afrol News, 23 May - afrol News' newly established daughter company in Canary Islands has entered agreements with the government of the autonomous Spanish islands and a grouping of independent West African media to establish a news exchange network among the free media of the region. The project aims at strengthening press freedom in West Africa through empowering independent media and through technology transfer.
Editors of the Oslo-based news agency last week were in Canary Islands to attend the official opening of 'afrol News Canarias', a fully owned daughter of afrol News (Oslo). The inauguration was announced by Javier Morales Febles, the Canary Islands' Foreign Development Commissioner [Minister] at a press conference together with afrol News Director Rainer Christian Hennig at a press conference in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
The establishment of 'afrol News Canarias' coincided with the new agency's presentation of a formal application to the Canary Islands government to finance the establishment of a West African network of free media, covering the press in all ECOWAS countries in addition to Mauritania and Morocco. Government officials during the last week assured afrol News of rapid funding of the initial phase of the project, further funding to be dependent on the project's advances and results.
The network in its first phase is to assure a free news exchange between all independent media of the region that wish to participate, thus assuring them of a free international news coverage and strengthening regional integration and solidary among West Africa's free media. The network will also count on free republication rights of all news copy by afrol News and several independent media from outside the region that already participate in other networks operated by the press agency.
Later on - when the physical network is assured through the free provision of software and hardware to those media - the project will include translation services between English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. These services - which mostly are to be based in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria - will focus on the principal news items produced by the network to further strengthen a regional integration of West Africa's free press.
The final stage of the project foresees the commercialisation of the network, which principally aims at creating new revenues for West Africa's independent press. Free media of the region find themselves in a poor competitive situation confronted by subsidies state-controlled media, and the project aims at creating new markets for these media's principal product; news articles, photos and advertisement space.
Regarding the press freedom situation in West Africa, Mr Hennig in an interview with Canary Islands' main private radio broadcaster, 'Cadena Ser', emphasised that the picture is differentiated. The region includes some of Africa's worst countries regarding press freedom - such as Morocco and Togo - but it also includes countries such as Benin and Cape Verde, where the situation of the independent press is assessed to be better than in European countries such as Spain.
Mr Hennig however added that while the freedom of expression situation strongly varied from one country to another, two conditions negatively affecting the free press were almost universal in the region. Firstly, pro-government media reach a much broader audience - especially outside the capitals - because of a thwarted competitive situation. Secondly, most free media count on a technological infrastructure much inferior to those of state media, thus seriously limiting their operational field and expansion possibilities.
In cooperation with the leader of the Editors Forum of West Africa, Diallo Souleymane, afrol News Canarias hopes to initiate the project with a study of the technological infrastructure of West Africa's free media already in June this year. Mr Souleymane, who is also the editor of Guinea Conakry's two main free weeklies - 'Le Lynx' and 'La Lance', - is already coordinating the work of uniting the regional free press to empower media to stand forward as an integrated grouping.
The launching of 'afrol News Canarias' the new West African media project also coincided with the presentation of a far more active development policy towards Africa by the governments of the Canary Islands and Spain. Mr Hennig at the Tenerife press conference praised the Canary Islands government for its "visionary policies towards making the archipelago Spain's and Europe's new front door towards West Africa."
Minister Morales, for his part, added that supporting a project aiming at strengthening press freedom in the region and increasing the flow of information between West Africa and the Canary Islands was a natural consequence of his government's new Africa policies. Both emphasised on the importance of a free and vital press in the region to meet its greatest challenges; transparency, political and economic stability and attracting investments to fight poverty.
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