Shedding light on African media management challenges 0

Media management which involves dealing with employee management, audiences, budgets, the political environment and ethics, poses many challenges to media managers across the world. These challenges range from interference to increasing competition. Media managers are required to navigate through these challenges if they have to stay in business. Regardless of their structures or controlling arrangement, media are businesses that require business acumen to be financially profitable enterprises and to serve as providers of public enlightenment.

This applies to media across the globe, including African media which are mirror images of systems in Western countries such as Britain and France that have once colonized the continent. African media management is therefore based on management principles that are common to other sectors of the continent’s economy and it is believed to be an importation of colonialists who introduced western-style education on the continent. Given these similarities, media managers on the continent are bound to deal with challenges that are similar to those managers in Western countries such as Britain face, though in certain circumstances, the extent and nature of the issues could vary.

Media experts have pointed out that the main management issues arise from recurring dilemmas that lie at the heart of media-making. These include the potential clash between profit, on the one hand, and social purpose, on the other, and the issue of reconciling creative and editorial freedom with the demands of routine and large scale production.

Major changes in the structure of media industries, especially the processes of globalization, ownership conglomeration and organizational fragmentation provide new theoretical challenges. New means of distribution such as cable, satellite and the Internet have also given rise to new kinds of challenges. Like Europe, Africa is increasingly democratizing albeit slowly, and as a result, African media are relatively free to operate within the limits of the law, but conflicts still occur in relation to government and powerful social institutions.

One key challenge facing media managers in many African countries is the issue of interference by political authorities, owners and advertisers in the decision-making process and autonomy over content. The central issue here is the extent to which media organizations can claim to exercise autonomy, first in relation to their owners, and, second, to other direct economic agencies in their various locations, especially those who provide operating funds such as investors, advertisers and sponsors. Most African media, like their counterparts in Europe, have become market-based over the last two decades; but news media content in Africa sometimes reflects the interest of those who finance the media.

In Cameroon, like in other African countries, running a media institution could be challenging. The high start-up cost is usually compounded by the scarcity of investment capital, high interest rates and the unfavorable lending conditions offered by international financial institutions. The poor financial base of the continent’s media has led to a cycle of sub-optimizations where low salaries attract poor quality managers who cannot guarantee quality and cannot turn good profits. While Western media have access to loans, enjoy huge advertising revenues and use license fees paid by those receiving the service – in the case of broadcasting – as another revenue stream, African media managers are still at grips with very tough financial times.

To overcome this challenge, many African media, including privately-owned media institutions, have continued to depend on government subsidies and sales which have been declining over the years due to a lack of a reading culture, the emergence of the Internet, Satellite TV and other hand-held devices which offer free news alternatives. This is compromising the independence of old media managers and owners over content. Some private media managers on the continent sometimes have to bend over backwards just to stay in business by submitting to editorial controls by media owners and, by so doing; make unpopular management or editorial decisions.

Though media managers in Africa may enjoy more administrative freedom in the running of their establishments, there are however cases of arbitrary interference by media owners in both the management of the organizations and the control of editorial operations. Independent media owners in Africa are not apolitical as they appear, and always have specific objectives that underpin their interest in the media business. When these objectives are not purely political, they have tended to be commercial, religious, egotistical or a strange combination of some or all of them as pointed out by popular African media experts like Okigbo and Nyamjoh.

For many decades, most public media across the continent have been established by the governments and these public media usually come under the direct control and supervision of the government. In many countries, the supervisory authority is the communication ministry like in Cameroon which provides long-term guidance and short-term directives on management issues.

The relationships between public media and governments are often not very clearly defined. The degree of control and supervision can therefore change from time to time, depending on key players in the media and the supervisory authority. Such influence usually results in the media’s loss of independence over content.

This situation has been made all the more challenging by the increasing competition and the mushrooming of media outfits on the continent, especially cross-national media such as satellite operations. For example, the development of the East African Community and increasing attention on regional integration among East African countries has energized intra-regional competition among most powerful media institutions in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.  To cope with this situation, contemporary African media resort to uninspiring content relating to the proprietors, be they government ministers or private business people.

The advent of new media, otherwise known as ‘technologies of freedom’, such as cable TV, satellite TV, digital handheld books, electronic newspapers, among others, which use digital protocols like the Internet, has brought new challenges to media managers in Africa. Prior to the advent of Internet- and satellite-based mass communication, most communication was effected through traditional books, newspapers, films and television. With the advent of new and innovative technology in the later part of the twentieth century that makes it possible to deliver information in various formats and rapidly too, traditional media managers have to device new strategies to cope with the competition that transnational communication systems are posing.

Like their counterparts in the West, especially in North America, most African media managers depend on mass consumer advertising for their survival.  Technological advances are encouraging greater diversity throughout the media and entry barriers are coming down in many sectors and not only has the number of broadcast channels across the globe multiplied rapidly since the early 1990s, the Internet’s recent growth has also introduced a diverse array of new players, making competition a lot keener.

Today, the continent’s media landscape has undergone dramatic changes and despite these significant changes, the influence of European colonialism is still obvious. Major communication languages are foreign to the continent. This is due to the people’s high regard for foreign languages which have high status conferral qualities, the paucity of local language training in universities and the slowness of African governments to adopt vernacular languages for instruction and official transactions.

The advent of cutting-edge media technologies in the mid-twentieth century has completely transformed media landscapes across the globe and most former colonies have adopted media models that differ from those of their former colonial masters. With the emergence of new communication media like the Internet and transnational broadcast media, and the private sector’s increasing economic importance, many countries have resorted to different models of relationships with the society. Like transnational broadcast media, the Internet, a global search engine, is bringing information to people in the comfort of their homes, making it impossible for governments to impose restrictions.

The Internet and other superhighway information mechanisms provide better alternative methods and opportunities to share information with selected audiences without sanctions from the general public or state controllers of mainstream media. This has been made all the more possible by a relaxation of media rules across the globe and the increasing awareness that information is critical to development. In many African countries today, there is a growing number of “Internet cafés” that are granting access to the world-wide web to many people, especially in cities where the infrastructure is available and reliable.

Today, both governments and individuals own TV and radio stations, as well as web sites in former colonies and this has given people in these regions new information sources. While it was true that media development in Africa was patterned on systems existing in colonizing countries, today, the reality is different with African countries developing new models that allow for greater private ownership and societal participation in media activities.

Though new media technologies are offering new opportunities for media managers on the continent to avoid the heavy hand of government censorship, they have also brought cut-throat competition and financial challenges to the continent’s media managers who must seek new and innovative ways to survive in the new global media environment. These technologies have also exposed media managers to the financial and political influence of advertisers and investors who, in many cases, are not apolitical. And this only makes the challenges faced by African media managers more sophisticated.

Joachim Arrey, Ph.D

Toronto, Canada

Now that you are here

The Cameroon Concord News Group Board wishes to inform its faithful readers that for more than a decade, it has been providing world-class reports of the situation in Southern Cameroons.  The Board has been priding itself on its reports which have helped the world to gain a greater understanding of the crisis playing out in Southern Cameroons. It hails its reporters who have also helped the readers to have a broader perspective of the political situation in Cameroon.

The Board wishes to thank its readers who have continued to trust Southern Cameroon’s leading news platform. It is therefore using this opportunity to state that its reporters are willing to provide more quality information to the readers.    However, due to the changing global financial context, the Board is urging its readers to play a significant role in the financing of the news organization.  It is therefore calling on its faithful readers to make whatever financial contribution they can to ensure they get the latest developments in their native Southern Cameroons, in particular, and Cameroon in general.

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