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Rapidly evolving West African media landscape poses challenges

A man reads newspaper headlines at a stall in Bamako, Mali, 28 May 2018
A man reads newspaper headlines at a stall in Bamako, Mali, 28 May 2018

MICHELE CATTANI/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on 18 February 2019.

As the media landscape in West Africa continues to change rapidly with several challenges, Programme Manager for our Media and Good Governance Programme, Abigail Larbi-Odei, takes a look at the media's role in governance in the region, the challenges, what was done under the Programme in 2018, and what her team will be focusing on in 2019.

In West Africa today, there is undoubtedly a boom of media outlets. The media landscape has evolved from the single state-owned media to one characterised by the proliferation of media organisations in all forms - radio, television, newspapers and online media portals.

This boom, coupled with the use of social media, has widened the civic space for media audience. There is evidence of increased public access to information, opportunities to create and disseminate content, and demand for transparency and accountability from duty bearers. Indeed, the transition from autocratic rule to democratic regimes in the West Africa region, over the last two decades, has contributed significantly to this phenomenon.

As watchdogs and agenda-setters, the media have, through their platforms, largely facilitated several critical public discourses on development issues that have yielded some notable results. However commendable these may be, the multiplicity of media outlets has not necessarily translated into diversity of media content, editorial independence, and quality of output. The question is often asked whether the media in the region really serve the public interest or are just puppets of some parochial interests.

Whichever way one looks at it, unprofessionalism, partisanship, and financial dependence and issues sustainability remain a continuous struggle. The majority of media outlets are either comatose or on life support. Their survival is seasonal or just in name. What is evident is the resort to survival tactics resulting in over commercialisation at the expense of quality and professionalism. The implication is the waning public trust and support for the media as reported by the 2018 Afrobarometer.

What is also interesting is the changing media habits, attitudes and perceptions of consumers, which dictate market share and call for more effective techniques in audience engagement. Again, the impact of media ownership on output and the constantly changing trends of media capacity-building models also call for critical attention.


The Media and Good Governance Programme in 2018

In 2018, through the support of its funders, the MFWA and its partners in the sub-region contributed significantly to improving media development. Some of the projects we embarked on in 2018 include:

. Building institutional capacity of more than 10 media outlets in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
. Training about 100 journalists across the region on key areas such as conflict-sensitive elections reporting, data journalism, effective reporting on corruption, transparency and accountability issues and local governance reporting.
. Constituting the West Africa Network for Investigative Journalists (WANIJ) to support cross-border investigative reporting in the sub-region, following a conference for investigative journalists that hosted nearly 70 journalists across West Africa with guests from Kenya and the United States.
. Supporting several journalists with funding for journalistic work.
. Supporting several forums, town hall meetings, media programmes and media campaigns on local-based radio stations, in positioning the media as effective enablers of accountable and participatory local governance, which resulted in improved citizens-local authority engagements and increased authorities' responsiveness to concerns of citizens
. Honouring seven (7) deserving journalists from Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina-Faso at the 2nd edition for the West Africa Media Excellence Awards which received over 600 entries from across 12 countries in the sub-region. The West Africa Media Excellence Awards promote and sustain media excellence in the region. It honours outstanding journalists whose works are impacting lives in society.


Projections for the Media and Good Governance Programme in 2019

Coming into 2019, we are encouraged by these positive developments to contribute further to media development in the region through research, knowledge generation and dissemination, capacity building, advocacy, and campaigns. A specific focus will be on the following:

. The MFWA will produce contextually relevant studies and evidence-based data covering three key media development themes - media ownership patterns, audience mapping and targeting techniques, and media capacity development models. Findings of these studies will be shared and discussed with media owners, managers, regulatory bodies and funders within and outside the region to inform strategy and support.
. At least 10 media organisations across the region will be identified through needs-assessment for institutional development support through coaching and mentorship, and in-house trainings.
. The funding opportunity for journalists in the regionis still open to support critical, independent and high quality journalistic reports on issues such as corruption, poor service delivery, and transparency and accountability gaps to prompt action by relevant authorities.
. There will be continuous support for sustained media programmes and media campaigns on both national and local-level media towards improved service delivery across the region.
. Outstanding journalistic works will be recognised and honored at the West Africa Media Excellence Conference and Awards on October 18 and 19, 2019.
. Key media convenings in West Africa will include a Donors/funders meeting to discuss media development issues in the region.

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