Grahamstown, South Africa — MEDIA stakeholders across Africa have raised red flag over increased corruption in the continent's media industry, calling for remedial measures to address the situation.
Speaking during the 16th Highway Africa World Conference here, the stakeholders described the problem as cancerous and that it is eroding the credibility and legitimacy of the profession (journalism). The stakeholders stated further that bribes in media had been baptized with sweet names such as honorary, transport refund, free lunch, communique, logistics, press releases and handouts in order to legalize the bribes.
The Chief Executive of the African Media Executive Mr Amadou Mahtar Ba told the conference that such malpractice was an outcome of corrupt society. "Corruption in media is a very serious problem in Africa and a huge problem in my country Senegal. Media is part of the society so if the society is corrupt automatically the media will be corrupt", he commented.
Mr Ba advocated formation of leadership principles for media owners in order to address the situation. "There's code of conduct for journalists but no watertight mechanism for media owners who I think they've a key responsibility on this matter", he added.
The President of Journalists Union of Malawi (JUMA), Mr Levi Manda, noted that journalists in Malawi who were relying on one salary are poor and therefore seek bribes.
According to him, corruption in Malawi drains 30 per cent of the country's public resources. "Corruption becomes a society syndrome because everyone takes or gives bribes, everyone is eating anything around. And corruption in Malawi's media is a symbolic relationship, sources give bribes and sometimes journalists themselves seek bribes", said Mr Manda.
The President of Somali Journalists Association and Representative of Federation of African Journalists, Mr Omar Osman, noted that corruption was on the verge of killing the media industry in Africa. "Worse enough, it's now infectious among journalists in such a way no one controls the other and it's a result of corrupt society.
"My random research shows that corruption is everywhere in African media, and bribes have been given sweet names such as communique (in Nigeria), Mshiko (Tanzania), logistics (Malawi), Chalua (Somalia), Gobo (Cameroun), but the common name is brown envelope", stated Mr Osman.
Narrating her seven year experience in media, a journalist from ThisDay newspaper in Nigeria, Ms Oyedele Damilola, said corruption was deeply entrenched in Nigeria's media. "My first assignment (not at This Day) was to report a fracas in one, expensive school in Lagos - the school master offered me 10,000 Naira, almost 50 USD as transport refund, I rejected it and wrote the story. But the story was not published," she explained.
Ms Damilola noted that interns in Nigeria were not paid anything while they are assigned risky and tempting assignments. She went a mile further blasting leaders of Journalists Association of Nigeria for using the association as income generating project. "They're being used by politicians, it's a shocker to see they award politicians during Annual Journalists Award instead of awarding journalists," wondered Ms Damilola.
Almost all major speakers (panelists) of yesterday's discussion titled "Corruption at the Media Workplace" attributed rampant corruption in African media to low pay package. "A journalist in Mogadishu is being paid as low as 20 USD per month, how is he/she going to survive? I commend Djibouti where journalists' salaries average 2500 USD per month", said Mr Osman.
Mr Manda who once carried a research on exploitative conditions of media workers in Malawi and their perceptions on corruption said that a Malawian journalist was being paid as low as 10,000 Kwacha (about 66.7USD) per month. "Journalist Unions in Africa must set minimum standards for journalists in terms of qualifications and salaries," he suggested.
Ms Damilola said journalists in Nigeria were lowly paid despite the fact that they work for long hours in risky, tempting and expensive environments and with many responsibilities. "A journalist is being paid 150 US dollars, he has got a family and is living in Lagos, the most expensive city in Nigeria, how do you expect this person to survive," she added.
With a theme "Africa Rising", the 16th annual Highway Africa World Conference attracted over 500 journalists, media owners and executives, development partners, media practitioners, diplomats and other media stakeholders. The conference discussed how the media frame the continent's geopolitics, media trends, development and challenges, and Africa's trade and economic growth.
It was preceded by a three day data journalism training which attracted over 60 journalists, data analysts and experts from across the continent.