|The Courier N° 158 - July - August 1996 - Dossier: Communication and the Media - Country Report: Cape Verde (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)|
|Communication and the media|
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.