2 December 2013

Africa: Public Broadcasters Still Under Executive Control

Photo: Capital FM
Uganda to shut down 'inciting' media houses (file photo).

analysis

An unprecedented eleven country study 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.

Entitled On Air: An Overview, the study looks closely at the current status of broadcasting in Benin, Cameroon, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and argues 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 while much of Africa has made progress in opening up democratic spaces for debate and pluralism, the lack of political will to prioritise the independence of national broadcasters points to executives still wanting to tightly control the levers of information," said Ozias Tungwarara, Director of the African Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP).

The study also states that major challenges to democratic progress are linked to archaic laws that remain on the statue books of many African countries. It states that the existing legislative framework within which the media generally operate in Africa does not sufficiently provide for freedom of the media, freedom of information and good governance.

Indeed, it argues that there remains a culture of secrecy, which is based on laws that are intended to gag the press and intimidate whistle blowers.

It cites countries such as Namibia and South Africa where apartheid-era laws remain on the statute books despite decades of tremendous progress in relation to building democracy and institutions that uphold good governance.

In Nigeria, more than a decade after military rule, the nation still has not managed to enact legislation that reforms the media in line with continental standards, particularly the Declaration on Freedom of Expression in Africa.

"African governments and lawmakers should stop talking about reforming their media laws and actually reform them as a matter of urgency, otherwise the process of democratisation will remain incomplete," said Zoe Titus, Regional Director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA).

The report also raises alarm over preparedness for the 'digital switchover', which is due to be completed by 2020. It states that the majority of African Union member states are ill prepared for the impending technological shift - and it calls for all AU states to engage in a policy discussion that includes the public.

It warns that the lack of transparency regarding switchover policies, processes and procedures could lead to rampant corruption, inadequate rollouts of digital systems, poor management of the technology transfer, over pricing, ill-defined public sensitisation strategies and even lack of access to basic television programming for people living below the poverty line.

The study is divided into 7 sections: indispensability of public broadcasting; status of state/public broadcasting; public broadcasting; regulation; digitalization; legislation; and broadcasting reforms.

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