|The Courier N° 158 - July - August 1996 - Dossier: Communication and the Media - Country Report: Cape Verde (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)|
(Dossier coordinated by Debra Percival)
Press freedom is widely acknowledged as the cornerstone of democracy with a clamp-down anywhere in the world frequently interpreted as a sign of government repression. The rash of multi-party elections in African nations at the beginning of the
1990s brought new publications to news-stands. Many of these have since folded - often because of a lack of funds and sometimes because of government censorship.
Many organisations are campaigning vigorously in the public eye for a free press in developing nations. These include Reporters Sans Frontieres, Article 19 and the International Federation of Joumalists - all of which are featured in this Dossier. The US-based Freedom House has also been monitoring the state of press freedom worldwide since 1979. In its recently published 1996 survey, it says that even today, only 22% of the world's population live in countries with a free press. 38% have a press sector that is 'partly free' while the description 'not free' is applied to the remaining 40%.
There are also regional organisations such as The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), which are playing a part in keeping media issues to the fore. David Nthengwe, a researcher with MISA, highlights the fact that democratisation does not necessarily guarantee a free media or free expression more generally. He also draws attention to the difficulties faced by private and community organisations in obtaining adequate finance. These are typical of the problems facing the media in many countries, both in the ACP group and elsewhere in the developing world.
In seeking to tackle these issues, donors are showing increasing interest in backing media programmes with development finance (linked to democratisation and human rights). The European Union, UNESCO and a number of bilateral donors have expanded their activities in this area with a variety of projects.
One big change has been the rapid growth of the 'Information Superhighway'. This has prompted fears that the developing countries may fall further behind, although donors have indicated a willingness to help ensure this does not happen. One NGO closely monitoring the development of the Internet for the South is the PANOS Institute. Meanwhile, multilateral donors (notably the World Bank, through its INFODEV programme) are also becoming involved. A number of EU personalities lent their support to the development of the information society in the developing world, at a major conference staged in South Africa in May on the initiative of the country's Vice President, Thabo Mbeki. A work programme of projects was drawn up with the aim of making sure, in the words of European Commissioner, Martin Bangemann, that there is no divide between the 'information-poor' end the 'information-rich'.
Finally, although the world is undergoing an information revolution, the more traditional media (the press and above all, radio) will, for the foreseeable future, continue to have a central part in informing, educating and entertaining people in many developing countries. It is important that those of us who increasingly communicate via our computer screens do not lose sight of this essential fact.
In this Dossier, we examine a number of the key issues affecting the media and highlight some innovative projects in this area - with the help of a series of experts. The subject has clearly moved higher up the development agenda, but there is still a long way to go, as the figures cited above show.
Confronting the age-old problem
Given the chance, 'governments would like to run and manipulate the media'. This is the view of Aidan White, General Secretary of the Brusselsbased International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), who says it is an 'ageold problem'. And the Federation, which has member organizations in 93 countries, works to prevent it from happening. It also provides a range of services to journalists throughout the world. We recently spoke to Mr White, who used to write for the British daily, The Guardian.
He began by outlining to us the Federation's key areas of activity which include, in particular, the professional conditions in which journalists work and the defence of human rights. On the first of these, Mr White focused on the problem of economic pressures and difficult social conditions. 'We take a strong view that you can't have press freedom if journalists work in conditions of poverty or technical deprivation. It is a nonsense,' he stressed, 'to talk about a free press in a situation where journalists aren't paid, or if they are unable to function properly.' In seeking to tackle this, he spoke, in particular, of the 'need for independent organisations of journalists defending professional and social interests.'
As regards human rights, the IFJ is active in the international community, working with bodies such as UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Commission. 'We are very interested in issues such as the legal environment in which journalists and the media operate, and are extremely active in the defence of physical safety.'
Mr White went on to give more detailed information about the IFJ's work in Algeria, where many journalists have been killed in recent years. This country clearly has a bad international reputation and the General Secretary was anxious to offer a more balanced picture of the situation. 'In my view, there is a real malformation of Alaeria's image in Europe and elsewhere. The view we get is of a paralysed society where nothing can function properly - a kind of international basket case. It is not like that. In Algeria, life continues. There is a form of democracy. There are a dozen newspapers which appear every day. The streets are full of traffic and people walking about. The reality is that there is a particularly horrifying and barbaric form of terrorism which is targeted against intellectuals including journalists. This means that the media has a terrible problem.'
Aidan White explained the strategy of the IFJ in seeking to confront this. 'We began by going to Algeria to investigate what was going on. Then we established an international office on the spot. This is a direct contact point of solidarity for local journalists and the local media. So we don't report Algeria through Paris. We don't see the need to go through some sort of middleman in order to find out what's going on in the country or have contact with Algerian journalists.'
'And then we have two specific programmes which are very important', he continued. One involves providing humanitarian assistance to journalists and their families. The other is a series of practical activities in Algeria. Thus, for example, we are organising a round table on terrorism and information.' He pointed out that the Algerian government had resorted to the traditional method of press censorship in the face of ,the terrorist threat and stressed the 'need to counter this. 'We are also organising a practical seminar on personal safety, as well as one on professional social rights, the need for ethical standards and better social conditions.'
The point, he emphasised was that events were being organised on the spot. Algeria may pose terrible difficulties 'but it doesn't mean we walk away from it.' The IFJ's emphasis was firmly on being a 'functional organisation working directly with the people who need help.'
Funding and the EU link
Tuming to the issue of the IFJ's funding, Mr White explained how the core activities - his own salary and administrative costs - are paid for by the subscriptions of member organisations, which amount to roughly $1 million. On top of that, the Federation carries out projects with the EU and other donors. They also distribute funds, offering their expertise as a representative body to help other organisations that want to undertake work.
Asked in what way the EU could do more, the General Secretary stressed the political dimension. 'It should intervene,' he argued, 'to establish certain standards in international relations. We say, for instance, that political, economic and military cooperation with any state outside the Union should be based on a commitment to and respect for freedom of expression and opinion.' He underlined the 'responsibility' of the EU to take a stand against countries that locked up journalists, implicitly criticising those who argued that freedom of expression was very important but who then shelved the issue when economic relations were involved.
He also urged a more proactive approach 'moving away from the strategy of counting bodies, complaining, and making reports about how bad the situation is' towards one based on comprehensive programmes of assistance. He described the IFJ's Media for Democracy programme in Africa as a 'first attempt' in that direction. Mr
White highlighted what he saw as a difficulty with existing projects. 'The problem is that the EU is confronted by all sorts of different NGOs who come and say: 'we have got this good project - give us support for it'. This is fine but it inevitably means that resources are spread very diffusely and often to no effect.' A lot of activities, he suggested, such as one-off seminars and conferences, were 'like fireworks in the night sky: they glow bright for a brief period and then they disappear.'
He went on to plead for an integrated, comprehensive strategy. 'Until that exists, you will not be able to solve the fundamental problems facing journalists.'
Training and status
The discussion moved on to the subject of training. Perhaps surprisingly, Aidan White did not see this as an important priority in itself. As he explained: 'It's no use training journalists to be very high quality if they go off to work in a country where the legal environment does not allow them to function properly. And it's no use training them to be ethical if they go somewhere that is steeped in political or financial corruption, and where there is no culture which appreciates the media's role in democratic society.'
With this in mind, he believes that training should be directly related to the strategic approach he referred to earlier. 'Yes, we need professional, well trained journalists, but it should be part of a range of programmes. And professional training is not just important for journalists. It should also be provided for managers, editors, advertisers... and perhaps even for politicians!'
The General Secretary noted that the status of journalists in most countries was quite high. They are seen as a filter for information 'coming from the government to the governed'. This was important, he thought, but 'tine real question is how the filter functions. On the one hand journalists have a relatively high status, and what they do is extremely important, but they work close to the political elites, which means they are subject to pressure. They must retain their independent role, scrutinising and investigating what governments are doing.'
On the subject of access to information in developing countries, Aidan White observed that the situation is now better than it was ten years ago but pointed to the 'age-old problem of people in power wanting to control the media.' He gave the example of journalists in Indonesia, 'who really want to speak independently of the government, but who are being killed because they represent independent strands of opinion.' Overall, however, he believes the situation has been improving. 'This is partly due to changes in information technology. A government can no longer simply take a journalist out and beat him up. There are half a dozen press freedom organisations around the world watching for and reporting on such events.'
There is a tendency in Europe to assume that 'everything in the garden is rosy' in terms of press freedom, and we were interested to hear what the Secretary General thought of this proposition. He was quick to offer a less complacent view. 'We have just issued a very strong statement against the EU about their secrecy policy,' he pointed out. 'You cannot claim the moral high ground for democracy in Africa or elsewhere if you have a system of secrecy in Europe which operates at the highest political level and which denies citizens access to information.'
He was also concerned about the concentration of the media in enormous congLomtes. This trend, he argued, 'is actually profoundly damaging to the culture of information.' He cited, in this context, the action of the Murdoch organisation 'in banning all news from his cable channels going into China.' Mr White continued: 'They banned the BBC and they banned news coverage in the Chinese language in order to make a business arrangement with the Beijing government. That sort of activity, in our view, is direct censorship from the heart of western democracy.'
