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close this bookThe Courier N 143 - Jan - Feb 1994 Dossier: Fighting Poverty - Country Report : Niger (EC Courier, 1994, 96 p.)
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View the documentA veteran of communication lays down his sword
View the documentSupport free radio and consolidate democracy
View the documentThe main concerns of the late 20th century

A veteran of communication lays down his sword

Hubert Ferraton is taking his last leave at the end of more than 30 years of service in the European Community. During the past 20 years, he has been involved in the field of 'communication and development 'within the Commission's information department, latterly heading the unit responsible for this work. Before clearing his desk for the last time, Mr Ferraton speaks frankly to The Courier about the difficulties facing 'development communication' specialists in a world of restricted budgets and competing priorities.

He begins - in response to a question about the changes he has witnessed over the past two decades - on a rather pessimistic note, pointing to a 'deterioration' in the situation in many countries. He speaks regretfully of the 'decomposition' of third world societies' and, referring particularly to Africa, suggests that while people no longer wish 'to be what they are', they have not succeeded in coming up with an alternative model. He refers obliquely to the process whereby old elites are driven out by new ones which then use their privileged position to feather their own nests.

Hubert Ferraton insists that communication is an essential element for both development and democracy. 'And there is another dimension', he adds, 'which is in cooperation at a regional or intercontinental level. How', he asks pointedly, 'can you cooperate with someone with whom you can't communicate ?'

Despite this self-evident assertion, the former Community official suggests that development agencies have traditionally devoted insufficient resources to communication as a component of cooperation policy, although recently, he says, he has seen some signs of improvement. He points out that the sums of money required are not enormous. He particularly favours local radio, with a significant input from local people, citing tests carried out by NGOs showing that this kind of approach could be very successful.

The problem, in his view, is that 'actors' in the development arena seldom make proper provision for communication. 'A need clearly exists, and some of those involved can see this, but it is always difficult to get funding for projects because you cannot rely on communication being recognised as a priority.'

He continues: 'We in the development organisations have tended to mistrust communication to some extent: both because we don't really know much about it, and because it is a politically delicate area.'

Ferraton argues passionately in favour of a better overall framework for communication policy, to replace what he sees as the current ad hoc approach which relies heavily on the enthusiasm or persistence of particular individuals, whether ministers or officials. He acknowledges recent improvements in this area but appears to doubt whether those working for development in the public sector - ambassadors and other civil servants - have the appropriate 'communication reflex'. On a more positive note, he sees hope for progress in the many countries which are now governed by democratically elected regimes. There is a new 'dynamism' there, he agrees but he adds a caveat: the people concerned still have 'very limited means . and perhaps not enough political security and stability to fly the flag from the mast.'

Hubert Ferraton admits, in conclusion, that 'things never go as fast or as far as one would like', but as he takes his well-earned retirement, he may take some satisfaction from his own unstinting efforts to fly the flag of 'communication'. Just as secrecy and misinformation are the hallmarks of totalitarian systems, democracy depends on communication and knowledge to prosper. And in a world of emerging (and renewing) democracies, his dream to see his chosen professional field higher on the agenda may now stand a better chance of coming true.

Interview by Stuart YOUNG

Support free radio and consolidate democracy

Conference on pluralism in radio
by Mark LEYSEN

With or without the support of the Governments and sometimes even without their authorisation, free radio has taken off in Africa. It will probably have a far greater influence and a far greater following there than the written press, which is still only distributed to the te in the cities, and it will no doubt be quicker at shrugging off State supervision than television, which is a powerful means of communication, but a very expensive one.

Free radio, be it funded by advertising or associations, is becoming a way for the population to say what it thinks and thus of ensuring that the people take an active part in the social and political life of the country.

Local radio helps consolidate the democratic process; but there are formidable obstacles to overcome before it can actually do so, for promoters, national governments and international organisations have to join forces to promote free, independent, pluralist services first.

Those were the conclusions of a conference on pluralism in West African radio in Bamako (Mali) on 14-18 September 1993, an event organised by the Panos Institute of Paris and UJAO, the West African Journalists' Union, with substantial financial backing from the Ford Foundation and a contribution from the European Commission. The vast majority of those taking part were representatives of State radios, association radios and free radios in the countries of ECOWAS, but there were also delegates from international radio (the BBC World Service, RFI and Radio Nederland), German, Swiss, Danish and Canadian cooperation and international institutions and organisations (UNICEF, UNESCO, ECOWAS, CILSS, URTNA/CIERRO, CRDI and the Commission of the European Communities).

