|The Courier N° 158 - July - August 1996 - Dossier: Communication and the Media - Country Report: Cape Verde (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)|
|Communication and the media|
by Mark Leysen
Amongst the many cooperation activities in which it is involved, the Lomonvention covers cultural cooperation, which includes information and communication, yet European Development Fund support for the media in ACP countries is negligible. Although considerable and increasing amounts of aid are granted for the cinema in such countries, EU support for TV, radio and the printed media is small.
On the other hand, for some years now, the Commission has provided considerable aid to the printed media and radio in ACP countries under its 'Support for democratisation and respect for human rights' budget, which heralds a new approach to media questions. The EDF does not participate in the vast majority of big communications projects in Africa, namely PANA (Panafrican News Agency), URTNA (African National Television and Radio Union, the African equivalent of the European Broadcasting Union), the Programme Exchange Centre, Afrovision, Cierro, etc. The reluctance of EU and ACP partners to embark on such media projects can be explained both by EDF procedures and by the worldwide political context including the situation in most African countries.
Until recently, the media was a matter for the State in Africa. The 'New World Information and Communications Order', announced in the 1 970s, foresaw the participation of not only African citizens, but also of their governments in the world information highway. However, the democratic credentials of such governments were open to question - they controlled the printed media, radio, television and press agencies and any support for such media amounted to a strengthening of the State monopoly and this is why the EDF did not take part.
Moreover, aid to the independent media was impossible because such entities did not exist in most African countries and the authorities were not prepared to back a request for aid to the press which they regarded as contrary to their country's interests. If support for the media did exist, it was indirect and restricted to backing of means of communication servicing development projects: literacy campaigns, the fight against AIDS, increasing awareness of ecological problems, etc.
It was not until the advent of the democratisation movement and the support that Europe decided to grant to it that a media-aid strategy was to take root. As a kind of 'Fourth Estate', the media monitor executive power and report any abuse of it. In parallel, they play a key role in strengthening civil society by providing information (if not objective information, then at least information from many sources) on current political, social, economic and cultural issues and by providing a medium which offers an opportunity to speak out on matters of importance to society.
The European Commission focuses its media support in five areas in agreement with representatives of African press and specialist European . organisations in this area.
Freedom of expression It provides direct aid to national, regional and international organizations to defend freedom of expression, specifically financing monitoring, surveys and the reporting of any violation of press freedom (censorship, intimidation, arrests and arbitrary trials, etc.), and direct assistance to the media and any journalists who are victims of such attacks on press freedom. This direct aid is channelled to, inter alia, the activities of Reporters sans frontieres (see 'Interview with Mr Robert Menard', in this issue), 'Article XIX' and Index on Censorship, all organisations which operate like an Amnesty International for the press.
The new independent press is often run by journalists who have had no journalistic training and the former State media often require being updated after many years of professional 'distortion' responding to 'his master's voice'. The Commission hence finances programmes offering training in basic journalistic techniques, election coverage; professional codes of ethics, etc. In this area, it is working with a number of European and African organizations, giving priority to long-term actions which are likely to spawn others and to programmes aimed at achieving a higher level of professionalism.
Aid for vocational organizations
Vocational organizations for journalists have a role to play in improving the profession's social standing, in strengthening its cohesion in the face of political division, in defending its interests and in coming to the aid of journalists who have been victims of repression. The Commission finances a vast 'Media for Democracy' programme conducted by the International Federation of Journalists and its affiliated regional and national organisations (see interview with Aidan White, in this issue). The programme aims to strengthen or create national and regional associations of journalists, but is also involved in more general actions to increase the professional standing of the media.
Access to sources of information
A credible and responsible press requires sources of information which the new and financially precarious press cannot allow itself. The Commission supports the creation or updating of documentation centres, North/South and South/South exchanges between publications and radio stations, access to international press agencies or photographic libraries, etc., being shared between several media bodies.
Legislative framework and code of ethics
It is not enough merely to guarantee freedom of expression in the constitution. This principle must be embodied in all legislative and regulatory texts to prevent a journalist being prosecuted arbitrarily for 'defamation' or 'a breach of State security'. Moreover, to appear credible, the profession must observe a code of ethics. The Commission backs the drafting of press codes, codes of ethics and regulations to govern the air waves. It also backs the creation of press and air wave regulatory bodies as well as the provision of training in journalistic ethics.
It is obvious that the 'Democracy and Human Rights' budget cannot alone meet the needs of Africa's multi-faceted media scene. Moreover, although the media are a key element in any democratisation process, they are also much more than that - as a means of information and recreation, they have a role to play in the human development of society; as an instrument to create greater awareness, they can contribute to the strengthening of a civil society which is gradually taking charge; and as an economic sector in the full throes of development, they can make a contribution to the GDP and create jobs. All the more reason for national sponsors and the EDF to take more of an interest.
National television, victim of democracy
More than the other media, television in Africa is controlled by the State and serves, first and fore most, to disseminate news about the leader and his government. The state of equipment depends on when it was supplied by a friendly country from the North, and as it was almost certainly offered to the country's leaders 'as a personal gift', it usually consists of oversized equipment which the nation al television station cannot maintain correctly owing to a lack of resources. Whilst Europe is moving over to digital Betacam and 1619 forma t, many Africa n TV stations are still operating with Umatic and with machines that are impossible to maintain.
With such derisory mean s, nation al TV stations have to contend with unfair competition from the international stations which, from their satellites, are inundating the continent with their broad casts . The world broadcasting channels of European stations are received clearly (CFI, TV5 Afrique, BBC World Television, Deutsche Welle, etc.). The number of religious stations (gene rally Islamic) continues to increase and commercial television is developing apace - CN N, MTV, Canal Horizons, M-Net and others can be picked up just about every where and can thus cream off the best of a commercial mark et which is still virtually non-existent and awaiting better days.
The URTNA is unable to defend the interests of its members, properly and its initiatives (which are, nevertheless, laudable) are stagnating: the - programme rexchange centre in Nairobi does not exchange very much at all and Afrovision, the system for exchanging news between nation al TV stations via satellite, is struggling to Get off the around.
Never theless, African TV stations do not lack talent or motivation and many of them are capable of producing more quality programmes . What can be done to help them? Firstly, a decision has to be made regarding who is to be helped. Certainly not international TV stations' be they private or public, which have their own strategy (commercial or politic al and produce television programmes for import which make only a very marginal contribution to the expression of Africa n talent . It would also be wrong to rely or, privatisation and commercial stations in order to obtain quality television - this much has been demonstrated by the European experience . As for direct aid to nation al television, this would merely reinforce the State monopoly over information. What is required is greater support for the transition of State television into a genuine public service with the benefit of an independent statute and also true editorial independence. Consequently, as things currently stand, aid for training television' professionals, support for quality programme production and any aid aimed at drafting a public -service television Statute, are useful forms of support which are neutral with regard to State -media control. Any direct aid to nation al television stations in the form of hardware and equipment should be subject to their conversion into an autonomous public service.