In conclusion, Aidan White gave some more detailed information about the Media for Democracy programme in Africa which he described as 'ground-breaking.' The Federation has used it to develop key themes, including the coverage of elections. 'The real test of press freedom,' he continued, 'is at an election, because that is when the political pressure is toughest and the professional quality of journalism is exposed. For Africa, we developed a manual on election reporting and, interestingly, it has become the source document worldwide for election reporting.' He explained how it formed the basis for developing a text which is universal. This has been translated into various European languages, and Arabic, and has been employed in Poland, Romania, Albania and Latin America.
In the first phase of the Media for Democracy programme, the Federation held a serf. of seminars and conferences on how the media covered elections. As Mr White stressed, this was a crucial time in Africa. Political change was taking place, multi-party democracy was being introduced and there was a need to clarify how elections operated and how they should be reported. 'People didn't have the experience. They wanted the information, and to discuss how things should be done.' The seminars covered aspects such as financial corruption, the organisation of journalists and the role of ethics. And what the IFJ found was that the same kind of things happen in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa - and indeed across the world. In the words of the Secretary General, 'they have an echo everywhere because, at its root, the problem is the same - those in power want to manipulate the media and use whatever pressures they can.' The lesson learnt from the IFJ's experience in Africa is that common solutions are also valid. Or as Aidan White put it, 'there is no part of the world that can't teach the rest of the world something.
D.M. & S.H.
by Frances d'Souza
Frances d'Souza who is Executive Director of AROSE 19, a nom governmental organization which campaigns against censorship globally, explains why Freedom of Expression is for her the most important human right
In the absence of freedom of expression, it is almost impossible to protect other rights, including the right to life. Once governments can draw a cloak of secrecy round their actions and remain unaccountable, massive human rights violations can, and do, take place. For this reason alone, the right to free expression, specifically protected in international human rights treaties, must be considered a primary right. It is significant that one of the first indications of a government's intention to depart from democratic principles is when it increases its control over information, usually by gagging the media. At the one end of the spectrum, supposedly minor infringements of this fundamental right occur daily in western democracies; for example the abuse of national security laws to prevent publication of information which might embarrass the authorities. At the other end of the scale are regimes of terror which brutally suppress opposition, information and even the freedom to exercise religious beliefs. Without free speech and an independent media, it is easier for governments to employ propaganda to promote ethnic conflict, war and genocide.
The right to freedom of expression is formally protected in major international treaties including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and
* This text is an abridged version of a submission made by the author to a public hearing hosted by the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, Security and Defence and the Sub-Committee on Human Rights and the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education and the Media, April 25, 1996.
Political Rights (Article 19), and the European Convention on Human Rights (Article 10). It is also enshrined in many national constitutions, although this does not always guarantee its protection. Freedom of expression is something which applies even in countries which have not ratified the relevant international treaties. This is because the Universal Declaration is so widely accepted that its provisions now form part of customary international law.
While it is generally agreed that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy, international treaties permit certain restrictions. Unlike the American First Amendment rights which allow few, if any, checks on free speech, the international treaties aim for a balance between competing rights. Thus, for example, free speech may be limited where it impinges on the individual's right to privacy, or where it involves incitement to violence or hatred. Given that the permitted restrictions are necessarily broad, the limits of free speech are constantly being tested in national courts and in regional tribunals such as the European Commission and Court of Human Rights. In recent years, several landmark cases have helped define what restrictions may be imposed by governments and under what circumstances. In particular, it has been emphasised by the European Court that any restriction should 'pass' a threepart test; it should be prescribed by law (and thus not be arbitrarily imposed), it should be proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued, and it should be demonstrably necessary in a democratic society in order to protect the individual and/or the state.
Who censors what?
Despite the rules governing restrictions on free speech, many justifications are still invoked by governments in suppressing information which may be inimical to their policies or interests. These include arguments in defence of national security or the 'public interest'. The mechanisms used to restrict the free flow of information range from subtle economic pressures, and devious methods of undermining political opponents and the independent media, to the enactment of restrictive press laws and rules for licensing journalists. In extreme cases, they may involve the illegal detention, torture and disappearance of journalists and others associated with the expression of independent views.
The right of free speech may appear less important than, for example, freedom from torture or extrajudicial killing. It is also sometimes difficult to persuade the public that censorship, generally associated with banning obscene materials, is a bad thing! It requires a recognition of some of the fundamental principles of democracy to understand why censorship is so dangerous. Democracy implies that people can make choices about the issues that affect their lives, including what they wish to see, read, hear or discuss. While this may seem a luxurious freedom, mainly preoccupying the wealthy West, it is a comparatively short distance between state censorship of an offensive book to the silencing of political dissidents. And the distance between this and the use of violence to suppress opposition is even shorter. Censorship tends to grow rapidly from small beginnings. Allowing a government the power to deny people information, however trivial, not only leads to laws and procedures which can and will be used by those in authority against those with less authority. It also denies people the information they need to render their governments accountable.
There have been some terrible examples of the role of censorship in recent years. We have seen it in the republics of the former Yugoslavia where the media were manipulated for propaganda purposes. We have seen it in Rwanda where the government associated radio incited citizens to kill each other in the name of ethnic supremacy. And we have seen it in Iran which maintains the threat of murder against a citizen of another country because he wrote a book which displeased the authorities.
There are clear links between access to information (or rather the lack of it), and war. Democracy empowers people by increasing participation in decision-making at all levels. The poor, who are denied access to information on decisions which deeply affect their lives, are powerless and have no voice. They cannot influence the ruling elites whose interest in consolidating their own power and position may be served by initiating conflict.
It is significant that of the 126 developing countries listed in the 1993 Human Development Report, wars were being waged in 30 and a further 33 were suffering severe civil conflicts. 55 of these 63 countries were to be found at the lower end of the Human Development Index which is an indicator of poverty. It is reasonably safe to assume that most people never welcome war. They may be coerced into supporting 'their' side in a conflict by their governments, using propaganda designed to whip up fear and extreme nationalist sentiment. If the majority had a democratic voice, they would undoubtedly object to war. But voices are silenced. Thus, the freedom to express one's views, to challenge government decisions and to insist upon political rather than violent solutions, are necessary aspects of democracy which can, and do, avert war.
State-sponsored propaganda in Rwanda, as in the former Yugoslavia, succeeded because there were no ways of challenging it. One can conclude that it is impossible for a country to wage war in the absence of a compliant media willing to indulge in government propaganda. Governments needs civilians to fight wars for them and the media is needed to reinforce government policies and intentions at every turn. In a totalitarian state where the expression of political views, let alone the possibility of political organisation is suppressed, one has to ask what other possibilities are open to a genuine political movement intent on introducing justice. All too often, terrorism and violence are the only perceived options available to communicate the need for change.
What NGOs can do
The work of human rights organizations has to become much more proactive and should be concerned with providing early warning and preventive action. Monitoring freedom of exprmsion, especially freedom of the press, offers an excellent context because it is widely recognised that would-be dictators always seek to silence people's voices through banning newspapers or other methods of censorship. One has to assume that when censorship begins in earnest, worse human rights abuses will follow and this should be the point for action. Had there been a greater international lobby for an independent media, for access to information and for participation in decision-making in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Burma and many other countries, some of the gross violations which continue to occur, could have been prevented.
Censorship is the first instrument of a government intent on departing from democratic procedures. In this sense it is an early warning signal and at ARTICLE 19, we believe we have a special responsibility to understand better how democracy is destroyed through censorship and how we can alert the international community to act to prevent it.
By way of conclusion, anything which can build strong and sound media infrastructures, at the earliest to pportunity, in transitional democracies, is both a gift and a great investment. A crusading press, prepared to separate fact from opinion and to verify its sources, can create a level playing field in which all sectors of society have a voice. This would preclude political control and manipulation for nationalistic power purposes. There is also a need to strengthen local monitoring groups which have the capacity to verify information. International organisations should amplify the voices of local organisations and bring them to the attention of the international community. It is only where there is a strong human rights culture in a given country, whether it has achieved democracy or not, that political changes can be seized upon and shaped into the democratic process.
To achieve these objectives, NGOS need to work with governments which are obliged by international law to uphold fundamental rights. We need organisations such as the KU, the UN, ASEAN, and others, to insist on respect for human rights in their dealings with third countries. We also need the general public to be aware of what fundamental rights are, what are the consequences of infringement, and how they can, as individuals, successfully challenge restrictionss imposed on them by their governments. Above all, NGOS need to work with multilateral organisations to determine where slender resources can most fruitfully be targeted.
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.
by Geoff Mungham
It seems difficult to find an African leader or African journalist who has not, at some time, been either fiercely critical or quietly despairing of the way in which the continent is depicted by the western media. Their grievances have come to form part of a now familiar litany. Claims are made that the reporting of Africa is now almost entirely in terms of what has been called a'coup, crisis and famine syndrome', and that the western media focus only on 'bad news' out of Africa and ignore the 'positive' achievements of many African countries. These criticisms go hand-in-hand with accusations that Africa cannot ' tell its own story, in its own way', because the global news market is dominated by powerful, westerr-owned corporations, who have their own agenda for reporting Africa. For many Africans, their continent is becoming increasingly invisible in the trade in global news. For them, Rupert Murdoch's cynical remark that 'the Third World sells no newspapers' would appear to have been uttered with Africa specifically in mind. Finally there are those Africans who are concerned about 'western cultural imperialism' undermining traditional African values and culture.
