Features

To improve media fortunes, involve all players

Friday, May 17th, 2024 22:00 | By
Representation of mass media. PHOTO/Pexels
Representation of mass media. PHOTO/Pexels

Two major media conferences—the All-Africa Media Leaders Summit in Nairobi and the Africa Media Convention in Accra—were held in the past fortnight.

Both gatherings brought together the top minds in media practice on the continent to consider the industry’s future.

Media conferences have previously discussed the industry’s challenges for the last decade and more. Given their redundancy, these challenges could have passed as cliches but for the seriousness of the matter.

While some challenges are universal, the African media industry is grappling with its own set of unique obstacles. The issues often discussed at conferences include the struggle to adapt to the rapid rise of new technology, which has significantly impacted both media production and consumption.

Additional challenges include changing audience demographics, now increasingly young and disconnected.

But we go further. Media outfits’ revenue streams are drying up. Many significant outlets have closed or changed operations to cope with the challenges. Some argue that revenue collapse is attributable to the thievery hands of managers.

Some challenges are unique to the continent. While leaders of societies, most of them Western, long ago appreciated the importance of the media’s role in their communities, there is little evidence to suggest that African leaders appreciate the role of media.

This is evident in the disparaging remarks directed at the media. Githeri media, it has been called. The phrase “watu wa magezeti” or “watu wa picha” is designed to disparage media as a petulant inconvenience that society can do without.

Leaders threaten to deal with the media as their audience cheers. It is often lost to these audiences that media at its very best is of more use to them than the leaders who threaten the media. The leaders issuing threats under the fleeting illusion of power may not appreciate that they would sooner or later need the media.

Indeed, at some point, they may need the media more than the media may need them.

Since independence, Africa has become used to turnkey technology. The adage “Why reinvent the wheel” finds resonance in the continent. The West disposes of its obsolete technology to the continent - well, not just technology, but it is the substance that has driven our mitumba industry.

But we seldom learn. So, at conferences exploring solutions for the media’s depleted fortunes, the challenges borrowed from elsewhere are listed, and solutions and models from those places follow. But the bleeding of the media in Africa goes on.

Given the critical role that governments and policymakers play in setting the media operating scene in Africa, it may be worthwhile that meetings addressing the sector’s challenges bring everyone on board to explore the survival mechanisms - everyone, including governments, media owners, and the academy.

Players in the media sector in Africa seldom develop one overarching role for the media in African society. Politicians find the media useful during their campaigns. Most investors in the sector are focused on the profits they will make. Some journalists only see employment opportunities.

The media, however, is more than just a campaign platform, a profit enterprise, or an employer. If all these players had a common view of the role of media in society, then addressing the sector’s challenges would require that they come together to explore solutions.

The writer is the Dean Dean of the School of Communication at Daystar
University

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