Ousman Sillah reporting from Johannesburg
Media owners and practitioners from around Africa, in one of the continent’s largest media gatherings, have concluded a three day forum in South Africa to discuss how to shape development conversations in Africa and the role of media in the digital environment.
More than 600 participants converged at this 7th Africa Media Leaders Forum (AMLF), under the auspices of the Africa Media Initiative (AMI), which was held at the Oliver R. Tambo Conference Hall at the Birchwood Hotel in Johannesburg.
The Forum was formally opened by Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the President of Mauritius, a scientist by training, said “Like science, media can be a powerful force for the common good. The ability to search for truth, based on evidence, is a fundamental aspect of journalism. Discerning trends, locating stories in their local contexts, connecting the dots, speaking truth to power without fear of retribution, these are all about seeing the general in the particular. Similarly, development is about people. That fact is eternal.”
Dr. Gurib-Fakim called on African media owners and practitioners to be active and not passive in tackling development topics, generating local solutions while nurturing citizen engagement and development debate.
“We must all become activists, not pacifists in the search for Africa-centric development solutions that are economically viable, socially relevant and environmentally benign,” President Gurib-Fakim implored the audience comprising experts in the fields of media, technology, development, and policy formulation, adding “Increasing the participation of women in media is key.”
The Mauritian President concluded that this AMLF should become the launch pad for new ideas, new momentum, and a new narrative that takes Africa forward, toward greater transparency, more effective government and more engaged citizens.
The Forum was also addressed by Mr Jeff Radebe, Minister for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, South African Presidency; Dr Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UN ECA); Madame Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security of the Chairperson of the African Union (AU); and Mamadou Biteye, Managing Director, African Regional Office, Rockefeller Foundation.
Dr Lopes, in his speech, made an appeal for the media in Africa to use African generated data instead of relying on Western produced information when telling the African story. “The data that informs the narrative, dictates the story,” added the UN ECA Executive Secretary.
Speaking earlier in his opening remarks, Mr. Eric Chinje, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AMI, said media as a transformative force has a role to play in improving the lives of the African people. He emphasised the need for media to provide quality content that resonates on its audience.
“Media must view its challenges through the greater prism of our continent’s’ challenges, and work to build stronger societies. Media cannot grow if societies and economies in which they operate do not grow,” said the AMI CEO.
Trevor Ncube, AMI Board Chair, said the forum is a moment for introspection rather than being defensive. He stressed the need for the media to be changing the African narrative and embracing data and the tools provided by the digital environment to strengthen the continent’s media capacity.
“It’s time for Africans to write their own stories on how Africans live and not how they die,” he said.
The AMI Board Chair cited the issue of self-censorship in the African media as practitioners are arrested and imprisoned for telling the truth, adding that African governments also use advertisement as a weapon to reward praise singers or punish independent media that choose to tell truth.
The three day Forum kicked off on 11th November 2015 with a public symposium on hate speech, held at the University of Witwatersrand. It was chaired by Mr. Jay Naidoo, a former Minister in the first post-apartheid government of the late Nelson Mandela, and Muhammed Addo of Aljazeera network. The panelists comprised student leaders, free speech and rights activists, academics and media practitioners.
The AMLF 2015 was preceded by three different pre-forum workshops on ‘Innovative business models for small and medium-sized media outlets’, ‘Resilience reporting: Bridging the knowledge gap’, and ‘Following the story: Developing financial and business skills’. These two day training sessions were organised by AMI with support from the DW Akademie, Rockefeller Foundation and The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.
The Forum concluded with resolutions and agreed that the next AMLF will be held in 2016 in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire.