion of ethnic hate, as in the bloody aftermath of Kenya's 2007 elections. Even in Ghana's much-celebrated successful election in 2008, some radio stations incessantly preached violence and mobilized partisan mobs to attack opponents. In all such cases the perpetrating media were owned by or were supporters of powerful persons in government, political parties or factions in conflicts. Continuing repression

The progressive thrust of the media has generally come up against violent repression. When the media have dared to question or uncover criminality and corruption in high places, they have usually earned the extreme wrath of "where power lies."

Thus virtually all assassinations of journalists, such as that of Norbert Zongo in Burkina Faso in 1998, Carlos Cardoso in Mozambique in 2000 or Deyda Heydara in Gambia in 2004, have had similar motives. The report of an independent commission on the Zongo case concluded that "Norbert Zongo was assassinated purely for political reasons, because he practiced committed investigative journalism. He defended a democratic ideal and was committed, through his newspaper, to fight for the respect of human rights and justice against bad governance of the public goods and against impunity."

Various international media rights advocacy groups, such as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, calculate that around 200 journalists have been killed in Africa in the last two decades. The majority of the victims fell in circumstances of war.

The use of repressive legislation has been a major tool in reversing the media's freedoms. Outside of South Africa, where the post-apartheid transition included fundamental reforms in media legislation, the new atmosphere of media pluralism elicited very negligible legal and policy reforms beyond constitutional clauses reaffirming UN principles on free expression.

By 2005 legislative and policy frameworks in most countries were so constraining that the ECA said in a study, "The need for a critical review and overhaul of the legal and policy environment in which the media operates across Africa cannot be overstated."

While individual countries may not have made significant reforms to media legislation and policy, the African Union and regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community and the 11-member Regional Conference of the Great Lakes have all adopted binding protocols and declarations advancing press freedom and freedom of expression.

Most member governments may be violating or ignoring the protocols they have signed, but civil society groups use institutions such as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights to promote media rights. Some, such as the Media Foundation for West Africa, also use the new regional ECOWAS Community Court of Justice to challenge violations of journalists' rights. Constraints and limitations

If violent attacks and disabling laws have been used to arrest the media's growth and relevance, professional and financial weaknesses have tended to limit their impact. Despite the phenomenal growth of the media, Professor Guy Berger of the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies in South Africa insisted in 2007 that "Africans are the least-served people of the world in terms of the circulation of information, for the reason that this continent exhibits a mass media that is everywhere limited in terms of quantity, and also sometimes quality."

Professor Berger noted, for example, that Africa had the world's lowest number of journalists per capita. South Africa, the continent's highest performer, had one journalist per 1,300 citizens, while Ghana had one per 11,000, Cameroon one per 18,000, Zimbabwe one per 34,000 and Ethiopia one per 99,000.

The huge deficit in trained professionals keeps increasing, despite donor support for short ad hoc courses and the emergence of private training schools.

Of all the constraints and limitations, economic factors appear to be the most critical threat to the survival of media pluralism. Most media outlets remain small operations, with poor business management capacity. But a few like the NMG in Kenya and Multimedia in Ghana have expanded investment into other media, and extended operations across borders into other countries. Yet while a few are growing into huge, multimedia transnational conglomerates, many face the possibility of shrinkage and perhaps extinction.

As media pluralism grows and African economies open up, the media's growing dependence on the market threatens to limit editorial independence. Businesses that are visibly dominant in advertising and sponsorships are reported by journalists to be exerting pressure on media to do their bidding, such as by killing stories unfavourable to the businesses.

Such pressures and attacks on press freedom have also propelled the emergence of advocacy and defence organizations across the continent. The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Windhoek, the Media Foundation for West Africa based in Accra, the Media Rights Agenda of Nigeria and Journalists in Danger in Kinshasa are among the best known. National and regional professional journalists' associations have also stepped up their defence of media professionals.

Although state broadcasting persists, dominating the airwaves in most countries, independent and pluralistic media in Africa are here to stay, despite the many challenges. And that may be the guarantee of the growth and strengthening of democracy in Africa.

Botswana: Why South Africa's Media Fight Matters to Us

Thapelo Ndlovu

16 September 2010

Committee to Protect Journalists (New York)

Thapelo Ndlovu is a journalist, civil society activist, and director of Media Institute of Southern Africa (Botswana).

For Batswana journalists, news that their South African colleagues are busy warding off a proposed statutory media tribunal from the ruling African National Congress sounds all too familiar. For more than a decade, the government of Botswana has been trying to push a media law that would effectively shift the whole media under state control.

This was eventually achieved as in December 2008, the Media Practitioners Act came to being after being pushed through parliament by the dominant ruling Botswana Democratic party. The implementation of the act has however been frustrated by fierce advocacy by Botswana media groups, with the key assistance of the Law Society of Botswana, which also refused to participate in the implementation as required.

