Press freedom in Africa

By Вen Li

Panelists contrasted the neglected role of independent media in Western nations against the oppressed conventional media in developing nations Mon., June 24 at the G6B conference.

“There is a tendency by ‘the left’ to downplay the system of media corporations in the new global order,” said journalist Danny Schechter, a veteran of 30 years. “Missing from the picture are the people giving us the picture.”

Schechter noted a ten-year decline in the number of separate media companies in the United States, from 50 to just seven today.

“We’re in the latter stages of a trend to dumb down news and information by design,” he said. “We’re losing all of the critical analysis that motivate people to change the world.”

Schechter compared contemporary news and discussion programs to wrestling, with bilateral conflict, limited choices and clear outcomes. He also argued the public perception of choice is a form of cultural control.

“We think of media as something we watch or read, get into or on to,” he said. “We rarely see media as a constellation of power. The media is number one or two on the list of right-wing [political] funders.”

According to Schechter, such influence extends to the social arena encouraging apathy and inaction. He also cited a 70 per cent rate of discontent with corporate media in the U.S.

“Independent media could do what the corporate media could not, to tell the story from the bottom up, to give the context and background,” said Schechter.

While independent media struggle for air-time in North America, conventional media struggles for continued existence in Africa.

Nigerian Bayowa Adedeji addressed the need for true freedom of the press in the face of oppressive regimes.

“The media works as the watchdog of society and government provides a forum for interaction between the people and government,” said the Centre for Human Rights Development official. “Without the media, governments and the world cannot know their plusses and minuses. As it is today, the media in Africa are constantly harrassed and detained. How then, can the media help in the actualization and modernization of the country?”

Adedeji is concerned with continuing media rights violations-about 700 instances in Africa annually-and supports legislation guaranteeing freedom of press and information. Adedeji’s cause is driven by a 1986 parcel-bombing of a Guardian journalist critical of the government. Though nothing was proven, the government remains on the suspect list.

“What is the use of a shackled media or reporter in chains?” he asked. “Many newspapers and their printing equipment have been impounded and vendors are constantly harassed.

“Freedom of the press can and should be adopted by all African states,” Adedeji continued. “It would allow citizens to know how they are being governed.”

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