The HIV in Southern Africa

The media in developing countries are important partners in the development process. They are used as tools for educating, informing, and entertaining. In most countries where literacy rates are low, radio, and television, is easily accessible compared to print media. Radio and television lend themselves to easy access irrespective of one’s literacy level and therefore their success in Africa. Most African media systems are linked to the continent’s relationship with its colonisers.

The most prominent of such links is the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) relationship with Anglophone Africa. The British colonisers used radio to inform their colonies of events in the country and issues abroad, especially during the Second World War. After the war, public interest in radio continued to grow and this led to the setting up of national broadcast systems by the British Administration (McKay 2003). Following in the footsteps of the British administration, the new government took responsibility of the media thus, making the media ‘extensions’ of government machinery.

Beyond general development functions, the media also helped with the development and promotion of the political agenda of the incumbent governments (Kutufam 2005) in Africa. In addition to these peculiar features of the media in developing countries, their mode of operation is also different from their counterparts in most developed countries. Whilst the media in most developing countries operate as private and profit-making entities, media in Africa and for that matter, most developing countries are government owned and operated.

Government control of media in developing countries has led to ineffective and unbalanced flow of information between media practitioners on one hand and the public on the other. This, according to Tettey (2002), manifests itself in “which voices get articulated; whose interests are promoted and heard; and what is the level of responsiveness that is demonstrated, by those who are in charge of the state apparatus, towards demands…” (pg4). McQuail (1987), in categorizing the role of the media in developing countries, discusses five main principles that govern media operations in such countries.

These are 1) to carry out positive developmental tasks in line with nationally established policy; 2) that media freedom is subject to restriction according to economic priorities and development needs of society; 3) priority should be given to content that promotes national culture and language; 4) media workers and professionals have responsibilities as well as freedoms in their information-gathering and dissemination tasks; and 5) the state has the right to intervene in or restrict media operations in the interest of national development through censorship, subsidies, or direct control (McQuail 1987).

Although these ideas are supposedly set in the interest of the nations, incumbent governments all over Africa have used the media to entrench themselves in power. Since the early ’90s, various internal and external factors have led to the democratisation of the African continent and this has affected government controls over the media.

Most governments, due to pressure from both national and international forces, relinquished control over the airwaves and allowed the establishment of private print and electronic media sources. This liberalisation allowed for the mushrooming of privately owned media outlets, and this dramatically changed the political scenes in most African countries.

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