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African media found itself between two hammers

afrol News, 13 June - Media freedom in Africa has been confronted by several challenges that continue to threaten its survival. But a Zambian media analyst, Professor Fackson Banda, told a round table on press freedom in Africa in South Africa that the continent’s media has been caught between the “hammer of the state and the anvil of the market.”

He said at independence, most privately-owned newspapers and media institutions had been nationalised, the offshoot being the creation of a platform of state-centred media regulation in Africa that still applied in many countries.

As a result, states limited press freedom through anti-press laws, continuing victimisation and persecution of journalists in the continent. Other tactics to suppress the media include withdrawal of advertisements and imposition of tax on newsprints. “This is the hammer of the state,” Banda told his audience, adding that “commercialisation of the African media institutions had promised much and opportunities beckoned. So the market also contributed to the erosion of media freedom.”

Banda said the promise of media plurality and diversity, heightened competition, an expanded space for public communication and even greater democracy. But in reality, he said, most of these promises have not been realised.

But for the Executive Director of Nigeria’s Punch Media Company, Azubuike Ishiekwene, access to public information is so far the greatest challenges facing African journalists. He expressed disappointment over the failure of the outgoing Nigerian leader’s failure to sign the Freedom of Information Bill into law, despite so many efforts by the lawmakers and other stakeholders.

President Obasanjo’s refusal to append his signature on the bill did not come out of the blues: it was a direct response to the media’s mounting and coordinated campaign against his moves to butcher the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in office.

But Nigerian journalists believe that Obasanjo did not hide his anti-press sentiments. They blamed Obasanjo for writing on his home walls “dogs and journalists are not welcome.”

The Punch executive added that African newspapers grapple with problems of under-resource, unreliable data, poor newsroom management skills, weak regulatory institutions and sloppy ethics.

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