Mapping Digital Media: News and New Media in Central Africa

Challenges and Opportunities

Marie-Soleil Frère 

The Open Society Media Program, December 2012


Abstract

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda and Burundi are among the continent’s smallest states. More than just neighbours, these three countries are locked together by overlapping histories and by extreme political and

economic challenges. Their populations are overwhelmingly rural and young. In terms of media, radio is by far the most popular source of news. Levels of state capture are high, and media quality is generally poor. Professional journalists face daunting obstacles.

Telecoms overheads are exorbitantly high. In these conditions, new and digital media — which flourish on consumers’ disposable income, strategic investment, and vibrant markets — have made a very slow start. Crucially, connectivity remains low. But change is afoot, led by the growth of mobile internet access.

In this report, Marie-Soleil Frère surveys the news landscapes of DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda. Marshalling an impressive range of data, she examines patterns of production and consumption, the often grim realities of law and regulation, the embryonic state of media policy, the role of donors, and the positive impact of online platforms. Most media outlets now have an online presence. SMS has become a basic tool for reporters. Interactivity gives voice to increasing numbers of listeners. The ease of digital archiving makes it possible to create a collective media “memory” for the first time. Chinese businesses are winning tenders for infrastructure projects.

The report ends with a set of practical recommendations relating to infrastructure, strategies to reduce access costs for journalists and the public, education and professionalisation, donor activity, governance, regulation, and media management.

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