How true are these claims? Is Africa becoming once again a dark continent; one largely excluded from the glare of western media coverage? Are some of the correctives suggested by different African leaders worse than the problems they are complaining about? And if Africa is in danger of becoming a 'disappearing world' for news, to what extent are many African countries themselves to blame?
To begin with, there is no doubt that African critics have a case. First and most obvious, is the undeniable brute fact that global news and information flows are dominated by a small number of multinational operators, nearly all of whom - especially since the end of the Cold War - are western owned and controlled. This is true of the great international news agencies, whether the traditional wire services like Reuters or Agence France-Press, or the newer global television news services represented by WTN and CNN, among others. The major clients for their output are western news organizations.
At the same time, most African countries are in no position to mount a challenge to this world news order. The continent has recently been described as one of the 'least dynamic regions in the global economy, where buying power of consumers is low' and in which many countries are burdened with crippling debt payments. In the same vein, a 1991 World Bank report not only pointed to the increasing 'communications gap' between Africa and the developed world, but went on to suggest that most of the continent offered poor prospects for those wanting to invest in telecommunications projects. These are among the reasons why Africa scores so poorly in terms of putting in place viable national communications infrastructures, let alone being able to take on the global market leaders in securing a higher profile for Africa in the world's news rooms. The same factors also help explain why most African countries remain so dependent on western-controlled news sources.
This dependency is not simply a question of the easy availability of copy or other material from the western news agencies. Puri (a Tanzanian journalist and Managing Editor of Newslink Africa) presents other reasons why African editors are interested in what's happening in the West. These include the links between many African countries and their former colonial rulers, the realities of global and economic relations and his claim that African editors often have little interest in other parts of the continent. As he puts it, '...a newspaper reader in Botswana, for example, is not much interested in reading detailed reports from Morocco.'
At the same time, there is plenty of evidence to support the criticisms of the 'coup, crisis, famine' coverage. Examples are too numerous to cite here, but the following small selection is fairly representative of the broader picture.
Introducing the findings of a 'Global News Agenda Survey', Malik and Anderson noted: 'For the rest of the world, Africa means coupe, and largescale killings (covered usually only in the first few days), almost ritualistic famine relief... and the occasional travelogues in the guise of saving something or other'. Similar claims were made by Okigho when he wrote that while CNN and other satellite organisations have 'revolutionised international news coverage', the most common images of Africa still depict internecine warfare (in Angola, Liberia, Somalia), pogroms in Rwanda, political violence in Sierra Leone and ethnic conflicts in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa. In contrast, says Okigho, the 'many positive developments' are routinely ignored.
A limited review that I made of wire service copy from the main international news agencies during the week of 13-20 May 1996, produced findings that seemed to echo some of these complaints. In this period, hard news stories were concentrated on a handful of the 50 plus countries of Africa; Burundi, the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), Egypt, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and South Africa - together with stories of alleged financial irregularities in the World Health Organisation in Africa.
Copy about Burundi dealt with ethnic violence and attacks inside Zaire on Burundi by Hutu 'rebels'. Reports from the C.A.R. focused on an army mutiny, street battles and looting, but were angled on the mediating role of French troops (the C.A.R is a former French colony) and the fate of 100 Americans trapped in the capital, Bangui. Egypt was featured after its government accused Sudan of harbouring a 'vipers' nest of terrorists'. Out of Liberia came a torrent of wire copy about fighting in Monrovia along with assorted atrocity stories, but pinning the emphasis on the plight of foreign nationals (especially Britons and Americans) and the role being played by the USS Guam in air-lifting them to safety. Somalia rated a mention because of the release of two foreign aid workers (British and German) held by an unidentified 'rebel faction'. On South Africa, the wire services were fixed on further violence and killings in KwaZuluNatal, the result of ongoing struggles between rival supporters of the A.N.C and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The 'agenda for Africa' sent out by the wire agencies, was replicated by the menu offered by Reuters TV and APTV. For instance, on one day during the study period, the former was offering ten picture feeds; only one was from Africa (on the C.A.R.) while the rest included such compelling visuals as the British Queen's visit to the Chelsea Flower Show. For the fifteen picture feeds being touted by the APTV on a single day, one featured Africa ('news pictures to offer on the airlift by US marines'), which competed for the attention of western news rooms alongside visuals of a US woman who collected hubcaps (140 000 of them, no less!), Hugh Grant arriving by boat at the Cannes Film Festival, footage of the Monaco Grand Prix and a 'fun run' in Sarajevo (whether or not pictures are available, the idea of a 'fun-run' in Bosnia still seems a difficult concept to grasp) But what these studies show is not the whole picture about Africa which circulates in the West. Nor should they necessarily be used to support the usual criticisms about the performance of the western media in relation to the continent. In the first place, not all news out of Africa fits into the syndrome the critics complain about. For example, a great deal of the coverage of South Africa has been 'positive' (if we trace the reporting of that country's transition to majority rule). So, too, have the moves towards multi-party politics in African states like Zimbabwe. Similarly, there is plenty of reporting of Africa's sporting successes (such as South Africa's Rugby World Cup triumph). Nor is the West unaware of the work of certain African musicians and film makers - indeed, it has been influenced by them.
And even if 'positive' coverage is sometimes hard to find, the critics may still be missing some key points. The first is to do with western 'news values' or rather a failure to appreciate how they work - whether in relation to Africa or anywhere else. The staple diet of much of the global news flow is about 'bad news' and, in this respect, Africa prob ably fares no worse or better than other parts of the developing world.
Second, a more 'systematic' reporting of much of Africa is still difficult. My point here is about a lack of efficient and developed communication infrastructures, but also a reluctance by many African leaders to tolerate - let alone actively encourage - free and honest open reporting. Too many African journalists have been, and are being, harassed, imprisoned or killed by their own governments. Much of the media in Africa - especially the broadcast media - remains under state control. Newspapers that show a 'lack respect' for the ruling party are frequently shut down. These realities help explain why some of the maligned western media are turned to by those Africans who want something more than state propaganda from their newspapers or broadcasters. This is why the BBC World Service has come to enjoy such a high reputation in many parts of Africa.
Third, the attempts made by the African states to try and take on western dominance of global news and information flows, have been misjudged. Two failed initiatives in particular are worth mentioning in this context; the launch in 1983 of the Pan African News Agency (PANA) and the long-time obsession with setting up a 'New World Information Order' (NWIO).
From the start, PANA has been dogged by financial and management problems. African governments owe $18 million, journalists have gone unpaid, lines have been disconnected and in 1992 a UNESCO-funded audit found evidence of financial mismanagement. The main source of information PANA traded in was material from the domestic news agencies of OAU member states. Since most of these are state-controlled, the 'news' they were offering was never likely to attract many western users. To try and give PANA a new lease of life, UNESCO are backing a rescue package, which would allow for private investors to be shareholders along with state-owned African national news agencies. But the pro posed partnership funding is unlikely to work, especially in one-party states where the ruling groups have always been suspicious of any media not under their direct ownership.
The NWIO project has chased even more impossible dreams. Any attempt fundamentally to change the global news order was always going to be beyond countries with severe national communication 'deficits'. Most African countries, with weak and undercapitalised information infrastructures were never in a position to take on the market leaders in the global news business. In pursuit of the NWIO idea, endless international conferences were held, declarations passed and ritual attacks made on ' western media dominance'. Nothing came of it all. If the sense of frustration which kept the concept alive was understandable, less easy to grasp was why African leaders focused on the NWIO idea, while their own grassroots communication systems remained impoverished and under-resourced.
The most recent attempt to develop 'top-down' communications facilities in parts of Africa comes with the attempts to push satellite-delivered payTV on the continent. Among the 'players' here are Multi-Choice (which will be offered to subscribers in over 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa), Canal Horizons (targeted on North Africa and Francophone West Africa) and Panafnet (also aimed at buyers in Francophone West Africa). Because these enterprises are subscription-based there will be a clear bias in take-up towards upperincome groups; and - certainly in the case of Multi-Choice - the output will have a 'strong UK/USA programming flavour'. It is hard to see how these initiatives will ever meet the real news and information needs of the vast majority of African consumers, who have limited spending power and are often deprived of the most basic communication tools.
As Hans Dieter Klee (former Head of the Africa Service of Deutsche Welle) has rightly argued, what Africa urgently needs is large-scale international media aid to help strengthen its own media. This aid should not be targeted at projects designed somehow to allow Africa to 'compete' with Western media congLomtes. It should, instead, be aimed at building up diverse, viable and professional local and national media enterprises in African countries themselves. In this, the EU can play a leading role, working through the links established under the Lomonvention.
Robust national communication structures in Africa will not, of course, alter the balance of global media power. They will be able to do little to stop the international news agencies reporting Africa in the way they have done in the past. And it will be a long time before most Africans becomes travellers on the 'information superhighway', since this, in essence, is an extension of existing computer and telephonic communications, which the continent lacks. But a vigorous local and national media, Africa-wide, would be good for Africa and the best barrier for resisting outside media influences.
Okigho: 'National Images in the Age of the Information Super Highway
African Perspectives', African Media Review, vol. 9,1995.
