AFRICA PUBLIC INTEREST MEDIA INITIATIVE
"Television can be a tremendous force for the good. It can shed light on the dark corners, where ignorance and hatred fester…. But the flow of information ought not to be one way only, from North to South; this has led to a burgeoning ‘content divide’ that threatens to overwhelm or marginalize local views and voices…Press freedom and pluralism of content can, and must develop together in the information society. Here too, the world’s broadcasters can make an important contribution". - Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General, UN.
The view of Africa’s visionary thinkers is that the 21st Century is the continent’s century of emancipation. The willingness, for example, of 25 member countries of the African Union to ratify the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement does reflect a strong desire of an Africa in search of innovative ways that will ensue in the renaissance of a prosperous and culturally integrated continent.
However, Africa can only meaningfully prosper if it is able to devise a dynamic Fourth Estate that is able to strengthen its emerging democratic institutions. Currently, out of a total of 54 countries, only eleven countries are listed as 'free' under the freedom index. These are Namibia, Cape Verde, Ghana, Botswana, Mauritius, Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, South Africa, and Benin.
Therefore, a financially sustainable mechanism that is able to systematically transform its mostly state-controlled media infrastructure into an editorially independent public interest digital media ecosystem, is urgently required to facilitate the realization of a consequential and much-needed African renaissance. Accordingly, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufuor and His Excellency Hailemariam Dessalegn, two of Africa’s most credible and highly respected Statesmen, are spearheading the launch and execution of an Africa Public Interest Media Initiative with the goal to attract appropriate levels of structural and financial capital in order to achieve the following objectives:
- the development of a scalable, entertainment based, digital media conglomerate that will inspire and reward digital content publishers; and, working in partnership with a dynamic network of mainstream broadcasters and internet platforms, make that content widely accessible to hundreds of millions of African citizens. The intent is to develop an entertainment-based and public interest orientated digital ecosystem that is capable of generating a significant return on investment; and which simultaneously, is able to incubate an Africa-wide news media ecosystem.
- the creation of affordable digital productivity tools, including mobile apps and customized smartphones, which can be effectively applied to support Africa’s print, radio and television media practitioners. The overall goal is to devise a viable capacity building mechanism that will ensue in a sustainable and editorially independent news and current affair media ecosystem - a digital ecosystem that is capable of growing into an influential and objective “Fourth Estate” spanning Africa's 21st Century.
- the conceptualization at a world leading university of a credible Africa Media Program (an academic policy and research program), focusing on how Africa’s public interest media owners in particular, can successfully enhance the development of ethical journalism and the generation of effective governance support systems.
The Africa Public Interest Media Initiative is a public interest media development focused mechanism, which has been designed by George Twumasi (a Fall 2018 Joan Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government's Shorenstein Center at Harvard University), to ensure the development of an editorially independent, democracy enhancing, public interest media ecosystem. Public interest media is key to the growth of democracy, given its ability to ensure a safe, healthy and fully-functioning society.
Consequently, across Africa’s emerging democracies, ethical journalism has to be pivoted into a central role with an emphasis on providing objective information to the citizenry of each democratically governed country in order to safeguard and strengthen the rule of law. As a notion, public interest media does underscore the moral authority of journalism to ask hard questions of those in power, whilst testing the limits of ethical practice in order to discover truth. However, public interest media is a concept, which Africa’s political leadership have consistently frowned up; neither do Africa’s mass consumers of analogue and digital media, find it entertaining.
Except for sensationalist gossip news, most consumers of media, the world over, are mostly interested in celebrity and popular culture, and demonstrably less interested in the dull realities of public interest media. But the potential impact, which ethical journalism could have on peoples’ lives, especially within Africa’s emerging democracies, makes public interest media an absolutely vital necessity.
Currently, unlike the rest of the globe, sub-Saharan Africa’s media industries yet to embrace a viable digital ecosystem. Nonetheless, the power of the ongoing global digital revolution is leaving no continent untouched. Already, with limited access to internet, more than 300 million Africans do have the option to watch video clips via WhatsApp, on smartphones and other low-cost mobile devices.
