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Challenges and Opportunities for Media in African Democracies

Experts Discuss Media's Role in Promoting Democratic Values at West Africa Media Excellence Conference

by Adenike Adeodun

Prof. Kwame Karikari, a media expert, recently highlighted the hesitancy of African governments to strengthen media as a key institution for democracy’s advancement. Speaking at the seventh edition of the West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards in Accra, he pointed out that governments often tend to undermine media freedom and independence.

According to a report by the Daily Graphic, Prof. Karikari noted that media freedom in Africa faces numerous systemic and environmental challenges. The conference, themed “Media and Democracy in Africa,” is an initiative of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). This civil society organization aims to promote media excellence in the West African subregion.

Discussing the current situation, Prof. Karikari expressed concern over how democracy in some African countries has made media freedom a casualty. However, he acknowledged that the past three decades have seen the rise of independent media and considerable media freedom in many countries, thanks to the opening up of democratic spaces.

Despite constitutional provisions for press freedom, Karikari, a former Board Chairman of the Graphic Communications Group Ltd, observed that such freedom is often unsustainable. States frequently fail to support the media beyond these constitutional guarantees.

He also highlighted the media industry’s struggles due to weak economic performance in many countries. This situation limits resources like advertising revenue, essential for sustaining media institutions. Prof. Karikari cited Ghana and Mali as examples where the number of media outlets, especially radio and television, exceeds what their economies can support.

Television broadcasting, being capital-intensive, suffers from a lack of quality programming. “Many private television stations resort to airing long hours of low-quality entertainment and poor talk shows. Few can afford to produce news and current affairs programs of appreciable professional standards,” he added.

The newspaper industry’s challenges have driven some to establish online publications. However, Prof. Karikari pointed out that social media freedom often faces threats from government bans and closures, particularly during elections.

Suleimana Braimah, the Executive Director for MFWA, also weighed in on the media’s challenges. He noted that while the media is often accused of not effectively playing its watchdog role or holding leaders accountable, the environment for media operations is deteriorating. “This year, we are focusing our conversation on media and democracy on the continent,” he said.

This discussion at the West Africa Media Excellence Conference highlights the critical role of media in African democracies. It underscores the need for stronger support from governments and societies to ensure media freedom and independence, crucial for democratic development.

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