Wrapped in a sheep's skin of general principles guaranteeing the operational independence of the media and the creation of a statutory press council that "shall be wholly independent and separate from the government, any political party or any other body," the act reveals in its fine print to have glaring contradictions. It calls for the creation of a new Media Council, whose key committees would operate under the exclusive control of the minister of communication, a political appointee.

The latter has wide discretion to handpick the members of the complaints and appeals committees and can dismiss the members of the executive branch. Also problematic is a draconian registration and accreditation regime reminiscent of the one enforced in Zimbabwe until recently, as any publisher not registered by the Media Council could be fined as much as P5,000 (US$781) or face up to three months in jail.

This is despite the fact that, just like in South Africa, Botswana currently has a self-regulatory Press Council that has been operating since 2002. The council has a code of ethics for journalists and takes complaints from the public regarding the media. And the public, especially politicians, take advantage of civil defamation laws.

It was in this context that, on August 13, a motley set of 32 individuals and groups representing media houses, NGOs, and trade unions filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law. Supported by the Southern African Litigation Centre and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the litigation is led by the well-experienced local attorney Dick Bayford and the South African advocate Steven Budlender.

The involvement of Botswana civil society has underscored the value of the free flow of information to sections of the society other than the press. For instance, United Congregational Church of southern Africa, a big church in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and one of the oldest in the country, counts among its congregation both prominent members of society and rural folks who mingle together in prayer. In a letter of solidarity the church, through its secretary general, Rev. Prince Dibeela, offered its unequivocal support to the court case as they view the act as a "draconian move that seeks to clamp down on civil liberties of people of Botswana."

Similarly, Andrew Motsamai, representing Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions, expressed the fear that as trade unionists, they would be required to register in order to write articles for newspapers. The Botswana Network on Ethics, Law, and HIV & AIDS expressed fears that the act might compromise their efforts in on HIV and AIDS advocacy--since it is already going to limit access to information. They decried the fact that the country already does not have a law that guarantees access to information.

Generally regarded as one of the most sensible governments in the SADC region, let alone the continent, Botswana's seemingly sudden departure from universal democratic practices is not so sudden after all. Signs of suppression have always been there, as evidenced by a series of deportations of journalists and human rights activists over time. Just like his predecessors, President Ian Khama has increasingly become uncomfortable with the media.

His distaste of the media first came to light when while an army commander, when he supposedly banned the distribution of the Botswana Gazette at the army barracks. Khama was quoted in the media at the time as having proclaimed that he does not read local newspapers. On his ascendancy to the throne in April 2008, his first pronouncement about the media was wedged somewhere between the country's other social ills, such as alcoholism. It was therefore not totally surprising when after a few months into the administration, in December 2008, the government finally enacted a bill known as the Media Practitioners Act that was a result of a decade's heavy debate. For someone who has never held a single press conference in office, Khama has the ball is in his court to prove his detractors wrong.

What has lately come to the fore is that this political attitude toward the media is not unique to Botswana, but is fast spreading in the SADC region. The biggest surprise, besides Botswana, has been South Africa where the media is furiously fighting for its life. What is apparent though, is that unlike the rest of the media in the region, the affluence of the South African press gives it the strength to fight the government head on.

I would argue that the current situation deserves a regional approach. South African media will not enjoy their freedom and good constitution as long as their leaders share notes with others whose views of these rights are questionable. It is therefore imperative that with its influence in world matters, the South African media start being responsive to regional challenges.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu Endorses Declaration of Table Mountain

Grahamstown, South Africa, 8 July 2010

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa has endorsed the Declaration of Table Mountain, a media industry call to African heads of state to repeal insult and criminal defamation laws and place a free press higher on the political agenda.

"You, the media, have one of the most powerful instruments in helping our societies to value the truth," said Archbishop Tutu, addressing hundreds of journalists attending the Highway Africa media conference at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Archbishop Tutu's endorsement of the Declaration of Table Mountain is a major boost for a campaign that has been gaining signatories and widespread support across Africa. Full details about the Declaration, an initiative of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), can be found at

"The Archbishop's voice, added to those already committed to repealing insult and criminal defamation laws across Africa, will help deliver a clear message of change to those in power," said the WAN-IFRA CEO, Christoph Riess.

Archbishop Tutu, a leader in the South African struggle that eliminated apartheid, is known for his defence of human rights. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

The three-day Highway Africa conference welcomed close to 500 African and international journalists and media experts to debate the issues facing the African media. A majority of participants also pledged their support to the Declaration and signed-up to actively promote the campaign in their countries.

The WAN-IFRA Declaration of Table Mountain Campaign is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. Sida and WAN-IFRA conduct an ambitious strategic partnership to advance media development and press freedom worldwide. A series of projects to support freedom of expression and to test new methods and approaches in strengthening media in emerging markets was launched this year.

For more on these projects, please consult

WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world's newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, WAN-IFRA, 7 rue Geoffroy St Hilaire, 75005 Paris, France. Tel: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail:

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Please write to this address to subscribe or unsubscribe to the bulletin, or to suggest material for inclusion. For more information about reposted material, please contact directly the original source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources, see

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