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Amid threats, Africa’s digital media disruptors making societal impact, report reaveals

By Jesutomi Akomolafe
08 November 2021   |   3:29 am
A new global report has revealed that digital media entrepreneurs are producing groundbreaking journalism and achieving significant impact on their societies, in spite of the often tiny budgets..

A new global report has revealed that digital media entrepreneurs are producing groundbreaking journalism and achieving significant impact on their societies, in spite of the often tiny budgets and constant online threats and attacks.

The Inflection Point International report, released at the weekend and published by SembraMedia, a non-profit that supports entrepreneurial journalists, in partnership with global philanthropic organisation, Luminate, carried out more than 200 global interviews and interviewed 49 independent digital native media organisations in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

The researchers found that more than 85 per cent of the media interviewed had contributed to significant political and societal changes, in a report, that comes just a month after the award of Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their achievements in defending freedom of speech and upholding democracy.

In a similar vein, African media entrepreneurs reported achieving civic engagement, criminal investigations and changes in rule of law through their articles. Almost half of them said they were engaged in some form of solutions journalism – compared with 15 per cent in Asia ­– citing solutions reporting and investigative journalism as key factors in achieving social change.

Reacting to the development, Director, Africa of Luminate, Abdul Noormohamed submitted: “This report shines a light on a new generation of creative and courageous media entrepreneurs, developing solutions to Africa’s social and economic challenges and strengthening the workings of democracy and issues of governance.”

The document revealed that 57 per cent of the African digital newsrooms interviewed had won national awards and 28 per cent clinching international laurels for their works. However, they had done so in the face of ongoing harassment, with more than a third reporting cyber attacks on their news platforms.

Some of the entrepreneurs also reported a degree of self-censorship, in avoiding stories that could lead to legal challenges, because they could not afford lawyers to defend them.

Media in Nigeria and Ghana reported significantly higher incidences of lawsuits than those sampled in other countries. Yet, most of the entrepreneurs appear to have survived the harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While there are differences across the three regions, what struck us most as we reviewed the data were the similarities that emerged among these news organisations, as they strive to cover their communities and build sustainable business models,” said co-founder of SembraMedia, Janine Warner.

Overall, the African digital media reported higher levels of advertising revenue than Latin American and South-east Asian digital media, with advertising contributing around 29 per cent of incomes for the African media in 2019, falling to 26 per cent in 2020.

The top tier digital media on the continent was also found to be earning more for smaller audiences – measured as page views – than equivalent media in Latin America and South-east Asia.

However, the African entrepreneurs had the most limited financial records with around half unable to identify their total revenues or revenue sources.

However, fewer of Africa’s digital entrepreneurs were women, at 13 per cent, than in other regions, with 32 per cent of the founders of the companies studied worldwide being women. But this proportion still represented a far greater role for women in media ownership than exists in the mainstream media, where the ownership by women is as low as one per cent