From left to right the speakers:
Zakaria Tanko Musah, Simon Berege, Kodwo Boateng and Hugh Ellis.
‘’If you can’t write freely and if you can’t speak freely in your country, you can be sure that you are living in a very primitive country!” This quote said by a Turkish singer, summarized perfectly the aim of the African media – Diversity and Freedom of Expression -seminar, which was held on the 6th of March in Turku University of Applied Sciences. Nowadays we think that we have a very modern world, but when it comes to journalism, there are certain things that are still conservative/ primitive. The speakers of the seminar told the audience which challenges they see for the journalism in the African countries.
Ban the newspaper ban
A law that forces newspapers to register themselves, otherwise they are banned. It may surprise you, but this law exists in the country of the first speaker, the Tanzanian Simon Berege, Lecturer of journalism at the University of Iringa. According to him there are several laws in his country that infringe the freedom of expression. A famous law is the Newspaper Registration Act from 1976, which empowers authorities to register or ban publications ‘’in the interest of peace and good order’’.
Happily there is a challenge for the Tanzanian newspapers with the rise of the popularity of the internet. Nowadays more than 10 million Tanzanians use the internet and there still isn’t a law that oblige online newspapers to register themselves. That actually means that via the internet, the freedom of expression can be maintained and the internet is also important to provide the Tanzanians a wide range of different newspapers. Suspended newspapers in Tanzania go immediately online, because there they can freely publish their opinions.
Wanted: more powerful women
When it comes to gender, there is still a huge gap, because women in the African media, but also in the European media are often invisible. In hard news, for instance economics and politics, you will not see that often that journalists have chosen to interview a women as an expert. The representation of women in the media is often stereotypical and degrading. Women are seen as decoration or sexual objects.
Doctor Pirita Juppi, the principal lecturer in TUAS, researched this gender gap on behalf of the Media Council of Tanzania while she was working at the journalism department in the University of Iringa. She explained that the research group in the University of Iringa found some solutions how this gap might be fixed. Firstly, there should come more women in powerful positions, because that would encourage other women to speak as well freely in public. For the journalists, there will be more powerful women they can interview. Journalists should also expand the network of their sources and list more women. Women should be approached in a new, different way, because in the history they have been treated unfairly and disrespectfully by journalists and media. This has resulted in distrust towards journalists among women. For instance, a gender policy in media houses could improve the current situation.
Who is responsible of freedom of expression?
Regarded as one of the most free countries in Africa when it comes to the media is Ghana. Mr. Zakaria Tanko Musah, who works in the Ghana Institute of Journalism as the head of the print journalism department, tells it not without any pride, but there is also the reverse side of the coin. Even for a media free country like Ghana there are some challenges. There are people in Ghana who take the freedom of expression as unfettered. The uprising question is: Who is responsible for dangerous or false information? According to Mr Musah, freedom of expression is a fundamental right, but it has to come with responsibility. How that balance should be drawn is not an easy call and it’s a challenge how to figure out where that balance is.
Other things that should be changed in Ghana, are the facts that media personnel is poorly paid and the fact that there is political ownership of the media houses. In the first case, when a journalist receives a very low salary, it exposes him to a lot of ethical dilemmas like bribery and self-censorship. This problem can be solved by introducing a fixed, fair salary for journalists and their colleagues. With the national politics as owners of the media houses, you can also expect some problems. It polarizes the country and the politicians can easily spread the censored type of information they wish.
Awareness of the media power
The two other speakers explained the audience the meaning of some interesting concepts. The Namibian lecturer Hugh Ellis is a supporter of increasing the media literacy. Briefly said, that concept means that people are aware of the media’s power to influence the public opinion.
Speaker Kodwo Jonas Anson Boateng, senior lecturer at Ghana Institute of Journalism, kept going on about the diversity and pluralism in the African media. Media pluralism refers to the existence of a wide range of media outlets. Diversity complement the story of Ms. Juppi, because diversity means that there should be more different opinions in the media. You can think about for instance: more female interviewees, people from different ages and minority groups. Despite the fact that the speakers were talking about the current situation in their country, some of the challenges can also be adapted in European countries. Collaboration and exchange of information would be a challenge for both continents in the future.
Text and photos by Claudia Dominicus
(journalism exchange student from Artesis Plantijn Hogeschool, Belgium)