Three years of work came to part fruition in Maputo this week, when some 50 media enthusiasts concretised research into a proposed institution, a project focus and a pretty big budget.
People like Ba, Banda and Chinje, as well as media owners, press freedom activists, journalists and donors, reached a milestone just ahead of World Media Freedom Day, being celebrated in a UNESCO ceremony in the Mozambican capital on Saturday.
Dubbed the “African Media Initiative” (AMI), the thrust represents an audacious and novel strategy to unlock serious resources. Underpinning it all is a holistic understanding that developing African media hangs on strides made in three interdependent areas:
the legal landscape for media; effective business conditions; and the field of skills and knowledge
Convivial laws and policies don’t on their own mean that media can thrive. You also need money, market information and know–how. Without a positive legal dispensation, training of media personnel can only get you so far. And both factors, without money, do not translate into major media development.
The further point is that if any element –- law, business and training -– lags behind, it constitutes a drag on the whole.
And yet, what’s important for Africa –- whether your interest is democracy, anti–corruption or development issues -– is a vibrant, sustainable independent media that circulates quality African content on a scale much greater than hitherto.
It boils down to Africa’s progress towards an Information Society, and to “re-imaging” Africa both internally and internationally.
This perspective has emerged from two major activities:
intensive research into 17 African countries, conducted by the BBC World Service Trust, and consultations with hundreds of media stakeholders in a parallel initiative called “Strengthening African Media”, and run under the auspices of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
Together, these give the momentum a legitimacy to match to the unprecedented holistic vision for media development in Africa. Further research and elaboration came up with a five year vision and evidence–based projects under each of the areas. The focus is on achieving outputs, rather than on costing inputs, but the estimated budget per action area is as follows:
Media freedom and policy environment: $15.3m Professionalisation: $42m Media Markets: $58m Management: 17.5% of total: $20.19
Total: $135.54 m
In global donor terms, this is not a large amount. However, even a lesser amount could be used to leverage other investment into African media –- such as by the private sector.
There are several challenges, however, going forward. There is a major imbalance between the time and energy that have gone into getting to this point -– and the visibility of the initiative to donors and the wider public.
So what’s needed now is for the steering committee to develop and start selling a concise proposal with a financial framework and organisational arrangements.
Canvassed in Maputo was a possible structure for the agency, which could begin to secure and spend the money on media development.
It would have a board with some seven eminent Africans and three international persons. This body could then account to a wider network of institutions though an annual forum – comprised of donors, media businesses, professional bodies, civil society, community media, a representative of Nepad, etc.).
Its job would be to oversee the work of a CEO and several directors, raising monies and disbursing them through a competitive application process –- as well as having some capacity to research and be proactive about deciding priorities.
The envisaged Africa Media Initiative facility is not itself supposed to deliver programmes of advocacy, training or business development. But it is something that can sensitise donors to begin to see media as a serious factor for funding investment.
But there is still a lot of work to get to this point.