African media should re-examine its role, says media development expert Chinje

Media in Africa should make itself relevant to the development agenda of the continent by offering meaningful criticism of policy and by stopping its obsession with politics, a top media development expert said on Wednesday in a lecture in Kampala.

“I am convinced the media in Africa requires a serious rethink,” said Mr Eric Chinje, the head of the Nairobi-based African Media Initiative, ‘a pan-African organisation that seeks to strengthen the continent’s private and independent media sector from an owner and operator perspective to promote democratic governance, social development and economic growth’.

Delivering the third annual lecture under the theme “Media and Politics in Africa” to an audience of more than 300 at the Golf Course Hotel, Mr Chinje, a former top TV journalist in Cameroon, said the media must understand its purpose first for it to capture well what’s happening on the continent.

For Africa to witness real change, Mr Chinje said, media practitioners must offer informed criticism of government policy through asking the right questions. He said that the obsession with politics had led to a disconnect between the media and African citizens who would rather know more about agricultural productivity and food security.

Organised by the African Centre for Media Excellence and supported by the Democratic Governance Facility, the series of lectures explore the relationship between media and politics amidst changing technological, demographic and political circumstances on the continent.

Mr Chinje’s lecture revolved around communication as the missing link in social transformation in Africa, the media’s role in development and its ability to effectively moderate conversations.

Vision Group CEO Robert Kabushenga moderated the lecture. He agreed with Mr Chinje’s view that the media is out of touch with ordinary people. He said that the media had, in fact, become part of the establishment. Besides, he added, the Ugandan media suffered from a dangerous lack of curiosity.

Mr Trevor Ncube, the Zimbabwean media mogul, delivered the inaugural lecture in 2014, while the Somali broadcaster and activist Fatuma Abdulahi delivered the second.

The theme of media-society disconnect had been discussed earlier in the day when Mr Chinje told a group of top Ugandan media owners and managers at a breakfast meeting that journalists on the continent should start having conversations amongst themselves to understand better what the African population needs.

“There’s no better time than now to converse because we have technologies,” said Mr Chinje, a former World Bank spokesman for Africa.

He said that the media should be a grand market place of ideas especially because no society has “moved without its media”.

He added: “The media in … Africa is not a predictor of societal outcomes because we don’t pay attention to what society wants.”

In agreeing with retired journalist Drake Sekeba, who had spoken about the absence in Uganda of strong organisations that bring journalists together, Mr Chinje said that media councils and journalist organisations should be active and not allowed to go under.

“If we let go of the things that strengthen us,” he said, “then we weaken ourselves. You can focus on having the next day’s edition out instead of the bigger picture, but so what?”

Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer hanena@acme-ug.org @ahpetite

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