African media urged to promote coverage of development issues

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African media and its support agencies must act to narrow the gap between media content and national development agendas, journalists heard Monday. 

Speaking at the event, “Vox Populi Vox Dei : Africa’s Media, Speaking for Whom?”, at the ongoing African Development Bank Annual Meetings in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, panelists urged the media to promote coverage of development issues on the continent that reflect the voices of ordinary people.

Thematic specialization has also been signaled out as a powerful way of ensuring that media remains informed, knowledgeable and relevant. 

In her keynote address, Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine, Minister of Communication, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, underscored the role of media as critical to empowering ordinary citizens with well-researched information.

Journalists, she argued, have the responsibility to give balanced coverage of national issues. However, she pointed out that currently, media coverage lacks the voice of the people as coverage is sometimes overshadowed by politics.

“There is a need for journalists to be trained to report matters beyond politics,” she said, calling for more efforts to promote professionalism within the African media.

African media has become large and quite lively in the past decade with digital and social media bringing a new element to how news is generated and consumed in Africa. However, recent research by the African Media Initiative shows that only 10 per cent of African media coverage concerns development issues. 

Politics and domestic news aside, the bulk of print space and airtime is given to entertainment, fashion and sport.   

For his part, Eric Chinje, Chief Executive Officer of the Nairobi-based Africa Media Initiative, pointed out weak professional capacity as a key challenge limiting the media from playing a positive role in reporting development issues on the continent.

The media, he said, is also constrained by limited resources, unfriendly and sometimes hostile political environments as well limited access to new technologies. Still, in spite of known constraints, Chinje argued that the media in Africa could do a much better job accompanying what is clearly a continental renaissance; that it could better inform and moderate public discourse, contribute more to ongoing social, economic and political conversations, and play a more decisive role in setting the national and regional development agenda.

Bilkisu Labaran, a media expert, emphasized the need for capacity building and clear media policies that are open and transparent to facilitate the media. She also pointed out that currently in most African countries media regulatory bodies have abused their powers by controlling the media. However, she noted that development agencies should simplify their content to make it user-friendly for journalists.

Panelists also emphasized the need for the media to know what audiences and readers want, and to work to deliver the goods. Media market research, they pointed out, is virtually non-existent on most of the continent – a situation that should be corrected as soon as possible.

However, the greatest challenge to media freedom was pointed out as self-induced, including putting out content that has little regard for what audiences and readers want.

This is in addition to disregarding the ethics of the profession, not maintaining high professional standards, and not paying adequate attention to the business dimension of the news business.