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  • on 29.08.2009
  • at 03:00 PM
  • by Staff

Africa: private newspapers in distress 0

Aug29

The trend the world over is that newspapers, especially private newspapers in Africa, are being denied adverts and are folding up with speed.

Even in the most advanced countries smaller newspapers are collapsing at an alarming rate. As media giants totter, battered by the Internet and the economic crisis, saving the newspapers has become a hot topic.

Many are expressing concern that the death of journalism as we know it will leave our culture ill-informed and endanger democracy by removing a vital part of its checks and balances.

The debate revolves around two key questions. One, does society truly need the professional media? Two, how can professional journalism survive in a new media environment?

Cathy Young, a media analyst writing on the same theme argues that though blogs are serving a particular purpose, traditional newspapers do have a vital role to play in a democracy. She argues further that newspapers’ present financial woes have little to do with their real or perceived lack of balance, and everything to do with the economics of publishing.

The main reason for the declining trend of newspapers is that advertising slump has hit newspapers much harder than radio and television. In Ghana the situation is worse. Many newspapers are being suffocated out of the market, thanks firstly, to the increasing price of newsprint and associated costs. Secondly many newspapers are being denied adverts not only by private companies, but state institutions. The Statesman has folded up temporarily to regroup, and other newspapers are heavily indebted to their printers to the extent that some have not paid their reporters for three months.

Perhaps, the most serious threat to newspapers in Ghana is the declining trend of readership, due to the proliferation of radio stations which review newspapers and also the internet. These days, readers would rather wait and go to the websites of newspapers to read the news than buy the hardcopy. Something significant will be lost if we sat back and allowed newspapers fold up so easily.

Debate over suitable approaches to meeting this challenge, including the possible use of publicly financed media, is often heated. Media development initiatives should therefore involve educational institutions, civic organizations, local non-profits, and others in generating community learning processes dedicated to the acquisition of discussion, analysis, and debate skills oriented toward understanding.

The concerns discussed in the public sphere are not limited to politics but range across the entire gamut of citizen concerns including culture. For this reason the public sphere is a vital tool of cultural change. Culture change takes place in any case, but at least some cultural issues can be taken up deliberately and reflected on collectively.

Many media advocates are suggesting that media development work at the broadest level should encourage democracy friendly policies. These will vary by culture and region but should include policies restricting consolidation of ownership as well as regulations resisting the pressure to equate money and paid commercial advertisements with politically protected speech or political affiliation.

By Amos Safo – Public Agenda for PANOS

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