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Experts make case for independence of public media at Highway Africa 2018

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Cross session of participants at Highway Africa Conference 2018 in Grahamstown, South Africa….. PHOT: PHOTO: TWITTER/HIGHWAY AFRICA

Experts in the African media industry has called for absolute independence of media operation without governments and institutional interference.

The experts spoke during a panel of discussion on public media and citizenship on the first day of Highway Africa Conference in Grahamstown, South Africa.

The conference is taking place at Rhodes University, South Africa from Thursday, November 29 to Friday, November 30. The 22-year old conference focuses on the impact of the internet and mobile technologies on journalism and media.

One of the speakers, Delta Ndou, who was the head of the digital services of Zimbabwe Newspaper Group between 2015 and 2017, said for government-owned media houses to discharge their duties without fear of being chastised or punished by the authorities, they must be truly free from interference and direct control of state authorities.

He insisted that political interference has hindered the professional growth of journalism in spite of constitutional provisions which seek to insulate public media from government control.

“The constitution may state we can have editorial independence but if it isn’t actualized it won’t be a reality,” Ndou said.

“There should be a clear buffer or institution that manages the public broadcasters and not government officials.”

While Ndou blamed government officials for the problems of public media using Zimbabwe as an example, she, however, said there were journalists who were willing tools in the hands of crooked politicians.

Executive director of the Centre of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication in Mozambique, Dr Maria de Lurdes Mangueleze, who spoke at another panel, noted that in some instances, private media houses, are stifled by the government

Panellists, however, insisted that it was possible to reinforce the credibility of public media.

A panellist from Mozambique, Isaias Fuel opined that government-owned media must give room to oppositions or opinions other than those of the government of the day.

The editor, digital news, South African Broadcast Corporation (SABC), Izak Minnaar, who was also part of the panel, said having an alternative source of getting finances may aid the independence of public.

While citing the case of SABC, he said the 70 per cent of its funds were sourced from sponsorship and adverts while funds from the South African government accounts for between 3-4 per cent of its revenue.

Fuel argued that independence of the public media can also be enhanced if the control of such media is handled by the national parliament instead of the executive.

Ndou, however, said the opening up of airwaves and revoking legislation that hampers operations of media would guarantee editorial independence with country parliament having the sole responsibility of approving, sanctioning of managers of public media.

She also listed the creation of independent oversight institutions and the appointment of professionals, not politicians, to head public media.


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