Join our network

January 16, 2024

African Media Landscape Regional Study Report: The case of West Africa

By Michelle Agoh, Nigeria. ACRP West Africa Network Region Lead 2023.

ABSTRACT

This study presents an in-depth analysis of the media landscape in West Africa, shedding light on the multifaceted dimensions that shape and influence the region's media industry. With a focus on English and French speaking countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, Burkina Faso and Senegal, this report aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of media, examining key trends, similarities, challenges, and expectations.

Drawing upon extensive research carried out through interviews and data analysis from surveys, this study explores various aspects of the media landscape, including print, broadcast, and digital media. It delves into the evolving role of traditional media and independent journalism in the face of digital disruption and the rise of social media platforms. Additionally, the report analyzes the impact of media ownership diversity, political influence, freedom of expression, and technological advancements on media practices.

Furthermore, this study examines the role of media in shaping public opinion, supporting movements, fostering civic responsibility, and promoting social change, while also highlighting challenges related to misinformation, threats, and media polarization. Also, it explores the economic dynamics of the media industry in West Africa, examining revenue models, advertising trends, and the emergence of multinational news organizations investing in West Africa. It assesses the sustainability and viability of media organizations, with a particular focus on the impact of economic factors, such as funding sources, competition and market dynamics.

The findings and insights from this study contribute to a deeper understanding of the West Africa media landscape, providing valuable knowledge for policymakers, media professionals, researchers, investors and stakeholders. By highlighting key trends and challenges, this report seeks to foster dialogue and collaboration to strengthen the media ecosystem, facilitate innovation, and promote responsible journalism in the region.

INTRODUCTION

Unveiling the Transformative Odyssey of West African Media: A Journey through Progress and Paradoxes

The West African media landscape has experienced remarkable transformations in recent years, making it a compelling and timely subject of study. Previous research done by afrobarometer has illuminated the emergence of social media and its pivotal role in shaping the relationship between media organizations and news consumers. The researcher finds this transformation has yielded a multitude of positive outcomes for the region, including the emergence of independent journalists, the rapid dissemination of information to diverse global audiences, heightened political and social awareness, increased recognition of the influence of public sentiment on politicians, enhanced revenue generation for media entities, expanded opportunities for journalists, and even garnered credibility and recognition for several West African media platforms. 

These advancements however, have been accompanied by an array of challenges. Chief among these challenges is the proliferation of misinformation, a pressing concern that has led to distrust in the media, sparked instances of hate speech, contributed to tribal discord, and even fostered persecutory delusion in some segments of the populace. The Nigerian 2023 general election is a strong example. Moreover, the media landscape has borne witness to the rise of threats, violence, intimidation, harassment, bullying, censorship, doxing, and other forms of coercion, all of which underscore the complex reality in which West African media operates. According to the International Press Center, 66 Nigerian journalists were attacked in 2022 alone.

Beyond the digital realm, media ownership has evolved into a more diverse landscape, characterized by increased accessibility for individuals and organizations. Private ownership has come to drive the sector, fostering editorial independence, innovation, competition, job creation, financial viability, and the production of diverse and compelling content. While this evolution is commendable, a fundamental question arises regarding the degree of autonomy enjoyed by these private media entities. Licensing by governing bodies, though intended to regulate the dissemination of information, raises inquiries into potential encroachments upon media independence in West African countries.

The presence of multinational news platforms such as BBC (2018), AFP, and Deutsche Welle (2014) in West Africa underscores the growing dominance of private media entities. Many of these organizations have established a strategic foothold in West African countries such as Nigeria. Though many have managed to maintain a fully digital style of journalism in west Africa, an intriguing distinction is observed in the case of the BBC, which collaborates with local television and radio stations to disseminate content, often focusing on indigenous stories that resonate with the West African audience.

METHODOLOGY

Decoding the Dynamics of West Africa Media: A Blend of Quantitative Exploration and Qualitative Perspectives

To examine the changing tides of West Africa media, a singular research method was adopted. The study consisted of two phases: a quantitative survey and qualitative interviews. 