The patron was the President of the Republic of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konarwho displayed a genuine interest in the work of the conference he made the opening speech and met a delegation of participants - while the Communications Minister, either in person or through a close associate, followed the events closely.


The conference highlighted the close, two-way link between free radio and democratisation.

First of all, it is clear that there can be no free radio before at least a start has been made on the democratic process. Without freedom of the airwaves, be it de facto or de jure, and without the possibility of obtaining a frequency, free radio can only be pirate radio. But this is an area in which things move very slowly and very differently from one country to another. The groundwork for the conference, in the form of surveys on radio in the 16 countries of ECOWAS (except Liberia), painted a complete picture of what is going on, revealing very different situations, but a very clear trend towards State withdrawal from the mass media, under pressure of the concepts of democratisation, privatisation and structural adjustment. National radio and TV Offices (ORTM and ORTS) are dropping the 'O' in their titles and setting up as independent Organisations in preparation for privatisation and, most important, they are abandoning their monopoly of the airwaves and leaving the way clear for free radio.

The advance guard of free radio tends to be rural radio and community radio, often operating in a grey legal area and broadcasting on an unused frequency pending the freedom of the airwaves. Commercial radio then follows in their footsteps as soon as it gets a licence to broadcast. Under their influence, the newly independent State radio metamorphoses and 'His Master's Voice' becomes a means of communication which has to cater for the needs and desires of the audience.

There is no doubt that this gradually helps to consolidate the democratic process. One of the most efficient weapons of dictatorship is absence of information - silence. But free radio makes a noise. Independent radio provides news produced at low cost for a small audience. Radio can be broadcast anywhere and received everywhere. So it is always close by.

In Africa, the low cost of production (as compared to television) and the low cost of dissemination (as compared to the written press), the large numbers of FM sets and the poor rate of literacy make radio, especially local radio, the most cost effective of all the media. The diversity of its sources and information spells affordable pluralism and its associative and interactive nature can significantly improve people's active involvement in political life.


The scenario, alas, is not quite so idyllic in all the countries of Africa. In many, the people in power are keen to keep their monopoly over broadcasting and, even where free radio is now legally possible, setting it up is not always easy, for equipment is expensive, maintenance is hard to organise, technicians are badly trained, production companies and associations are fragile, journalists lack professional ethics and the authorities rarely cooperate. A free, independent, viable radio can only emerge where there is national and international support for capacity building and training.

The Bamako conference recommended promoting free radio (see box) through:

- freedom of the airwaves and legislation to ensure the pluralism of radio;
- the creation of a regional free radio organisation to produce, in particular, a newsletter, promote twinning (South-South and South-North) and set up purchasing centres and maintenance units;
- the extension of existing training facilities to offer specific local radio courses;
- a radio production support fund.

Free radio has so far had only very modest support from the community of funders, as most support for the media has gone to the written press. This was the first to emancipate itself, of course, and the first to provide impartial, independent information. But, as someone at the conference said, compare radio with the way the written press has developed over the past few years and radio can be seen to be moving along similar lines, but faster - the same film, in a way, but speeded up.


The main concerns of the late 20th century

In a recent survey for the news paper La Croix L'Evment, Frarce's CSA Institute investigated French attitudes to work and the drive to tackle the unemployment problem.

Jobs emerged as a major concern in France (where, according to figures published in November 1993, 12% of the working population are unemployed) and the Institute decided to make the survey an international one and find out whether the French fears were shared by people in 11 other countries.

Identical questions were, therefore, put to national samples in four EU countries (Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK), three former Eastern bloc nations (Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland) and four others (the USA, Australia, India and Argentina).

In one of the questions, respondents were given 13 subjects and asked to list their personal concerns from among them in declining order of importance. The 13 subjects were:

1. drugs
2. corruption
3. employment
4. the environment
5. world hunger
6. social inequality
7. inflation
8. the threat of war
9. standard of living
10. racism
11. social security
12. Aids
13. violence/safety.

To determine the main concerns in each country, the Institute looked at the top three chosen by each respondent (this explains the totals, which exceed 100%). Employment, which was the biggest concern of French respondents, cited by 61% of those polled, cropped up again as the major worry in four other countries - Australia (78%), Spain (63%), Italy (57%) and India (56 %). It came second in the UK (50%), third in Hungary (71%), fourth in the USA (34%) and Poland (41%), fifth in Bulgaria (25%), sixth in Germany (60%) and tenth in Argentina (28%).