R. Malik and K. Anderson: 'TV: The Global New Agenda Survey', intermedia, January-February 1992.
B. Hicks 'North of the Limpopo', Cable and Satellite Europe, April 1996.
The European Parliament may seem an unlikely launch pad for a radio station, but two members of this elected body, who are committed to a free and fair press as one of the cornerstones of democracy, have set up Radio Espoir (Radio Hope) in Burundi with backing of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).
Parliamentarians, Pierre Pradier (ERA-F) and Bernard Kouchner (PSE-F) are co-founders of Radio Espoir (Radio Umwizero, in Kirundi) which brings together a French association and a local Burundi radio station. Three expatriates are working on the Bujumbura-based project; an editor, a radio technician and an administrator. They have teamed up with local journalists who, for the moment, are providing their services free of charge.
The station, which broadcasts in Kirundi, is targeted at an audience in the 15-25 age group. In a country with an 80% illiteracy rate, radio is the only way of reaching the population. 'The idea came to us in 1994, with Rwanda and Radio Libre des Mille Collines' says Pierre Pradier. 'If so much harm could be done with radio, then why equally could good not be achieved.' RLMC was the radio set up in July 1993 on the eve of the genocide in Rwanda. It became a mouthpiece for the Akazu, a clan of Hutu extremists grouped around the then President's wife, Agathe Habyarimana, and it undermined the Arusha agreements by whipping up ethnic conflict in Rwanda.
Mr Pradier explains that Radio Hope journalists intentionally avoid speaking about Hutus and Tutsis. He also highlights the problems encountered in providing news coverage when local conditions are so difficult. As he points out; 'When you speak about the situation of a woman who has lost her husband in Burundi, you are talking politics.' Security considerations are important too while the MEP stresses that a proper analysis of events can only come with time: 'At the moment we are limited to reporting the facts. And it is only when the facts are verified that one can begin to interpret them.' The news items broadcast by the station rely on agency dispatches confirmed by a network of local people who call in.
Because of such sensitivities and in an effort to find as much common ground as possible, the radio station gives music top billing. This has the added advantage of helping to attract listeners. It also offers general programmes on African roots, sport, culture and educational themes, in addition to its news items. It is currently broadcasting for six hours a day.
Pierre Pradier says he would like to see an end to the 'navel gazing' of Burundi's population. 'We want to show that peace is possible, by showing how it is progressing elsewhere: in Haiti, for example, where there is a legitimate President now, and amongst the Chiapas in Mexico.'
But, like many fledgling stations, finding enough funds from donors to guarantee its future is a worry. The station's current ECHO grant runs out in September 1996. Indeed, the project, classified under emergency aid, was atypical for the humanitarian aid office. But Mr Pradier is hoping that continued support will come from one of the EU's budget lines. He believes that the Union is a particularly suitable donor because it tends to be less 'colonialistic' than some others. He also raises the possibility of seeking funds from private donors such as the Fondation de France.
Looking to the future of the station, Pierre Pradier argues that they cannot let the project 'drop' and hopes eventually to see it being handed over to local broadcasters, assuming 'they are people we can depend on'. The signs so far are encouraging. He would also like to see Radio Hope's programme content broadened to include game shows, with radios offered as prizes for the winners. As far as he is concerned, the more people who tune in, the better! _
Joint Assembly resolution
The ACP/Ku Joint Assembly is pushing for EC institutions and Lomignatories to be more supportive of media issues. A resolution on the role of communications media in the development and consolidation of democracy in ACP states. passed by the Assembly in March, contained the following points:
- freedom of expression and free communications and media are vital to the development of a democratic society;
- more ACP countries should give opposition parties access to the media' notably where this is controlled by the state;
- all candidates and political parties should be given access to the media in a 'balanced and fair manner';
- laws which restrict press freedom and the electoral process should be repealed;
- any threat of physical attack against media organisations or their employees should be investigated by the authorities, with those responsible being brought to justice;
- the media should be impartial, providing accurate information during elections, helping to educate the electorate, explaining the importance of elections, giving information on where, when and how to vote, and explaining the secret ballot;
- EU assistance for free and a fair elections - and a free media sector in ACP countries - should be increased.
by Antonio Pacheco
In this abridged article, the author, who is a Portuguese journalist, gives details of two church-supported local radio projects in Southern Africa.
At the end of the 1980s, the Social Communication Department of IMBISA, the conference of Catholic bishops in Southern Africa (a kind of SADC for Roman Catholics) embarked on a local radio project. It had a two-pronged approach. First, it involved setting up a network of small community radio stations. The local population were involved, sharing responsibility for making programmes and broadcasting information and news about everyday life in the remotest places. In some cases, the programme content was retransmitted at a provincial or even national level. The second aspect was that it was supplemented by the creation of flexible and independent associations of journalists/presenters. They formed information agencies operating as a network to link up local radio stations.
At that time, the main concern in Southern Africa was to rid South Africa of apartheid. There was also a desire to promote freedom of expression in Angola and Mozambique. Given that radio was (and still is) the most important means of communication in the region, the idea was to set up a regional network capable of overcoming all the constraints ranging from legal bans and restrictions on broadcasting to widespread illiteracy. The ultimate objective was to set up a Catholic radio station based in Swaziland. This project did not go ahead, however, because it was too expensive to finance and, above all, because it was dependent on the regional Catholic hierarchy. It proved difficult to reconcile the various ideological views and sensitivities of bishops in the various countries of the region. There was also a growing feeling amongst the Christian communities that the underlying need was not for a radio station which would be a vehicle for bishops' views, but rather a media system that served the people, offering recreation, training and information.
Another local radio project of interest, which is now up and running, involved reviving Radio Pax, the private Catholic radio station which made a significant contribution during the 1 960s to the struggle for a free Mozambique. The operation closed down in 1977 but the experience was not forgotten and 16 years later, the decision was made to bring the station back on air. Those behind the new project took advantage of the trend towards greater political openness in the country. Their aim was to offer a credible and informative alternative, which, they hoped, would be up and running in time for the elections scheduled for October 1994. A course was run between July and September 1994 which brought together young presenters chosen by small communities on the outskirts of Beira, Chimoio, Nampula, Quelimane and Maputo. The course involved honing the participants' presentation skills and providing practical training in technical subjects, and programme and information preparation. This was how the first association of young independent Christian journalists came into being.
For various reasons, including red-tape and customs regulations, the new Radio Pax was unable to broadcast in the run-up to the general election. However, the young journalists, who received their training at various locations, were able to act as important independent sources of information. This was channelled to Maputo and used as backup for a number of international press officials and observers. The information relayed by the young presenters in the provinces made it possible to publish a newsletter which was circulated throughout the country, using fax, religious channels and a variety of other means.
Radio Pax is now in operation, although it faces major technical problems. It is based in a community centre in Inhamizua, 20 km from Beira. The station has already done important work in gathering information about local traditions, and has broadcast programmes aimed particularly at women and young people in suburban areas. The network also incorporates Mozambique's Radio Encontro, which broadcasts from Nampula in conjunction with the Anchilo training centre. There are plans for further local radio stations in Maputo in the south, Quelimane and Chimolo in the centre and Pemba in the north.
Radio Pax is managed entirely by the Association of Independent
Young Christian Journalists in Beira. In terms of training, the current
preoccupation is to teach the young people involved how to manage the small
radio stations which have been made available to them, and to set up local self
financing systems. Although equipment is important, what really counts in this
project is the training of the presenters. Working in close collaboration with
the community, it is they who are in the front line-promoting the inalienable
right of free
by Mand Rya Ngarara
The Support Group for the Disabled in Chad (AEHPT) was set up in 1987 with the assistance of the International Christian Service for Peace (EIRENE), which has its headquarters in Germany. By coming together to form a group, disabled people hoped to take charge of their lives and break down the wall of silence that surrounds them. However, despite setting up various workshops (welding workshops, small printing works, musical groups) and publishing an information newsletter, entitled 'Perspectives'. the AEHPT has been unable to improve the image of disabled people within Chad society and has failed to raise awareness that the work done by the disabled is not only of value, but deserves due recognition. From this status quo sprang the idea of broadcasting a national weekly radio programme called 'The Voice of the Disabled'.
There are two reasons why radio was chosen as the communication medium: firstly, the very strong oral tradition of the country, together with the population's weak purchasing power, which make access to newspapers difficult, means that radio remains the most appropriate medium for reaching a wide audience; and secondly, radio programmes are not difficult to produce, since they do not require vast technical, financial or human resources.
Letting the disabled have their say
Initially launched by the AEHPT, The Voice of the Disabled is now jointly produced and broadcast by four associations actively involved in defending the interests of those with disabilities. It is broadcast nationwide every Monday at peak listening times.
The programme is not, however, aimed solely at those with disabilities but, on the contrary, seeks to increase awareness in Chad society as a whole. It also acts as a platform from which to urge the authorities to take concrete measures to help this section of the population.
Today, more than a year after its launch, The Voice of the Disabled is enjoying tremendous success, with ever larger numbers of people, from all walks of life, tuning in. For the disabled themselves it provides a vast source of information, explaining the facts behind the causes of their disabilities and giving advice on how to prevent such disabilities and what can be done to treat them, and it keeps people informed about what is happening within the various associations for the disabled, giving information about the activities, projects and special events that are taking place. As far as the rest of the population is concerned, The Voice of the Disabled has helped to raise the profile of disabled people in Chad. Slowly but surely, people's preconceptions are beginning to change and one of the programme's greatest achievements has been to eradicate gradually the negative image which people used to have of disabilities.
