|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|
(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.