As global connectivity shrinks the world and transforms the way news is created, disseminated, and shared, African media stakeholders are looking to reverse what has long been a one-way conversation about the continent.
“This is a continent that is raring to go,” said John Chiahemen, CEO of Nigeria’s Gotel. “It’s not enough to have a studio in London. You have to be here.”
The opportunities for the news industry are as great as the challenges, with underdeveloped infrastructure and limits on press freedom among the issues affecting broadcasters across the continent.
But with close to a billion mobile-phone subscribers on the continent, as well as greater penetration of broadband networks, Africa is poised to capitalize on the ways that mobile and social media are shaping the news industry.
“The way we consume news has changed,” Chiahemen said. “We’re not just receiving news. There is a conversation now going on … between the broadcasters [and] the audience, and among the audience.”
That conversation is at the heart of Africanews, which announced its launch Nov. 5 at Discop Africa. Owned by the Lyon, France-based Euronews, the new network is being billed as the first pan-African, multilingual news service, with headquarters in Congo-Brazzaville, and bureaus expected to roll out next year in Johannesburg, Nairobi, Abidjan and N’Djamena, Chad.
Along with a team of journalists culled from the ranks of some of the world’s biggest news outlets, Africanews will be pushing its Story Hunters app as a way “to generate as much user-generated content as possible” and bring a broader range of voices into the conversation.
Touting itself as “mobile first,” the network will start with a digital rollout across mobile, tablet and desktop platforms in January, before launching a 24-hour news channel that will broadcast simultaneously in English and French.
“We all know that in 2020, [around] 75% of the population will have access to mobile content with 3 or 4G,” said Euronews CEO Michael Peters. “We know that Africa is a land of mobility.”
Until then, broadcasters still must find ways to work around the infrastructure challenges on the continent, whether it’s weak mobile signals, unreliable power supplies, or the need to invest in technical training to boost production standards.
And despite the democratic strides that have been made in much of Africa in recent years, protection from government interference is never guaranteed.
“[It’s] the fear we have in Africa,” said Jean-Marc Belchi of France Médias Monde, whose radio arm, Radio France Intl., was recently shut down after covering protests in Congo-Brazzaville. “You must be ready to face a crisis [or] to be switched off.”