Public broadcasting in Africa

June 12, 2016

In Africa, they are called state broadcasters.In developed countries, they are known as public broadcasters.Whichever name you give them, state funded media is basically the communications arm of the government. Its role is to communicate the messages of the government and certainly not to do anything that undermines the government. In African countries, state media support is irreparable and not even monopolised broadcasters like SABC in South Africa can escape the age of being a state broadcaster. We know the examples but no need to give them any mention here. Beeb or BBC for those unfamiliar with English slangs, is the only public broadcaster that command respect globally because it is a public broadcaster formed to inform, educate and entertain.British cherish freedom of expression, and they cherish debate. They cherish the role of the BBC in facilitating both.United Kingdom has an independent BBC and that independence is key to its credibility. It’s why trust in the BBC is streets ahead of commercial media across UK whether radio or television.Studies after studies over the last decade shows that Britons have put their trust in BBC news and current affairs, than other media outlets anywhere in the World.

It’s why the BBC is the most trusted institutions in the World of media. There’s no doubt that the most trusted public broadcasters are those that are perceived as closest to the public, and most distant from the government.The history of the BBC is a history that shows the anger and frustration of African Governments over the years at BBC broadcasts on radio and television as well as online from time to time. Of course there will be stories that frustrate politicians like the recently unearthed scandal involving British American Tobacco (BAT) on how it allegedly bribed politicians across the continent to frustrate legislations that were meant to curb tobacco promotion and consumptions.Politicians in Africa have to understood the importance of the independence of the public broadcaster from political pressure and interference. It’s a mark of the maturity of the continent’s democracy. Long may that independence continue.And as it does, it is vital vibrant public broadcasters like SABC in South Africa, KBC in Kenya among others appreciates that independence and responsibility are inseparable.Someone asked me few days ago what should state media role be in Africa’s contemporary media landscape and I was hard pressed to come up with a quick reply.

Multiple studies I have come across shows that without state monopolisation of media, they are a market-failure organisations. Few advertisers advertise with state media and in cases where electronic media is controlled by government, private newspapers are thriving.The person who asked me that question argued that state media should focus on audiences as citizens, rather than consumers, to be different to commercial players. His theory was that online media and convergence have eliminated the need for state-funded public service media. That is not at all factual in my view. In developing regions like Africa, media diversity or accessibility that takes into account online sources or the impact of social media is very minimal. There’s hardcore evidence that Africa has one of the most robust newspaper market due to limitations of rural population having access to television, radio and internet access.News sharing within organisations has increased over the last three years but none can argue that when it comes to social innovation which is about spreading new ideas that meet society’s needs, state media across the continent have been ahead of privately owned media.

Private media is known for investigative journalism which is critical to Africa. They provide knowledge evaluation, which underpins trust and drives behavioural change.State media business across Africa need to have an outreach mandate like the way Nation Media Group has in place a media literacy project that trains hundreds of regional East Africans in media production each year taking complex political and economic debates into offline and online forums. One may wonder whether Nation Media Group’s training is effective, valuable investments in achieving policy goals of their business?In my view,I think its better to see the valuable contribution to innovation Nation Media Group trainings bring to the media industry in the region.For State media in Africa to gain any public trust like their private counterparts, they need to provide innovative and comprehensive services of a high standard that contribute to a sense of national identity, inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of the local community, and to make programs of an educational nature. In doing so, they should take account of the media services provided by the commercial and public sectors. They need to act as bedrock of reliable news and information without which a capitalist democracy in Africa cannot function.

Contador Harrison