Johannesburg — An eleven-country study entitled: On Air: an overview, which looks closely at the current status of broadcasting in Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, has concluded that public broadcasting in Africa has a long way to go if it is to align with continental and regional frameworks, which promote open and free public spaces where all issues concerning people's lives can be aired and debated.
It states that almost all state broadcasters in Africa, save South Africa, are tightly controlled by governments, with an overbearing executive overseeing the operations of the public entity. The study reveals that this negatively impacts on the right to public participation in decision-making, and undermines transparency and accountability at national levels.
“The study's conclusions are worrisome, because as much as Africa has made progress in opening up democratic spaces for debate and pluralism, the lack of political will to prioritize the independence of the national broadcasters points to executive power still wanting to control the opinions of their citizens by monopolizing and undermining the very tool it is supposed to protect and people it is meant to empower,” said Ozias Tungwarara director of AfriMAP.
The study also states that major challenges toward democratic progress are linked largely to archaic laws that still remain in the statue books of many African countries. It states that the existing legislative framework within which the media operate, generally in Africa, does not sufficiently provide for freedom of the media, freedom of information and good governance. The trend, in short, points to the culture of secrecy shrouded in the laws that are aimed to gag a free press, and intimidate whistle blowers in the process. This is a major challenge and an obstacle to consolidating democratic values, and good governance in Africa, and must be confronted.
It cites countries such as Namibia and South Africa; stating that, although both countries have registered tremendous progress with strong democracies, and institutions that uphold good governance; yet still Apartheid laws remain on their statue books. In Nigeria, more than a decade after military rule the nation still has not managed to enact legislation that reforms media in line with continental standards, particularly the Declaration on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which points to a situation where law and policy makers are shunning their responsibilities to live up to their commitments.
“African Governments and their law makers especially, should act on their pronouncements of reforming their media laws as a matter of urgency, otherwise the process of democratization will remain incomplete,” said Zoe Titus, Regional Director of MISA.
The report also raises alarm over the preparedness of the digital switchover, due to be completed by 2020. It states that the majority of AU member states are ill prepared for the impending technological shift.
It calls for all AU member states to engage in a policy discussion that includes the public. It warns that the lack of transparency on switch over policies, processes and procedures could lead to rampant corruption, inadequate rollouts of the digital systems, poor management of the technology transfer, over pricing, ill-defined public sensitization strategies and even lack of access to basic television programming for people living below the poverty line.
The study, which started in 2008, concludes with a final edition entitled: An Overview. It is 105 pages, edited by Hendrik Bussiek, three regional coeditors and 12 country researchers, and makes key recommendations in the media laws and operations of public broadcasters in Africa. It is divided into 7 sections: indispensability of public broadcasting; status of state/public broadcasting; public broadcasting; regulation; digitalization; legislation; and broadcasting reforms.