Nevertheless, the lamentable fact remains that this programme is broadcast solely in French, and this is why plans are now in the pipeline to broadcast The Voice of the Disabled in both Arabic and Sara - Chad's two national languages.
The Africa Express experiment
By Richard Synge
The 'Africa Express' documentory series mounted by Channel4, an independent British TV station, has done more than just put a new slant on news provided by state-run African channels. it has also created jobs for African producers and reporters.
Television viewers in Africa will soon get the chance to see documentaries on African current affairs and development topics which have hitherto only been seen on British TV sets.
Channel Four's Africa Express programme has recently concluded its third series to much critical acclaim in Britain. it included items on a surprisingly diverse range of topics. One film showed how a cash-strapped Congolese prison saves money by sending its prisoners home one day in every month, and included lively interviews with the governor and the prisoners themselves as well as footage of the grim prison conditions. Others focused on the flourishing free currency market in Zaire, the spread of South Africa's 'shebeen' culture into the country's upmarket suburbs, political battles in Namibia over the rights to manage historic tourist sites and the Nigerian military government's blatant attempts to censor television reporting.
The latest series supplemented the work of British film crews by incorporating several documentaries that were made entirely by African production teams. Special funding for this element of the Africa Express project came from the environmental television distribution agency TVE. As a result, Africa Express hired four African directors and used African-based crews to film half of the 24 films in the series.
The other innovative part of the project was that the programmes are now becoming available to viewers in Africa at the lowest possible cost. To promote this concept of 'media feedback', TVE has been actively marketing the series to non-governmental organisations and facilitating arrangements for the distribution of the cassettes to African broadcasting stations, both state-owned and private.
'It is a way forward for us, because nothing like this has been done before,' says Raphael Tuju, a Kenyan film producer who runs a video resource centre in Nairobi, marketing documentaries to local broadcasting stations and the educational sector. 'There are too few opportunities for producers in African countries to break into the international networks. The subjects we cover are rarely of interest to the distribution companies, the differences in technology are too wide and getting wider, and there are not enough African producers who have reached the professional level to compete with their counterparts abroad.'
Peter Gill, who edited Africa Express for Channel Four, welcomed the opportunity to help promote the independent film industry in Africa. 'It was thoroughly stimulating,' he says, adding that one of the constant challenges was 'finding ways to bridge the gap between what is technically possible in Africa and the standards required for a European television production.' The four African directors hired for the series were two South Africans, Eddie Mbalo and Teddy Mattera, a Zimbabwean,
Albert Chimedza, and a Namibian, Bridget Pickering. They all worked directly under Peter Gill's management and in contact with a producer in the field. Gill was impressed with the level of journalistic and technical expertise available in Africa and the dedication of the teams working in difficult situations.
Even where the production teams were British, all the 24 films in the latest Africa Express series used African journalists and presenters. They researched and organised most of the films in advance of the actual shoot by the visiting film crews. Cameroonian journalist, Emmanual Wotany, played a prominent role in the films on Congo and Zaire. Kenyan reporter Joseph Warungu proposed and presented a film on the hazards of skin-bleaching in The Gambia. The presenter of the programme on Nigeria, Toyin Fane-Kayode, bravely challenged the censorship of the country's military regime.
An all-African camera and sound team led by Lawrence Mbada and Mandla Mlambo was responsible for the four films in the series that were shot by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). In the extremely difficult conditions of Angola and Namibia, an experienced SABC cameraman was used. Here there was a need to ensure that the less experienced directors were not further challenged by having to work with an inexperienced crew.
For TVE's Robert Lamb, one of the main breakthroughs made by Africa Express was in the agreement of Channel Four to collaborate both with the SABC and with TVE itself, which insisted on the involvement and participation of African journalists, film-makers and technicians. He was impressed by the results and hopes that thee could be 'an even greater African involvement in another series, if one is commissioned.'
The latest series was a success, being regularly watched by up to two million viewers.
Channel Four granted broadcasting rights for the series in lowincome countries to TVE and Worldview International Foundation as well as the non-broadcast rights to TVE and its partners in the third world. These agreements allow TVE to provide the tapes at nominal cost to a network of video resource centres, similar to that run by Raphael Tuju in Nairobi. Such centres seek to get development-oriented documentary films shown by the local broadcasting stations but survive by supplying the needs of schools, colleges, non-governmental organisations and other categories of 'multipliers'.
One of the most successful documentary centres is the Film Resource Unit (FRU) in Johannesburg. From its origins as a way of sharing bootlegged foreign films and TV programmes during the political repression of the 1980s, FRU is now a major distributor of educational and documentary films.
To overcome the inexperience of state-owned African broadcasting networks in showing programmes of developmental relevance to their societies, video resource centres have to provide their own sponsorship. 'It is difficult for us to compete with the likes of Coca Cola, which will sponsor programmes like soap operas,' says Raphael Tuju, 'but one way round this obstacle is to sponsor a programme and at the same time advertise our services. The business we generate this way usually means that we can at least break even.'
Film-making capacity in Africa has been severely limited by most governments' domination of the broadcasting media and a deep and institutional reluctance to encourage independent local productions. The mainly government-owned television stations rarely have a policy to buy in locallymade programmes and tend to look to Britain, France or the US for outside material, which is often dumped on the market at low prices, making it an even harder challenge for local producers to generate the funds to make their own programmes.
The decline of the once-active film industry in Nigeria, in particular, means that in English-speaking Africa, the field is now dominated by South Africa and Zimbabwe. In French-speaking Africa, the continuation of subsidies has kept an 'art house' tradition alive, especially in Senegal and Burkina Faso. In most of the continent, however, the only development-oriented programmes shown to the public tend to be made by the governments' own propaganda departments rather than by independent film-makers.
Where there is a lack of access to local broadcasting media, African film-makers continue to experiment with making their own dramas and documentaries, showing their work on video in village halls and schools. 'At the grassroots, African film-making can be stimulated simply by consumer demand,' says Russel Honeyman, who publishes the African Film and TV Yearbook in Harare. 'But local products do not usually translate into international products. Film and television is a global industry and film-makers should not insist on being too parochial. There is room for greater international collaboration.'
Based on the experience of the latest Africa Express series, TVE now plans to build on its achievements. In May 1996, it exhibited the series to the directors of African television stations at a conference in Windhoek, Namibia, and discussed arrangements for distribution of the cassettes. It is also planning to participate in a workshop for French speaking West African nations in Senegal under a grant from the European Union's human rights division. The consultative process will continue with a meeting of the African video resource centre network at the end of 1996.
TVE's Robert Lamb hopes that the success of Africa Express might encourage international funding agencies in Europe to take up the challenge of funding films made in Africa for African consumption. He doubts that Channel Four on its own would take such a risk. Constraints are, perhaps inevitably, imposed on TVE's concept by the fact that programmes produced for European audiences use a production and editorial structure that requires 'post production' in European capitals. 'Although we came out owning the rights to the programmes in Africa, Channel Four still had 80% of the control over the production and editorial decisions,' he acknowledges.
Robert Lamb is fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead.
'National broadcasters are in a parlous financial position and are still, for
the most part, stifled by government controls,' he notes. 'Africans who have
received formal training rarely find the funds to apply their newly-acquired
skills.' But Mr Lamb and his TVE organisation are convinced that there will be
increasing demand for more programmes like Africa Express, as much from Africa
itself as from European
by Renaud de la Brosse
The author, who works at the Panos Institute in Paris, reflects on the pros and cons of new information technology for countries in the South and on their chances of success.
The Internet has become such a craze amongst users in Third-World countries (researchers, teachers, businesses,, liberal professions, etc.) that it amply demonstrates that a real and genuine need is being met, despite adverse comments from its detractors. The rapid increase in the number of connections to the network in the North is mirrored by an exponential growth in the South. Africa is a good example of the possibilities offered by access to the global network whilst at the same time revealing the technical and financial restrictions facing countries in the South.
Almost all of Africa's 55 countries are today connected to the network, from South Africa, which has over 800.000 computers, to Uganda, which has just a few thousand. The importance of the Internet in Africa must be viewed less in terms of the number of computers (means of access to the Internet) and more in terms of the constant increase it represents in numbers of subscribers to the network. In the last six months alone, the number of subscribers increased by over 50%, whilst the increase in France, for example, was only 20%. Another telling figure is the number of host computers per 1.000 inhabitants, which rose by 147% in South Africa between 1994 and 1995 whereas the increase for Taiwan and Australia was 83% and 50%, respectively!
Because it is under-supplied in communications equipment, Africa is starting out with a disadvantage compared with other continents. However, the recent G7 Conference on Information and Development, which took place in mid-May in Midrand in South Africa, brought together 40 countries and 18 intergovernmental organizations and made it possible 'to build a bridge between developed countries and developing countries' so that the latter are not excluded from the world of new information technologies. The benefit to be gained from the Net for the Black Continent lies in the fact that African surfers are anxious to break free from their scientific, cultural or economic isolation which comes not only from relationships between Africa and the rest of the world, but often from relationships between regions and countries on the African continent itself.
