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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Press Freedom Still Elusive in Africa

Over the last twenty years, the media industry in Africa has grown in leaps and bounds. More TV and radio stations as well as the print media are being introduced, while the entry of new media in the journalism landscape has transformed the way stories are told.  State-ownership and control has seen radical reduction.

However, with this growth, media freedom has is still being abused in many countries where journalists have been apprehended, their equipment confiscated, and in worst cases, some have lost their lives in the line of duty. Stringent legal, political and economic environment has restricted most institutions from operating freely as independent media outlets and journalists continue to face perennial harassment and violence from the regulators cum oppressors, the government.

Nevertheless, the expansion of democratic space, vociferous campaigns from the civil society and increased international and regional pressures on respecting human rights has witnessed better improvement from some countries within the Sub-Saharan Africa.

The entry of the New Media and social networking sites however has substantially improved the story-telling abilities of most journalists. With such forums like blogger, twitter and wordpress, the African journalist can now speak, albeit vigilantly. 

But with these advancements, huge challenges still remain in the scramble to tell the African story, the African way. Prohibitive constitutional and legal frameworks has really hampered the media from playing its role as independently as it should. Although media journalists are guided by ethical standards that need to be adhered to, some governments don’t have the trust in this, and as a result, they end up enacting legislations that are punitive to the media industry.

Africa 24 Media, Africa's first online delivery site for material from journalists, African broadcasters and NGO's from around the Continent, made a groundbreaking entry into the African media arena with its pilot initiative of establishing and providing African journalists with an online platform where they can tell their own stories, their own way.

The launch of the online platform revolutionized the African media environment, promising a brighter and better way for freelance journalists across the continent to submit their content that would otherwise not see the light of the day.

However, journalists still find it difficult to submit their content online due to inadequate internet speed caused by lack of bandwidth in most African countries. However, with the entry of undersea cable into the African telecommunication system, the future seems to be getting dazzling for the African journalist. Indeed, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is within sight.

Internet and social networking looks more certain to be the future for African journalists, while the role of the mass media in Third World development is indisputable. Indeed, a microscopic look into the success story of some African countries finds out that the more economically, socially and economically stable countries have their foundation firmly rooted on a free press.

But there’s still a long way to go. With independent journalists battling a losing battle on censorship every year, with increased violence and deaths reported every now and then in countries like Somalia, Libya, Madagascar and even South Africa and Kenya, exercising the right to information is still a quandary.

But there’s hope. There’s hope that one day freedom of disseminating information, damning or not, will be not only recognized in the constitutions as a human right, but treated as such. Hope that that journalist from Puntland in Somalia will still strive to tell his story without being shut down by the militia. Hope that that journalist from Kenya will report about corruption in Kenya without being ‘rattled’ by the ‘snake’. Hope that that Zimbabwean blogger will finally speak his mind out without being muzzled by the incmbent.

Hope that the whole of Africa will one day recognize the power of the media, not only in disseminating information, but also the bigger role it plays in economic, political and social prosperity.