However, violence/ safety was in the lead in four countries - the UK (66%), Poland (56%), the USA (55%) and Bulgaria (60%). It also came second in Australia (70%) and Argentina (71 %) and third in Spain (47%), France (38%) and Germany (63%).

The first three concerns across the 12 countries included:

- drugs in five (including Argentina, where it was in the lead);
- inflation in four (including Hungary, where it shared the lead with standard of living);
- standard of living in three;
- Aids in three (including the USA and France, both of which have been badly hit by the disease);
- the environment in two (number one concern in Germany and number three in Australia);
- war in two (Germany and Italy); and
- corruption in one (India).

Four of the subjects listed - world hunger, social inequality, racism and social security - did not, therefore, feature among the main concerns of the people in the countries under investigation. Social inequality came right at the bottom of the list in most samples and world hunger was at the bottom of India's list.

Although employment and violence/safety emerge as the commonest concerns overall, there is still some contrast between public opinion in the various countries, reflecting the different peoples and cultures. In Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland), for example, standard of living and inflation are thought to be more serious than joblessness. This is doubtless because the whole population is affected by inflation, which is not the case for unemployment. And while Aids is a leading concern in some countries, for the people of India and Argentina the problem of corruption is seen as more important.

When it comes to solving the problems - in this case unemployment different countries look to very different authorities, reflecting the variations in their economic and political situations.

It comes as no surprise to discover that respondents in the USA look first to the heads of the nation's firms to solve the job crisis. There, the Federal Government is only in fourth place behind the local authorities (the State governments) and the unions. Equally unsurprising is the fact that the Germans, with their social-democratic tradition, put the State first before those who run the private sector. Reflecting presumably the weakness of the State, the Italians put it in third place behind company heads and the unions.

Table 1: Who do you expect to solve the unemployment problem?

Night work is seen as a good way of easing unemployment in economically developed countries such as Australia, the USA, France and the UK. There is less enthusiasm for it in Germany, however (49% approval), while it is an approach which is massively rejected in the former Communist countries.

Table 2: Do you agree/disagree that the following could help create jobs for the unemplyoed?

Sunday work attracts a fairly similar response. Germany stands out from the rest of the more developed countries surveyed with only 26% in agreement, although Spain (31%) and Italy (36%) are also lukewarm The firmest rejection of the idea is in Poland, where only 16% of respondents would agree to work on Sundays.

The idea of shorter hours and less pay was accepted, and even then by only a narrow margin, in just two countries - Spain (51 %) and Italy (50%). This approach found least favour in Poland, Hungary and Argentina.

In no country was there a majority in favour of the proposition that one of the members of the household should give up work. In only Spain and Italy did the percentage in favour of this exceed 40%.

Table 3 reveals that a high percentage of those surveyed approaching one in two - in Bulgaria, Spain and Portugal, were concerned about losing their jobs. On the other hand, fear of unemployment is low in the USA (18%) and Germany (15%), where the market economy has a strong profile. A higher level of concern (29% - similar to the French figure of 30%) was recorded in the UK, despite its apparent confidence in the liberal economic system. Hungary, with 60% unconcerned about job security, stands apart from the other eastern countries, perhaps reflecting its greater success in adapting to a free market economy.

Table 3: Dou you think you might lose your job over the next year? (people in work)

Without taking the interpretation of the survey further, and whatever we may think of the indicative value of opinion polls, do we really need to be told about the job crisis, the problems of violence and drug-taking, countries where the standard of living is less than satisfactory, diseases such as Aids, the mounting threat to the environment, corruption, social inequality, exclusion and persistent racism ? For the truth is that we are all too aware of these problems already. We learn about them second-hand from our television screens and, increasingly, first-hand, as impotent victims.

There are no ready-made answers to the concerns of our global village. But, taking each day as it comes, we need to find those answers because there is no salvation in flight. Despite all the difficulties that have attended its birth, and its continuing limitations, the European Union - with the backing of all its citizens - should be able to find those answers. It may be that the Member States' adoption of the Commission White Paper at the European Summit on 10 and 11 December 1993 points the way. But there are other ways that exist, or are still to be explored and discovered. It is a job for the young and indeed the not-so young. Both should pay heed to the words of Denis de Rougement who said: 'Those who lose face in the eyes of History will be those who said that Europe was finished when it was there to be built.