As in Europe and the United States, scientists and researchers in Africa are the first to have understood the importance of the Net and there are now - in French speaking Africa - networks such as the Intertropical Computer Network, which groups together approximately 3000 surfers in 11 countries. The importance of the Internet for these researchers is manifold; in most countries, the education system is in grave crisis, essentially because of diminishing budget resources which for years, on account of structural adjustment measures, have been melting away. This explains the absence of libraries or documentation centres. The Internet is therefore becoming a stopgap measure, offering access to all current scientific production and giving African researchers the chance to publicise and gain recognition for their work outside their own continent.
Interesting experiments in North/South cooperation are also being set up, with the French-speaking Agency for Higher Education and Research currently establishing what it calls a 'virtual French-speaking campus', a kind of vast library to which affiliated universities will be connected. The project is also justified in economic terms since, through the medium of electronic mail (e-mail), which goes hand in hand with the Internet, exchanges of information will be cheaper than by fax, for example, which costs at least five times as much for the same amount of information transmitted.
Outside the academic community, heads of African businesses are also launching themselves into cyberspace, particularly in the case of several hundred of them who have grouped together within a West-African Business Network. Internet's financial viability in the South is dependent on membership of African businesses and multinational companies established in Africa. The cost of subscription is still beyond the means of private individuals and only 'institutional' subscribers are currently able to guarantee payment in the short term.
A useful tool
Many of the possibilities on offer remain to be explored, so the Internet can therefore be an important medium for promoting African culture - Niger has set up a Web via which it is possible to visit its archaeological sites and Benin has just set up a server dedicated to voodoo. In general terms, there is the challenge of mastering content, in other words the African suffers should not restrict themselves to a passive use (sleeking information from the North) but should, on the contrary, move progressively as players providing content and information. For the countries of the South, it is a matter of mastering information and preserving their culture.
The range of possibilities offered by the Net is limitless. Its development in Africa or in the South in general does, however, run up against a number of obstacles, including those of both a technical and financial nature. The importance of the Internet lies in being able to transmit greater quantities of information more cheaply than by using other communications techniques. However, the required technology is expensive and therein lies the principal difference between the North and the South.
The infrastructure which would permit rapid, longterm expansion of the Internet is nowhere near being installed in Africa, just as in the other developing countries. The continent is still under-equipped in terms of telephone lines; according to a survey by the BDT (Telecommunications Development Office), the number of main telephone lines per 100 inhabitants is less than 0.5 in sub-Saharan Africa, and in terms of equipment providing access to the Net (computer, modem, etc.). In real terms, this makes access to the network much more expensive for a user in the South than for one in the North. All these imported electronic goods are much more expensive than in the West, and this is without taking account of the additional cost, in most African countries, imposed by tariff barriers on IT goods, which are regarded with great suspicion by the authorities who perceive them as a potential danger more than as essential development tools.
The fear is that the remote transmission of data might pose a threat to less than democratic regimes. Under the pretext of 'the control of information-based wealth', a State may decide to interfere with the 'consent' or even 'suppress' a site for producing and exchanging information deemed contrary to its interests. Once more, the question of freedom of expression arises in different terms in the South and North.
The Panos Institute
The Panos Institute is a non-profit-making association set up in 1988. Together with its counterparts in London and Washington, the Paris Panos Institute founded Panos International The Institute's aim is to strengthen, particularly in Africa, local expression and information capabilities. Within the context of sustainable and better-shared development, it aims to promote the emergence of a more democratic culture and of more democratic debate. To this end, the Panos Institute runs two main programmes in west Africa from Paris and its branch offices (Senegal, Mali, Chad and Ghana).
The programme to support pluralism in matters of information, which has four major objectives: - to expand and consolidate the legal, institutional and statutory framework of pluralist-type information - to increase professionalism in the media - to give institutional support to authors in west Africa who promote pluralism in information - to contribute to the production and circulation of more diversified and more qualified information on certain priority topics such as the environment, human rights, management and prevention of conflict, etc.
The migration and cooperation programme seeks to enhance the value of the contribution made by citizens from Third World countries residing in the rich nations to development in their countries of origin.
The European Union, UNESCO and the ACCT, American foundations (Ford, Rockefeller) or German foundations, and bilateral cooperation agreements (Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, France) support the actions of the Panos Institute.
by Florence Win
Although radio is 'king of the media' in Africa, the press is increasingly becoming an active player in the democratic process.
This has been seen particularly over the last six years in the French-speaking African states where a burgeoning of political parties has been matched by the appearance of an unusually large number of newspapers. In these countries, the press still requires rudimentary political stability - in contrast to English-speaking countries, where it has a much longer tradition and can nowadays be generally regarded as the 'Fourth Estate'.
Nigeria is a good illustration of this. One need only cite the press campaigns mounted there to protest against the Federation's membership of the Islamic Conference Organisation in 1986, and more recently, the support given to Moshood Abiola. The vitality of the Nigerian press is something that deserves to be emphasised. Despite a series of measures over the years aimed at suppressing it (not exclusively by the military authorities) it is still much in evidence. There are demonstrations to support it, and it has 'gone underground' at times, continuing to publish clandestinely. The journalists' struggle intensified in June 1993, when it was recommended that they should exercise 'discretion and self-regulation'. In spite of the problems, the Nigerian press endeavours to remain a source of pressure in Nigeria's political and social arena.
Returning to the French-speaking media, we see that the pace of expansion varies considerably from one country to another. In Benin, for example, current discussions are centred strongly on opening up the country's airwaves.
Is a private press a partisan press?
It is debatable whether the private press is truly independent. In the political sphere, it is often highly partisan while 'economic' independence - in the sense of access to the materials needed to produce a newspaper - is not always possible. Printing and distribution are often subject to monopolies which may constitute a form of disguised censorship for the publishers.
Initiatives aimed at setting up press associations in one form or another have been launched in an attempt to overcome these problems. This helps explain why the SEP (publishers' Society) was established. This group, which hopes to extend its activities throughout the region, is based in Benin where the democratisation process (and the proliferation of press titles) first begun. In many countries, media associations have already been formed covering specific areas such as radio, the press and publishing. There are plans for similar organisations in the field of television. Sometimes, they have printing facilities which are available to other private publications.
The principal challenge facing a general information-based newspaper is that it should appear regularly and on time. The next stage, ideally, is for it to be able to increase its distribution. Initially, a number of newspapers only came out monthly or even every two months. After appearing regularly for several months - and thereby achieving relative financial stability - they then moved to weekly publication.
In most countries, a new legal framework was also adopted, although the application of the legislation has often proved laborious. This is particularly true of the setting up of regulatory authorities. In Senegal, where the media was previously governed by a law passed in 1979 (and amended in 1986), new legislation was enacted at the beginning of 1996. The measure was prompted by concerns over ethical standards, a demand for a more 'responsible' approach, a desire to prevent monopolies developing, and fears of excessive foreign involvement. This year has also seen the implementation of media law amendments in Cote d'lvoire.
The focus of the work of many newly-formed organisations has been the drawing up of a professional code of ethics, with a view to defining the basis of the journalist's profession. In Cote d'lvoire, the OLPED (Press Freedom and Professional Ethics Monitor) was created in September 1995 in Yamoussoukro at a seminar on journalists' responsibilities during elections. The OLPED is made up of 13 members representing publishers, civil society and the nation's journalists. Although the 'Monitor' has only moral authority, it has had considerable influence on journalists' professional consciences.
The OLPED held weekly working sessions up to March 1996 and now meets every two months. One of its main achievements has been to define the criteria whereby a responsible attitude can be guaranteed.
The press can expect to be subject to rigorous supervision during an election campaign - as happened recently in Benin. Indeed, Benin's press has attracted special attention from various national institutions including, most notably, the NGO community. This interest resulted In the organisation of seminars on journalism during an election period, designed to avoid incitements to violence. The HAAC (Audi ovisual and Communications High Authority), responsible for statutory control of the media in the run-up to and during the campaign, took part in these meetings which were aimed at increasing awareness and highlighting the heavy responsibility carried by the media.
Despite a number of incidents during the campaign (which were immediately reported) and although the situation threatened to get out of hand while the country was obliged to wait for the publication of the results of the second round, the press conducted itself in a fairly moderate manner. It should be recalled that there was a great deal of apprehension in Benin before the results were announced with a widespread fear that violence might break out. These fears were given extensive coverage by the media.
The HAAC proved to be central to the electoral process and, ultimately, the press was congratulated by most political leaders in Benin, and by those from abroad who were involved in organising and observing the poll, for the role that it played in the process. By and large, it concentrated on portraying popular expectations.
During an election period, the print media is an essential vehicle of opinion and power, justifying the creation of special titles.
At present, the private press is playing an increasingly important role in the democratic process and the question of its survival appears to have attracted more serious attention from the authorities. In Senegal, a subsidy has been granted to a number of newspapers, subject to certain conditions, and Mali set an example this year by establishing a private press aid fund, with Cote d'lvoire about to follow suit.
The political context which has favoured this flourishing of the private press has had a marked influence on the way it has developed and on the editorial content of most journals - which is strongly focused on politics and 'national' issues. The press has barely had a chance to find its feet on the media scene and in the political process, and it has had to contend with huge economic constraints. Low circulation figures are one key reason for its precarious position - newspapers are read only by an educated, urban minority. However, the press is now embarking on a new course, attempting to establish a loyal readership with a view to guaranteeing its long-term survival.
