Private Media in Africa: key players in the consolidation of new Democracies

Democracy is in a constant process of construction and reconstruction. That is why it is not enough to have regular, competitive and transparent elections to assert that we live in a true Democracy. Each of us has an obligation and an active role to play in the daily consolidation of our Democracies.

In Mozambique and Africa in general we have experienced several stages in the process of democratization, and it is extremely positive that we have made great strides regarding the respect for individual and collective freedoms, including freedom of expression.

However, sustaining this process each and every day is paramount. For this reason, it is important for everyone to be aware of their specific role in our societies. The role of Governments is to defend the public interest through government actions and public policies. The role of Media is to promote Governments’ transparency and accountability and to keep the general public informed.

Media, journalism and democracy

Journalism exists in Democracy. However, it seems important to me to say that journalism creates Democracy as well as it allows Democracy to be accountable. Although there is always the risk of journalistic activities being influenced, with interference in freedom of expression, this sector keeps democratic institutions under control, giving the population the knowledge and information that allows them to judge, criticize and make their own informed decisions.

If we have to talk about pillars of Democracy, we cannot forget that journalism is one of them. Journalism fully develops under democratic freedoms, but full Democracy exists, too, through journalism.

Once the worst legacies of colonialism and Cold War restrictions were overcome, the old dogmas gave way to a new pragmatism: a freedom to innovate, to experiment and to find new answers for local challenges. in the last 20 years we have witnessed a correlation between the development of the media sector and the sustained improvement of good governance indicators on our continent.

As media ecosystems diversified and became more open, after decades of strict state control, innovative and independent journalism promoted Government transparency and accountability, actively contributing to improving the performance of good governance.

Media thus plays a vital role by contributing to the deepening and institutionalization of Democracy through the consolidation of a sound Public Sphere and an informed Civil Society. Citizens need credible information and, in order to gain access to it, they need media organizations that can effectively moderate public debate, facilitating meaningful discussions that can lead to a positive transformation within society.

In this sense, journalism is exercised by and in favour of citizens so that they can have an opinion about the contexts in which they live and as such can participate actively in the Democratic process.

Digital Transformation and its consequences

However, the advent of Digital Transformation has brought significant changes to the traditional Media landscape: the news cycle has gained tremendous dynamism and speed thanks to tweets, blogs and citizens journalism.

On the other hand, fibre optics has revolutionized the Telecommunications Sector and the Internet has become increasingly faster and cheaper. For example, the African continent saw the world’s fastest growth rates in terms of Internet penetration in 2018, enabling the more isolated communities, such as the rural contexts in Africa, to access the Web.

The increasingly active participation of citizens in this new Media landscape has led to a necessary and dramatic reformulation of the dynamics between citizens, Media and Government. And these changes demand an enormous adaptation capacity by professionals in the media sector, especially by journalists.

Mozambique and Africa’s challenges in the current scenario

From the outset, the SOICO Group understood the nature of these transformations and therefore our strategy has always based on the four fundamental pillars of innovation, differentiation, technology and human resources.

However, our group and all Media in Mozambique and Africa still face significant challenges. Although great efforts have been made in recent years, the illiteracy rate of Mozambican society is still very high, which implies a huge barrier to information access, to Media penetration and to technological innovation.

On the other hand, in spite of the great technological advances already achieved in the world and in our region, their dissemination is still insufficient and the structures necessary to correctly support innovation are lacking.

This makes our future scenario complex and challenging. Fortunately, society remains true to the central role of Media which is to inform, educate and entertain. Free and independent information bodies are and will continue to be fundamental to the economic and democratic development of our countries and it is the responsibility of us all to continue working in the improvement of their function, always upholding ethics, transparency, integrity, responsibility and excellence.