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close this bookCERES No. 158 March - April 1996 (FAO Ceres, 1996, 50 p.)
close this folderCenterpiece
View the documentWiring the south
View the documentA promising solution fraught with peril
View the documentA public good, a private responsibility
View the documentStuck in the ruts on the Information Superhighway
View the documentMaintaining connection
View the documentWireless connections
View the documentPage One for Progress

Page One for Progress

The question is often asked: Which comes first, democracy or development? Active, responsible, daring journalists play a key role in promoting both democracy and development. But rural issues are often unreported in Southern countries where editors lack funds and the interest to send their city-based journalists out to the villages. Two NGOs, the U.K. - based Panos Institute and France's SYFIA new service, play key roles in helping Southern media to project the small rural voice so it is heard at the highest level. Their work is often published in Ceres.

Panos: Giving the villagers voice

Only the media can reach and represent the non-literate, the remote and the powerless. But to do so the media must be independent, rigorous, investigative and able to report the views of people like farmers, women and grassroots organizations.

For 10 years Panos has worked with the Southern media and NGOs to provide information and stimulate debate on under-reported and complex issues. The media need access to reliable and diverse sources. They should not be forced to rely on the local ministry of information or Western news agencies. If the debate is going to be informed and have an impact on development, the poorest woman in the village and the minister with his satellite television must both be involved.

One example from Panos' files: After the 1987 and 1989 floods in Bangladesh, the international donor community drew up a multi-million-dollar plan to “save” the country - the Flood Action Plan (FAP). Largely missing from the debate were the views of the farmers, fishermen, women and the landless poor. To ensure that local people had a say in the controversial scheme, Panos and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies commissioned a team of 14 local journalists to investigate the proposals from the grassroots.

For Masud Hasan Khan of the big city newspaper The Daily Star it was a rare opportunity to travel to remote villages to interview local people. The journalist found that some of those at the receiving end of the floods had their own coping strategies for the less severe flooding and were concerned the FAP would threaten their livelihoods.

In order to articulate the concerns of these resilient communities, the journalist's articles were published in their newspapers and as a book Rivers of Life: Bangladeshi journalists take a critical look at the Flood Action Plan. Four articles went out through the Panos international monthly features service, oral testimony and radio projects.

Similarly, to explain and promote discussion of biodiversity, a series of Panos workshops are planned in conjunction with Kenya's Environmental Liaison Centre. Fellowships will also be awarded so that journalists have the time and resources to follow up stories at a local and national level. Panos media briefings will reach 1 000 Southern journalists and a radio program with supporting materials will be sent to over 50 Southern stations.

State control of the media is pervasive in many countries, stifling independent expression and preventing the development of investigative skills. Panos believes that pluralism - particularly in the media - is a prerequisite for sustainable development. A real revolution in information pluralism will only come when individual governments are committed to freeing the media from state monopoly or interference.

Panos is currently working with the Centre for Development Information in Zambia, on a series of seminars involving the government, broadcasters and NGOs. Together they will examine a regulatory framework for broadcasting and a way of including the views of those too often excluded from development debates.

- For further information, contact: Juliet Heller, international media coordinator, Panos Institute, 9 White Lion St., London N1 9PD, U.K.
Tel: +(+44) 171 278 1111; Fax: +(+44) 171 278 0345;

SYFIA, the press agency for rural Africa

Since 1988 the press agency SYFIA, based in Montpellier, southern France, has been collaborating with some 40 journalists in French-speaking Africa to circulate articles on rural Africa in the African and European press. This original initiative has the support of the French Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT).

Every two weeks, more than 200 newspapers in French-speaking Africa receive articles from SYFIA by mail. They may publish them free of charge provided they quote the source. Abdoulaye Sangare, editor of Le jour, a weekly publication in Cd'Ivoire, says he reprints SYFIA articles and keeps all of them, including those not reprinted, in the paper's files, as a useful reference for his staff. Ceres also publishes SYFIA articles on a regular basis.

Like all press agencies, SYFIA's 40 local correspondents collect news on the spot in Africa. All the articles sent in are filed in the Montpellier headquarters in southern France for distribution to the newspapers.

SYFIA was created in 1988 by Periscoop-Multimedia1 following the French-language summit of heads of state and government in Quebec (which since then has given financial support). It is no ordinary press agency.

Every month, SYFIA publishes some 20 articles sent in by SYFIA correspondents in French-speaking Africa and in the Maghreb as well as articles from the agency's bureau in France. They generally deal with problems of rural Africa not given wide coverage by the media, including life and work in the fields, agricultural production, farmer organizations, environment, agricultural research, rural economics and international trade. By giving priority to field reports, SYFIA proposes a far different vision of rural Africa from the cliches of Afro-pessimists. News items are grouped under broad headings: news, economics, living, environment, farming and animal husbandry.

African newspapers which reprint SYFIA articles are asked to send to Montpellier a copy of each reprint. In 1994, more than 900 reprints of the 250 articles prepared by SYFIA were recorded. It is estimated the real number of reprints is 25 per cent higher; many newspapers are unable to send copies back to France. Through those newspapers it is estimated SYFIA reaches more than 30 000 readers in Africa, as well as nearly 20 000 Europeans who read SYFIA's articles in French, Swiss, Belgian and Canadian newspapers.

To extend its audience, SYFIA plans to set up a radio agency in 1996, following the same principles as the press agency, to distribute a monthly review to French-speaking African and European radio stations.

One of SYFIA's major tasks is to inform and train its African correspondents in agricultural journalism. This is on-the-job training, not theory, that takes the form of ongoing correction of and advice on the articles submitted, and is completed through direct contact between the journalists in the field and those in the agency's head office who frequently visit Africa. There are also training courses for correspondents in Montpellier. The main objective is to train African SYFIA journalists to take on increasing responsibilities in the agency's operation. This policy led to the opening of the agency's first regional office, in Cotonou, Benin, in August 1994. A second is scheduled to open in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in early 1996. Others will follow and eventually cover the rest of French-speaking Africa. The decentralization and Africanization of SYFIA is now becoming a reality.

- For further information, contact: SYFIA/Periscoop, Agropolis International, 34394 Montpellier Cedex 5, France. Tel: (33) 67 04 75 85

1 Periscoop's activities include the production of radio programs for rural African radio stations, the Spore review and the television magazine "Intertropiques," broadcast monthly on the satellite channel Canal France International (CFI).