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Africa World Press
Press Freedom and Communication in Africa / Edition 1

Press Freedom and Communication in Africa / Edition 1


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The significance of press freedom in contemporary society and the attitudes of governments to freedom of expression and democratic practices have taken on a new garment since the end of the cold war. In Africa, a strong awareness of the advantages of a free press and the inalienable rights of the people to unfettered communication has sparked an unstoppable demand for freedom of the press across the continent. The increase in the number of independent newspapers, radio, and television stations on the one hand and the frequency of government censorship of press and arrests of journalists on the other hand are evidence of a continent at a crossroads. In this volume, twenty communications scholars examine, from a variety of perspectives, the past, and present developments in Africa's quest for press freedom. The essays focus on the media in Anglophone, Arabic speaking, Francophone, and Lusophone Africa, capturing the inherent problems and benefits-where they exist-of colonial legacy and the fragility of press freedom in the fledgling post-colonial administrations bedeviled by the underdevelopment and political instability.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780865435513
Publisher: Africa World Press
Publication date: 01/28/1998
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 362
Product dimensions: 5.52(w) x 8.47(h) x 1.17(d)

Read an Excerpt

Studies about Africa in the last few decades have often been lacking what Klein 91992) has called a "historical consciousness." Africa has been dubbed the "dark continent," a "confusing place," where hunger, poverty, corruption, instability resulting from ethnic conflicts and autocratic governments are rampant. It has been portrayed as a failed continent, which needs help (Hawk, 1992). The electronic media in particular have provided viewers worldwide with gruesome pictures of starving Somalis, their gun-toting soldiers and United Nations rescue efforts without any focus on background or context.

In analyzing contemporary Africa's success or failure, the focus is often on the extent to which a particular country is "democratic" or "developed" as indicated by such measures as Gross Domestic Product or per capita GNP. The picture that often emerges at the end of most analyses is that of a continent still learning to crawl, let alone walk. Diamond (1993) notes: "On virtually every measure of economic and human development, African countries are clustered among the poorest and most miserable in the world."

While Africa's misery is not in dispute, scholars ought to attempt to avoid "scholarship shaped by our passions? And examine any society, particularly a complex region like Africa, by also "studying how it came to be" (Klein, 1992).

The mass media institution, a necessary component of any democracy, developed in Europe and was transplanted into Africa during the colonial era. Today, the media are in the forefront of the war for democracy in Africa, along with students, civic organizations, and political parties. But the media too are a contradiction. Having been organized to serve the needs of the various colonial administrations, they became, at independence, ideological tools of the new African leaders, and were brought under state control and made to sing the praises of dictators in the name of national unity and development. As late as 1990, Ghana's Minister of Information still expected his country's journalists to act as partners in development. "What we need in Ghana today is a journalist who sees himself as a contributor to national development. This country does not need watchdogs" (The Democratic Journalist, 1990).

African journalists operate under some of the most controlled conditions-stringent and often draconian laws enacted to make them "willing tools" and cheerleaders to inept and often corrupt governments. Given such a state of affairs, one cannot simply slide through Africa's media troubles without an analytical and comprehensive look at other factors, both internal and external. Zaffiro (1993) notes with respect to studying African broadcasting that one needs "to unavoidably and deeply enter the realm of political and social policy analysis." One also ought to examine the historical path through which a country's media traveled, so as to pick up whatever "habits of mind" its journalists and leaders inherited. Examining the symptoms rather than the underlying causes of contemporary Africa's media stagnation and so-called failure is a somewhat fast track approach.

A few studies of the continent's media in recent years reveal monumental problems-economic, social and political. Ochs (1987) notes that many African countries do not have "basic media" because they lack the economic resources. Even where such media exist, they are controlled by authoritarian leaders, thus making Africa "a continent that gags its press." Mytton's (1983) analysis of the role of the media, particularly radio and television in Africa, provides a few case studies indicating that while radio, for example, may be capable of speaking directly to a large audience, centralization, along with political control of the media, often lead to less freedom to question government policies.

Hachten (1993) says the media in Africa have failed to "grow and prosper" because African governments have not promoted the political and economic climate, which would lead to independent, critical, and economically viable media. Instead, African leaders have controlled and suppressed the media, resulting in what he calls a "kept press" whose role is that of a "cheerleader supporting unpopular leaders and their policies."

Faringer (1991) attempts a limited look at press freedom in Africa. She examines the media in Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya-three former British colonies-criticizing "development journalism" without distinguishing it from "development-support communication."

There have been four main problems with contemporary studies of the African media. First, there is the underlying assumption that the Western media are free and should be the "guiding light" for all other media systems, including those of Africa. Second, there is a neglect of other forms of communication in Africa, such as word of mouth, dance, art, traditional music, and oral literature, which have existed in Africa for centuries. Many Africans live in rural areas and often depend on other forms of communication, in addition to radio, for information. Third, there is a failure to recognize that the media in African countries formerly ruled by Britain, Belgium, France, Spain, and Portugal, all emerged from colonialism with different communication models and today operate in ways somewhat different from each other. Fourth, there is no thorough examination of the external, along with the internal factors, that affect media performance in Africa. More attention is often focused on the internal factors.

A cursory look at the history of the continent reveals a pattern of domestic external factors militating against realistic development of the people and nations of Africa. Davidson pointed out in 1992 that Africa is a continent of "contradictions." To fully understand any of its people or institutions, one needs a broader picture; not just snippets of information designed to support some truth-cum-myths about the continent.

There is perhaps no exact point in history when the continent's contradictions began but one can obviously point to 1885, when it was arbitrarily carved up among European countries who all had varying ambitions and no regard for the ethnic, linguistic or geographic features of the people. Whether Africa had nations, cultures, or a civilization, a tradition of political organization prior to 1884 is not the issue. What is at issue is that the continent's past has caught up with its present, making any movement forward difficult.

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