Independence and integrity ought, of course, to be the hallmark of journalism, although currently it is not possible to say that the profession is dissociated entirely from political militancy. In the past, the press has played a part in undermining the national consensus by promoting division and, on occasion, fomenting exclusion and confrontation. The issue today is whether the sector can now take its place in states governed by the rule of law, representing public opinion and helping to bring about a rapprochement of ideas.
by Richard Lawson T
When President Mathieu Kkou of Benin granted permission to set up private newspapers in his country, the result was an upsurge of new titles. The following article is written by a journalist who works on one of these publications ('Tam-Tam Express'). He offers an assessment of the way the private press has developed in Benin, and in particular of the ethical and economic challenges it needs to overcome in the new democratic order.
In 1988, President Kkou's revolutionary regime authorised the setting-up of private newspapers in Benin. At the beginning, only a limited degree of freedom was granted to new publications but things have evolved quickly. 'La Gazette du Golfe' and 'Tam-Tam Express', the first independent weeklies to be set up (two years prior to the 1990 national conference), went beyond what the Marxist regime had in mind and effectively achieved press freedom in the face of opposition from the Ministry of Information and Propaganda.
Journalists took advantage of their initial limited freedom to publish reports about political and financial scandals and this, not surprisingly, gave a new lease of life to the media more generally in Benin. In particular, journalists from the national radio and television channels were quick to switch their style of reporting, dispensing with the stereotyped formal language which had previously characterised the public-service media.
Meanwhile, several politically oriented publications came into being ('L'Opinion', 'La Recade', 'Le Canard du Golfe'). This development gave newfound dynamism to the emergence of a free and independent press in the crucial period prior to Benin's national conference, which was held in February 1990.
To date, 170 titles have been registered with the Ministry of the Interior, although barely half of these have been published more than five times. Some appeared only once and many have existed in name only. Publications which have had only a sporadic existence are legion and, in the years between 1991 and 1996, when political power alternated between Presidents Soglo and Kerekou, independent privatepress titles flourished. Unfortunately, they faced a number of problems - such as prohibitive paper and printing costs and poor distribution networks. The result was that many operators were financially ruined as a result of their decision to venture into this area of publication.
Currently, the Benin market has only 20 or so titles which appear on a reasonably regular basis. For the most part, these are two-weekly and monthly publications which concentrate their activities in Cotonou. The audiovisual media are conspicuous by their absence, despite the provisions of the Constitution adopted in December 1990, which gave special powers to the HAAC (Audiovisual and Communications High Authority), particularly as regards guaranteeing 'press freedom' and 'opening up the audiovisual sector'. No one knows when this law will actually be implemented, but it does appear that the Benin Parliament, which sits in Porto Novo, has been giving more attention to this issue since General Kkou's accession to power.
The relationship between the press and the state
Governmen/press relationships are not particularly healthy at the moment. The usual reflex of authorities in any country is to control or manipulate the press wherever possible. At the ORTB (Benin Broadcasting and Television Office), a branch of the public sector, journalists often complain of the pressures they face in processing information. The same is said at the national daily, 'La Nation'. Fortunately, such pressures have not always shaken the resolve of the professional journalists.
The private press has a different problem. In this case, it is the newspaper proprietors who look to collaborate with the political parties. As one publishing editor has said, 'Our problem is more one of allegiance than of harassment'. Virtually all publications are political vehicles for one or other group - which makes nonsense of the code of ethics that is supposed to govern the profession. This phenomenon was most marked during the election period. All the titles that had been in 'hibernation' came to life again and new titles were born, only to disappear once the poll was over. This is also a reflection of the very meagre resources available to most private publishers. Those who do have sufficient means are usually quick to offer allegiance - for example to particular businesses - in order to position themselves more favourably from an economic standpoint. Thus, some of the press rather overtly promotes particular economic interests. Others assiduously woo politicians and, in some cases, use blatant blackmailing techniques. In the latter situation, the 'market' operates on the basis that a file (sometimes assembled from a number of documents) will not be published if an endorsement is given or - what is worse - in return for hard cash. The justification for this shameful practice is that the market is highly restricted, sales of newspapers bring in very little income and advertising is non-existent but the newspaper has to keep going nonetheless. This situation also explains why defamation actions are frequently settled 'out of court' by the parties to the dispute.
A profession fraught with difficulties
Another explanation for the existence of blackmail is the lack of training. The majority of journalists working for private publications come into the profession for want of something better to do, after they have finished their university courses. One experienced journalist refers to these people as mere 'hirelings'. It is only once they have entered the profession that they learn the basics through joining journalists' associations and by receiving support from some of the bilateral-cooperation missions and foundations that are operating in Benin. The country does not, itself, have any colleges of journalism to speak of. Only recently, the national daily newspaper inaugurated a course for young journalists receiving their training on the country's various publications. This course will be spread over one year.
Young journalists working at the national agency, the Benin Press Agency, are trained by WANAD (the West-African National Agencies Development) centre, under the auspices of UNESCO, which is subregional in vocation. The 20 or so trainees have no clear idea of what awaits them when they finish their course - whether all, or just some of them, will be taken on full-time by the agency. Those who are not kept on at the end of their training period are likely to swell the ranks of the 'hirelings' - who seem fated to remain at that level.
The new administration will have to tackle the more general question of aid to the press in order to give a fresh boost to the private sector. This has been facing a real struggle since the devaluation of the CFA franc. The effect of the devaluation was to increase the cost of all the inputs needed for publishing newspapers. A new initiative of the part of the authorities would make it possible to offer more work to journalists and to improve considerably the quality of work they produce. To quote the publisher of a private newspaper: 'The influence of money must be curbed. To do this, the state must grant genuine aid to the press so that the profession can be genuinely free and objective and thereby fulfil the important role it has to play in the consolidation of democracy'. R.L.T.
by Dr Marjan de Bruin
The author of this abridged article, who leaches et the Caribbean institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the Mona (Jamaica) Campus of the University of the West Indies, focuses on some of the peculiarities of press and media development in small island Caribbean states.
Caribbean comprises thirteen independent nations that are members of Caricom (the Caribbean Community) and a few remaining small dependent territories. The total population is about six million. In most of these countries, the majority of the population is of African descent although in Trinidad and Guyana, about half the people are of Asian (Indian) origin.
The sea, whose name unites the islands, is a serious barrier to communication and social interchange between them. it takes as long to go by plane from Barbados to Jamaica (1200 miles direct, but 2000 miles via Miami) as it takes to cross the Atlantic from Paris to New York (3600 miles) - and the latter journey is usually cheaper! And until fairly recently, telephone calls from neighbouring Caribbean countries without a common language were routed through London, Paris or Miami.
The distances make communications difficult. Mail can take weeks, telephone circuits are often overloaded and, in some countries, unscheduled power cuts often disrupt computer systems at the most inopportune moments.
Communication and the media
The Caribbean has a strong oral tradition. This, together with poverty and an estimated general literacy rate of about 80%, makes radio the most popular medium. Recent studies show, for instance, that 99% of Jamaican households reported having at least one radio at home. In Jamaica alone, three large national radio stations between them broadcast nine hours of prime time call-in radio.
In all Caribbean countries, alongside the mass media, 'alternative' medias play an important role in communication for social change. In some countries, the term simply connotes non mainstream operations. In others it refers to alternative formats which are found in the mainstream media. The term also represents the use of other communication behaviour - popular theatre, dance, music, oral history, story telling. It has been suggested that the increased use of alternative media and alternative uses of mainstream media are an indication of the audience's dissatisfaction with the mainstream mass media.
In most English-speaking Caribbean countries, the government owns some of the major mass media, especially electronic. Only recently has the private sector developed its own strongholds in radio and television. Print has always been an area of mainly private ownership. Only the larger countries have daily newspapers; morning or evening papers - although usually not more than two or three. In the smaller countries the press consists of weeklies, or bi-weeklies.
Ownership or control of media houses by governments is recognised as a serious obstacle to true investigative journalism.The economies of all Caribbean countries are heavily dependent on tourism. Stories on environmental hazards and crises which might affect this essential source of income are subject to explicit or implicit (selfl censorship.
Government ownership in some instances means policy discontinuity over time; each new regime imports its own set of administrators and sometimes even entire newsroom staffs. In other instances, where the same party has ruled for a long time, positions within the media are very stable because they are tied to political loyalty.
Private ownership, however, does not mean an absence of potential pressure or political influences. In Trinidad & Tobago, the country's oldest daily - The Trinidad Guardian - recently lost its Managing Director, its editor and six of its top editorial executives, after the owners - a supermarket chain - pressurised the editor to moderate criticisms of the country's new administration. The owners also tried to convince the managing director and editor to dismiss a columnist who was a disaffected and now hostile former member of the new ruling party. In apparent justification, the owners produced a document which suggested that it was the policy of the Guardian not to endanger the commercial prospects of its owners by injudicious criticism of the powers that be. Caribbean journalists attacked the Guardian ownership for what some saw as an attempt to turn a respected newspaper into the public relations arm of a commercial congLomte. Despite the protests, the Guardian's new editor, a veteran of forty years in journalism, argued that the proprietors had good reason to interfere with his predecessors.
