“Building national consensus around development, democracy and good governance issues requires a media and communication strategy
that must prove effective in a competitive environment where citizens have unrestricted access to alternative sources of information,” stated Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in his speech during the official opening of the 6th African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF) at the UN Conference Centre on Thursday.
The forum brought together over 600 members of the media from across Africa as well other countries. The event included discussions about African media and its contribution to the continent over the last 50 years as well as recommendations for the sector’s growth in the future.
Hailemariam further stated that the government has organized a series of consultative forums aimed at further enabling a conducive environment for the media industry in Ethiopia.
“We have so far been able to identify factors conducive, and adverse to the development of the fledgling media industry in Ethiopia and deliberate over the proposed course of action towards improving the quality and diversity of the media sector and was successful in obtaining valuable stakeholder inputs,” the PM said.
Amadou Mahtar Ba, CEO of African Media Initiative (AMI), reminded the Forum that it was in the same host city of Addis Ababa that the founding fathers and founding mothers of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) launched the vision and the initiatives that have been the source of key progress for the continent.
“We are the inheritors of this tradition. We intend to seize this opportunity to contribute, through our dialog with stakeholders and our deliberations, to the economic and human development of our continent,” he said. He further stated that freedom of the press and freedom of expression need to be exercised by media practitioners, not with impunity, but with a high sense of responsibility and that governments everywhere need to be nurturing and magnanimous not inimical and heavy handed.
During the discussion sessions over the two days [Nov. 7-8], various questions were raised from participants regarding the ability for the media to help transform Africa, freedom of expression, financial constraints for media houses as well as integration and network problems between media houses in different African countries and government’s role in supporting the media.
Amadou Mahtar also said that AMI recognizes important progress has been made by building honest relationships across governments, media leaders, civil society and citizens. “We have positive examples from Burundi and Mali where some of our colleagues were freed after being arrested, detained and sentenced, sometimes to life in prison,” he said.
On Friday, a Heads of States round table discussion was held, where Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonen and Deputy President of Kenya William Ruto were present along with Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union, Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of UNECA and Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank Group.
Questions regarding currently imprisoned journalists were put forward to panelists from the participants.
“Be it a journalist, be it a doctor or be it an engineer, any professional, from the constitutional point of view, civil right, group right and human right; all of these rights are respected. But a journalist having a network with a terrorist group, a doctor having a network with a group trying to undermine our sovereignty, an engineer involved in a terrorist deal; this is a national issue, it is a public safety issue. The case has nothing to do with their (journalist) profession but their activities with terrorists. It is our responsibility to safeguard our nation and citizens,” the Deputy Prime Minister stated, responding to queries about journalists jailed.
Deputy President of Kenya William Ruto stated that one of the best ways the media can support the continent is by criticizing governments when they fail, but punishing the media for doing just that is not right. “Free media is the best gift we can give the continent,” he said.
African media focusing on reporting mostly negatively about the continent was heavily emphasized by many of the panelists. “We have to be able to also look at the positive; for one sick child, there are many more running around and playing. Donors think if they do not give us money tomorrow, our children will simply stop going to school. This is simply not true and the media needs to change perceptions,” said Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, AU’s Chairperson.
“What worries me is not what they (western media) say about us, but what we say about ourselves,” she noted.
It was stated that African media should not follow in the footstep of western media in telling the continent’s story. “We need to be aware of the danger of a single story. When one story becomes the only story, then it means there is only one reality. In the case of Africa, the continent has been recognized for being a savage waste land, but that is not true,” said Carlos Lopes Executive Secretary of UNECA.
The forum concluded on Friday with several recommendations made on how to make African media strong so that it would become a better tool that can contribute to the development of the continent. Some of the recommendations included creating partnerships between African media houses, making a case to be able to get more financing in the sector, as well as finding funds to provide media practitioners with strategic training.