Africa Summit 2014: Challenges to the Media Sector

In the midst of the US-Africa Summit taking place for the government leaders in Washington, DC this week, civil society and media groups met at the National Endowment for Democracy to create a specific set of recommendations and goals for the region’s development.

While broad facets of civil society were present at the NED’s conference on Tuesday, the media sector specifically had sixteen participants from all the five sub-regions of the continent. The media’s working group discussion was facilitated by CIMA’s senior director Mark Nelson.

What must African governments, the US, and civil society do to protect press freedom? What is the role of the media in promoting democracy? What is the role of new media?

To set the stage for discussion, participants largely agreed upon potential for growth: Africa has one of the largest markets of mobile phone use, and seven percent of global Internet users are African. However, though there have been positive developments for the media environment, according to Freedom House, only three percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s countries have a free press. There was broad consensus among participants about the challenges that face Africa’s media environment, and were identified as:

  1. Media has not been seen as a critical sector to the emerging democratic and developmental state in Africa;
  2. Africa is replete of cases of open violence, torture and intimidation of journalists and media workers. However, attempts to investigate them and bring to justice those deemed culpable for violations have been lackluster at best;
  3. Most states keep laws and regulatory practices that unduly limit freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information;
  4. Poor working conditions of journalists and media workers in most of the countries particularly women;
  5. Most countries, except Eritrea, have a form of liberalized media but a veneer of private media is not a guarantee of independence, pluralism and diversity;
  6. Low capacity within most media  across the continent to report effectively on developmental issues;
  7. There is under representation of women as managers, workers, sources of information in most traditional media (print and electronic media).
  8. ***The penetration of accessible and affordable internet and mobile telephony continues to be hampered because most states have left it into the hands of private actors and not developed as a public good.

The media group will continue to discuss these challenges and create a set of recommendations that will be addressed in a public panel discussion on August 6 in Washington on Wednesday. Though the day-long conference is sold out, each session will be livestreamed.

[***This was added on August 6.]

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