Impressions: African media leaders conference in Kenya

Am back in Johannesburg now after being at the African Media Leadership Confrence in Kenya. It was a fantastic trip. Highlights include visiting The Nation Group headquarters, a big Kenyan Media group in the capital Nairobi; networking with African media practicioners from Uganda, Ethiopia, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi and other countries; and going to my first Kenyan Nightclub — which was very impressive and a huge amount of fun. I would like to go back to Kenya soon, and especially visit the Nation Group which I was particularly impressed with as a strong, commercial, innovative, multi-national African media company.

In South Africa we are so isolated from the rest of Africa — probably still the after effects of the isolationalism from the Apartheid years, so it is fantastic networking with our African colleagues in the media and sharing knowledge and building networks… and I encourage more conferences like this. (Hats off to the organisers).

The biggest issue for most media players in Africa is hostility from their governments. It is unbelievable the way African governments treat the media: with absolute hostility. Why can’t African governments see that the media is important for democracy and that criticism of politicians goes with the territory? The great western democracies of the US and UK get pummelled everyday by the Media and they are successful countries, running successful governments. It is the people’s right to criticise openlyand this is how we keep governments in check and ensure transparency and accountability. Corrupt governments have everything to fear from the media, but good governments have nothing to fear. At the conference on the suggestion of Mail & Guardian CEO Trevor Ncube we drafted a statement on behalf of the delegates at the conference slamming the interference with media freedom in Africa. Initially statement expressed “deep concern” but I managed to get it changed to “condemnation”– as I feel we needed to send out a stronger message. We will be sending out the statement to agencies and the press this coming week.

Compared to many countries in Africa, we are very lucky in South Africa… as there is complete freedom of the press and the government accepts that. But lets not forget our past and the fact that the media was one of the most censored in the world under Apartheid. What our new-found freedom means is that we can focus on innovation, building our media properties as businesses and look at constantly improving the standards of journalism rather than dwelling on issues of freedom of the press. Government interference in media ensures that the media is kept down. The media’s time is occupied by fighting legal cases and the authorities on the basic issue of freedom of speech, rather than focusing in innovation and improving the media as a business. It wastes time, energy and valuable resources that could otherwise be used to build media properties.

Comment (1)

  1. Charles Obbo wrote::

    In many ways, the story of South Africa is that of many countries with anti-free practices in Africa today. And I think it is too early to portray South Africa as being “lucky” and very different than the rest of Africa. That can breed the kind of complacency that leads to a failure by SA media to recognise the dangers and take early actions to defend freedoms.
    In a post 9/11 world in which we have seen media rights eroded in countries like the USA, I think the jury is still out. SA spent many decades as an apartheid dictatorship, and has been a democracy for barely 10. That is a very, very short period in the life of a country. What is there to prevent SA’s past from being its present again?

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at 3:22 am #

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