In the middle of this week a media event of continental impact took place in Dar es Salaam and, as expected, got a fair share of media coverage in an environment preoccupied with financial mismanagement of public funds, the fate of disgraced Ministers, the inevitable cabinet reshuffle and other implications of the auditing bomb dropped by the Controller Auditor General (CAG) a few weeks ago.
The event referred to is the launch of “Leadership guidelines and principles for African Media Owners and Managers”. Put simply, the document launched is a code of ethics for Media Owners and Managers.
The agreement was endorsed by the African Media Leaders Forum which convened in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, in November 2011.The central player in this undertaking is the Nairobi-based African Media Initiatives (AMI), a Non-Governmental Organisation recognised by the African Union and several other institutions which focus on Africa’s development, The Media Owners Association of Tanzania (MOAT) has assisted AMI in the launch.
The move to establish a code of ethics for Media Owners and Managers is not accidental. It is a result of several studies on the continent’s media scenario, which include the African Media Development Initiative (AMDI) research project, and the strengthening African of Media (STREAM) consultative process conducted in 2006 and 2007.
Both studies examined the media development in the African fast changing social, economic, political, cultural and technological environment, and came to the conclusion that the challenge of building a viable African media sector lies in the hands of media entrepreneurs, executives and practitioners themselves.
Noted also in the studies is the fact that the media industry in Africa is young and struggling to stand on its feet so as to eventually play its rightful role in the society.
There is historical evidence to explain this situation. It is a fact that for most of the post independence years, major African media institutions were under government control, and private media were clearly invisible.
Things took a different turn in the 1990s when the global wind of change spurred by the collapse of the communist system and other forces swept across the continent, leading to the liberalisation of the economic and political systems in most of our countries.
The liberalisation process allowed individuals and private companies to venture into media business. Consequently, private newspapers, television and radio stations appeared on the scene in most African countries and, in some cases, the sector grew at such a fast pace that managing the established media outlets became a big challenge, as preparations for doing so were inadequate, if any. The problem still exists, given the fact that mechanisms and policies to strengthen the now dominant private media sector are yet to be put in place in most African countries.
At the continental level, the African Media Initiative (AMI) was established and has been instrumental in pushing for the establishment of the code of ethics under discussion. Some areas being addressed in the code include good governance, where media owners and managers are expected to model their conduct to the highest standards of good management.
Accountability is another area addressed in the code, where media owners and managers are required to comply with laws, regulations and industry codes. Employer/Employee relations in the media, media relationship with the community they serve, and challenges posed by the rapidly emerging internet based media outlets are other issues raised in the code.
All said the significance of the code under discussion lies in the fact that codes of conduct to guide journalists in the newsrooms cannot be effective in so far as provision of the best services to society is concerned so long as media owners and managers lack ethical guidance.
As the guest of honour at the launch, Information Minister, Emanuel Nchimbi, put it “experience has shown that acts of omission or commission by media owners have a big impact on the services of the media anywhere.
We hope the ethical principles adopted by the African media owners and managers themselves won’t remain a mere public relations gimmick but will be implemented to the letter.
Henry Muhanika is a media consultant