The region's oldest daily, The Jamaica Gleaner (established in 1834) went even further. In an editorial it said: 'In our view the owners have a right to oppose the way in which the judgment of the Editor and others is exercised. The right of the Guardian Board to query content cannot be questioned. It is impossible for a newspaper to be run without the input of the Board of Governors.'
Most English-speaking Caribbean countries are relatively small in population as well as area. The number of media organizations is limited. The limited size of the market has important implications for the financial basis of the media, especially the part that is privately-owned. It limits the horizontal mobility of media workers - there are simply not that many options - and it makes the relationship between media and sources extremely vulnerable. There are not that many sources either. It also means that most Caribbean media houses have very limited resources. Many reporters have to cover a wide range of topics. Specialised reporting for instance on the environment, or health, is usually not feasible.
One of the major problems in the Caribbean media is the high proportion of imported television programming. The region is geographically close to the United States and satellite broad casting makes access to the Northern networks even easier. In the ten years from 1976 to 1986, the imported content of four large television stations in the region moved from an average of 78.5% to 87%. When the amount of imported content carried by the smaller stations was included, the average increased to 90% of all material televised.
Privatisation and new technologies
Several of the larger Caribbean countries have seen an explosive growth in the electronic media. Jamaica, which has a population of about 2.5 million living in some 620 000 households, and per capita GDP of $1563, has seen the number of radio stations grow from three to nine and TV stations from one two, in a period of just five years.
Trinidad & Tobago, with 1.2 million inhabitants in 300 000 households, and per capita GDP of $4049, went through a similar process, with seven new radio stations and two new, privately-owned TV stations being set up over the last five years.
Barbados, with a population of 260000 living in about 50000 households has long supported two daily newspapers. There are also two TV stations on the island, while viewers can receive television signals from neighbouring islands. This country has the highest per capita GDP in the region ($5562) after The Bahamas ($10,308).
One positive effect of this intensive growth is certainly to be found in the increased employment opportunities for broadcasters. In the past, journalists risked their careers if they disagreed with their employers. Now people have more options. However, increased competition in a relatively small market also enlarges the risk of commercialisation and a lowering of standards. One does not need to undertake in-depth research to discover that locally-produced television is scarce and not always of the highest standard. It is cheaper to buy foreign programming than to produce original content. Some of the graduates of the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, who performed above average during their training and education in print journalism, can be seen sliding down the standards scale once they enter the mass media as working journalists. Similarly, the standards of newsrooms are not always high. In fairness to the professionals, it must be said that the decline in standards is partly due to the lack of resources in editorial departments. The major newsrooms in radio and television in Jamaica, still depend on typewriters.
Development of new technologies has contributed to two almost opposite movements. On the one hand, greater access to worldwide networks has widened horizons. On the other, the introduction of cable TV offers, at least in principle, the possibility for small-scale communication initiatives, such as community radio stations either for geographical communities or communities of interest (for example, people or groups interested in the environment).
Satellite dishes, VCRs and computers are breaking down traditional communication borders. In the Jamaican capital, Kingston, 28% of households have a dish and 21% a computer. The picture is very different just 20 miles away, in the neighbouring but rural parish of St Thomas, where the figures are just 1% and 2% respectively. New technologies are affordable for the happy few and are increasing the gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' of information.
In all of these societies, computers sit uneasily in otherwise nondigital environments. The information that one works with is usually not computerised. Many records are still handwritten, with data kept on index cards. Computerisation is a costly process for which there is rarely a budget.
Once the hardware is available, it is easy to retrieve data from non Caribbean sources. At the same time, it is barely possible - at least at the moment - to tap into Caribbean data sources. There is no commercial Caribbean software. Page make-up and layout programmes, for instance, rely on non-Caribbean electronic clip-art-images and symbols. It may simply be a matter of time before local products develop, but currently, the main constraints are to do with lack of funds.
How is journalism faring in this environment? The Caribbean context gives journalism a special professional profile. The small size of Caribbean societies has implications for the use of sources. Access is easier, but it also creates sharper dilemmas where loyalty is concerned: most sources are people you know personally and who know you. Anonymity is almost impossible.
Because the societies are so small, you will meet many of the same people in different roles on different occasions. The small scale of the market makes all enterprises in media and journalism very vulnerable to market forces: the withdrawal of one or two major advertisers would endanger the chances of survival of some media houses.
The situation of the press is most marginal in the smaller countries. In Antigua (population 66000), radio and television are controlled either by the Government or by people with close links to those in power. One opposition paper, a trade union publication, has survived several legal assaults by the authorities over the years. The other, little more than a newsletter, has managed to survive into its second year.
In Grenada (population 91000), journalists complain about police harassment of reporters on duty, and in most of the smaller countries, journalists are uneasily aware of the continuing hostility of long-ruling political parties.
The working environment of journalists in Caribbean media organisations is usually more modest compared to that of journalists in rich countries. There is less technology, smaller staffs and lower salaries. In the smaller Caribbean countries, it is not unusual for journalists to have to combine two jobs. Journalism alone cannot pay the bills.
There is a sharp difference between rich and poor in most developing countries. For large sections of the population, the big decisions will have nothing to do with buying a second or a third television set.
It is more likely to be a simple matter of whether there is food on the table tonight. These different priorities obviously influence a journalist's agenda.
In developing economies, this can create serious dilemmas for the journalists: if you know your story is likely to hurt the tourist industry - which happens to be the main national income earner of your country - will pursuing it be a waste of valuable time? And how do you decide on the relevance of a scoop when people - some of whom are your friends - could lose their jobs?
Hilary Brown (1995): American Media Impact on Jamaican Youth: The Cultural Dependency Thesis in 'Globalization, Communications and Caribbean identity', Edited by Hopeton S. Dunn, Kingston, Jamaica, lan Randle Publishers.
Aggrey Brown and Roderick Sanatan !1987). Talking With Whom? A Report a the State of the Media in the Caribbean. Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (Carimac), Kingston, Jamaica.
Aggrey Brown (1995). Caribbean Cultures and Mass Communication Technology: Re-examining the Cultural/ Dependency Thesis, in 'Globalization, Communications and Caribbean Identity'.
With modern computer technology, it is now very easy for publishers (and film-makers) to dabble with reality. Whereas in the past, you could be reasonably sure that what you saw was a fair representation of what actually happened, today there is no such guarantee.
Recently in the United Kingdom, one of the country's regional newspapers came in for criticism when it published a 'doctored' photograph of a well-known opposition politician. He was captured on film at a social function sitting at a table with a glass of beer in front of him. By the time the paper's computer experts had finished with the photo, it looked as if he was drinking champagne ! When the story broke, the journal thought it expedient to issue an immediate apology. For while this kind of misrepresentation may appear trivial, in the modern age, image is crucial for those who are involved in public life. Put simply, voters' are more likely to look kindly on beer-drinking politicians than on those whose favourite tipple is champagne.
There was a similar case involving an advertisement issued by a well-known car manufacturer. For their publicity in Britain, the company used a landscape photo portraying a selection of their employees. In Poland, the same picture was used but black and Asian workers were no longer to be seen. Their places in the line-up were miraculously taken by people of Caucasian appearance. The advertisers' rather surprising explanation was that this had been a 'mistake'!
Other recent victims of 'doctored' pictures or socalled 'photo collages' have included members of the European Parliament and a senior EC official, although these particular misrepresentations received very little publicity.
Should consumers of printed or broadcast material be entitled to assume that images are never tampered with? And if some doctoring is acceptable, where do you draw the line? The answer to the first question is clearly no. There are certain situations where photo or film enhancement techniques are unobjectionable. We sometimes use them on The Courier cover pages to remove blemishes or fill in gaps which may detract from the main image. In fashion advertising, it is common for the 'look' of the model to be altered. The aim here is to draw the reader's eye to the page so that their attention can then be focused on the product. More dramatic alterations may even be acceptable if it is evident to the reader that a change has been made. Satirical articles, for example, can sometimes be amusingly illustrated with obviously altered images.
Where the practice is reprehensible is where the picture has been changed in a way that leads the reader to draw false conclusions about what he or she is observing. The classic example of this is where the image of a person captured in one setting is placed against a different backdrop, without the reader being informed. This may be done to give either a more positive or a more negative impression (the latter approach is more usual) but in either case, it is dishonest. If a politician allows himself to be photographed on a Caribbean beach while on mission at the taxpayers' expense, even if he was only there during the lunch break for a quick dip, then he can't really complain. But if the picture was actually taken when he was on holiday in Majorca, and superimposed against a more exotic back ground, then both the 'victim' and the reader are being cheated.
There will always be borderline cases, but in principle, it ought to be possible to draw a reasonably clear distinction between 'right' and 'wrong' in this area.
Nonetheless, it is likely that distorted images will continue to be presented to us in the future. In pluralist societies, newspapers and broadcasters operate in a fiercely competitive environment and in theory, this should provide a deterrent. If one media organisation is found to have doctored images in a dishonest way, there will always be plenty of others willing to expose the misbehaviour.
In practice, however, the only real deterrent is the likelihood of a drop in circulation, or lower viewing figures. And while consumers may say they disapprove of journalistic dishonesty (whether in photographs or the written word), there is little evidence to suggest that they react by taking their custom elsewhere. Indeed, in some developed countries, the closer a journal sails to the wind, the more likely it is to enjoy a high circulation!
It used to be said that 'the camera never lies'.
Nowadays, we can't be so certain.