Data Collection

Surveys: A questionnaire containing 19 questions was created using Google Forms. The questions were constructed to understand the trends, challenges and needs of the West African media landscape, and it was distributed to media practitioners in five countries in the West Africa region: Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. This restriction was due to the researcher's limited reach. The questionnaire was available in English and French, the two languages spoken in the West African region.

Questions asked:

  1. Name
  2. Country of residence
  3. Gender
  4. Do you work in a government or private owned media organization?
  5. What medium/platform do you work in?
  6. Do you believe the media in your country operates with freedom and independence?
  7. Are you aware of any instance of threat, violence or harassment against journalists?
  8. Have you ever been a victim of threat, violence or harassment?
  9. If yes, were you protected by your organization?
  10. If not, should it happen, will you be protected by your organization?
  11. Do you think there is diversity in media ownership in your country?
  12. Are there concerns about media outlets being influenced by political or business interests?
  13. Do you use social media platforms to access news and information?
  14. How do you think technology has impacted media consumption and journalism?
  15. Do you think media organizations in your country face economic challenges that affect their independence?
  16. What kind of growth or development have you witnessed in the media or journalism space? Please mention 3.
  17. What kind of support do you need to advance your media/journalism career?
  18. In your opinion, what are some media practices that are important for media organizations to keep up with global standards?
  19. Do you think journalism or media is contributing to the growth and development of society?

The following are some of the limitations of the study:

  • The study was limited to five English and French-speaking countries in West Africa because these were the countries accessible to the researcher, participants from English and French backgrounds were chosen because these are major languages spoken in the West African region.
  • The study was limited to 21 stakeholders in the media industry, the initial target was 30, but only 21 media professionals responded.
  • The survey was not able to capture the views of all West African media consumers.

Despite these limitations, this study provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of the West African media landscape. The findings of this study can be used to inform policymakers, media professionals, and other stakeholders about the challenges and opportunities facing the media industry in West Africa.

DATA FINDINGS AND TABLES

Illuminating the Media Mosaic: Insights from the West African Media Landscape

Representation: Data findings from conducted research by the author reveal that male and female representation in the five countries stands at 52.4% and 47.6% respectively. Among media practitioners, 61.9% work in privately owned media establishments, while 28.6% work in government owned media entities. Additionally, 9.5% identify as self-employed or independent journalists. Analyzing media formats, print media and digital platforms dominate, comprising 38.1% and 33.3%, respectively. These percentages exceed those of radio (19%) and television (9.5%). 

Table 1: Country of residents of respondents

This table shows the number of respondents that form the findings used in this research. Accra and Ghana were summed up as it represents the same country, Ouagadougou and Burkina faso were summed up too for the same reason.

Forms response chart. Question title: Country of residence. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 1: Gender representation of survey respondents Forms response chart. Question title: Gender. Number of responses: 21 responses.

 Chart 2: Employment status of respondents

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you work in a government or private owned media organization?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 3: Media platforms of participants

Forms response chart. Question title: What medium/platform do you work in?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Press Freedom: Based on the results from the survey, there are indications that press freedom and independence in the West African region is perceived to be moderate based on the survey with only 19% of media practitioners confirming to work freely. A majority (57.1%) believe the media organizations in their respective countries operate with some degree of freedom and independence, whereas 23.8% hold the view that press freedom or independence are entirely absent. 

Chart 4: A chart showing the level of press freedom in the region 

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you believe the media in your country operates with freedom and independence?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Threats, Harassments and Violence: Instances of threats and violence against journalists are prevalent, as acknowledged by 90.5% of participants. Notably, 28.6% of respondents have personally experienced bullying, threats or violent attacks. Among them, 71.4% reported receiving protection from their media organizations during such incidents. 

Chart 5: A visual representation of predominant threats and violence against journalist 

Forms response chart. Question title: Are you aware of any instance of threat, violence or harassment against journalists?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 6: Respondents who have been victims of threats and violence 

Forms response chart. Question title: Have you ever been a victim of threat, violence or harassment?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 7: Level of protection of received by journalists who have been victims by   media organizations 

Forms response chart. Question title: If yes, were you protected by your organization?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 8: The below chart shows the percentage of media respondents who aren’t victims but believe they will be protected by their organizations

Forms response chart. Question title: If no, should it happen, will you be protected by your organization?. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Media Diversity and Ownership: While affirming that the West African media industry is well diversified (95.2%), participants (also 95.2%) express concerns about media organizations succumbing to influences from political or business interests. Significantly, 85.7% strongly believe that economic challenges faced by media organizations in the region impact their independence.