It is for the reasons above that the Africa Public Interest Media Initiative is being developed. The Africa Public Interest Media Initiative is underpinned by ABN Holdings Ltd (ABN) as its for-profit proposition; and the Africa Public Broadcasting Foundation (APBF) as its not-for-profit proposition. Together, ABN and APBF have been designed with the goal of facilitating phenomenal change across sub-Saharan Africa.
On the one hand, ABN represents a network of public interest orientated broadcasters and producers, which it will actively organise into a dynamic, commercial, multimedia conglomerate. ABN’s focus is to assemble, produce, package and distribute engaging Afrocentric audio podcasts, television programmes and content channels targeting at least three hundred million households and mobile handheld device users.
ABN has identified a unique digital content publishing, video gaming and virtual assistance monetisation opportunity spanning Africa’s key markets. Accordingly, ABN has devised a marketing strategy to maximize the financial potential of Africa’s culturally inspiring entertainment industry.
However, altogether, public interest media in Africa will struggle to become self-sustaining unless a new business support model is created. Consequently, ABN’s goal is to develop an enabling environment in which public interest media can thrive. It will do so by building a sound digital media ecosystem that is able to ensure the effective distribution of entertaining content - made by Africans for Africans - into millions of African homes.
On the other hand, APBF is designed to providing capacity-building input towards the creation of an editorially independent public interest media ecosystem in order to ensure the survival and growth of democracy on the continent of Africa. Consequently, focusing on English speaking Africa, APBF will provide support to ABN, to pursue the transformation of free-to-air broadcasters (including state-controlled entities) into sustainable public interest media entities.
APBF provides support to ABN by:
- facilitating the establishment of an academic research focused, public interest media, public policy and governance proposition that is designed to engage in the systemic transformation of sub-Saharan Africa’s incipient democratic governance process. In partnership with a world leading academic research center, APBF will bring together broadcasters, scholars and researchers to pursue a viable, ethical and solutions-based journalism paradigm. The goal of APBF in that regard is to foster the production and distribution of solutions-based programming and content channels - comprising news, current affairs and factual documentaries - targeting hundreds of millions of listeners and viewers across Africa who can readily identify with and easily relate to the content that is provided.
- facilitating a public interest driven policy design focused relationship with a world leading university on the one hand and, ABN and its network of producers and broadcasters on the other hand. The university which APBF has identified as its prospective partner via the Africa Public Interest Media Initiative is a treasure trove of information and knowledge about Africa and on African American history. Furthermore, the university is also a primary investigator of knowledge collection on the socioeconomic, political, cultural, linguistic, and scientific advances of Africans. It is important note that, hitherto to now, mostly due to a stagnated public interest media system across the continent, post-colonial Africa has remained challenged by a long legacy of negative images, stretching from the image of blacks in antiquity - comprising the classical age, Judeo-Christian literature, and Islamic civilizations.
- providing capacity building assistance to ABN’s partner broadcasters in order to ensure the systemic and systematic transition, enmasse, from analogue to digital distribution. The effective building of capacity through technology and innovation will enable ABN's African partner broadcasters to build both their technical and professional acumen. However, a continuing paradox which, heightened by the lack of resources to transform Africa’s mostly state-controlled media sector, has led to a dysfunctional broadcasting ecosystem across the continent of Africa. This has subsequently ensued in a stunted content creation infrastructure that is incapable of projecting Africa in a positive light.
The above notwithstanding, the endorsements of the Africa Public Interest Media Initiative by Africa’s credible political class and the continent’s most steadfast public media industry executives, does represent a unique selling proposition that has distinguished the ABN and ABPF from other media support entities that are active on the continent of Africa.
To conclude, in unison as the Africa Public Interest Media Initiative, ABN and APBF has garnered substantial market power to transform Africa’s free-to-air broadcasting sector into an editorially independent Fourth Estate and an Afrocentric entertainment driven digital media ecosystem.