Chart 9: Media diversification in the West African region

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you think there is diversity in media ownership in your country?
. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 10: Concerns on political influence in the media industry

Forms response chart. Question title: Are there concerns about media outlets being influenced by political or business interests?
. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Chart 11: The economical impact on media independence 

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you think media organizations in your country face economic challenges that affect their independence?
. Number of responses: 21 responses.

Technology and Digitalization: 100% of media practitioners and consumers did attest to the use of social media platforms to access news and information. This was the only question in the survey that received a unanimous agreement from all participants. 

Chart 12: The use of social media for news gathering by journalism

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you use social media platforms to access news and information?
. Number of responses: 21 responses.

DISCUSSION

Exploring Pathways Forward: Reflections and Discourse

The author finds that the West African media landscape presents a dynamic interplay of traditional and digital media platforms, with radio retaining its position as a major source of news dissemination. However, the rise of digital media has been remarkable, creating a highly competitive environment. Print media, television, and radio stations have all embraced digital platforms, expanding their reach and diversifying revenue streams. Digital platforms offer a range of monetization avenues, from YouTube AdSense and payouts by platforms like X (formerly Twitter), to Google AdSense and web monetization for print media. This digital expansion enhances the potential for indigenous journalism, voice over artistry, brand visibility, sponsorships, and advertisements, particularly given radio's unique ability to penetrate remote communities and facilitate communication in diverse languages. Digital platforms primarily operate in English and French, limiting their reach to certain language groups. Meanwhile, print media retains its relevance, securing a solid consumer base.

The West African media landscape is influenced by complex political dynamics that impact media independence. The weight of political influence, often a consequence of undemocratic media laws and censorship, can undermine the impartiality of reported stories. Economic factors also contribute, with the practice of "brown envelope journalism" prevailing among journalists. This practice involves receiving cash from political agents or government entities in exchange for media support, leading to compromised objectivity. Journalists' inadequate welfare and low salaries can drive such behavior, while media managers and owners affiliated with political parties may subtly censor news stories to protect their interests. The relationship between media outlets and politicians can result in news manipulation, sometimes to preserve relationships and secure exclusive access to news and advertisement opportunities.

Nevertheless, indigenous media organizations in West Africa exhibit varied degrees of independence. Notably, some media entities have embraced global operating models and professional standards, allowing them to compete effectively. Multinational media organizations, guided by ethical practices, uphold their long standing reputation and standards, often providing better wages and welfare to journalists compared to local outlets. This contributes to a safer work environment, opportunities for growth, and better-trained professionals.

Despite these challenges, professional training has contributed to a diversified journalism landscape, with emerging niches such as fact-checking, investigative journalism, and data journalism. Furthermore, the transformative power of digital technology has enabled the spread of political and social awareness. Social media platforms facilitate rapid information dissemination, transcending national borders. Not only are citizens informed about events within their countries, but they are also exposed to regional issues, fostering a shared sense of identity and advocacy. Events like the Y'en a Marre movement in Senegal and the EndSARS movement in Nigeria demonstrate the influence of digital technology in mobilizing social and political change.

In summary, the dynamic evolution and diversification of the West African media landscape have yielded significant power, voice, change, and growth for the region. However, when benchmarked against global best practices, the trajectory toward a more effective and democratic media environment hinges on the swift realization of genuine democratic principles. Adequate funding, consistent training, improved journalist welfare, quality infrastructure, and advanced technologies are pivotal. Overcoming governmental limitations remains a critical milestone for advancing media independence and effectiveness in the region.

REFERENCES

  1. (Capitant, S. 2011). Africa’s Media Landscape. Afrique contemporaine Volume 240, Issue 4, pages 25 to 41 https://www.cairn-int.info/article-E_AFCO_240_0025--africa-s-media-landscapes.htm
  2. (Conroy-Krutz, J. and Koné, J. 2022). Promise and peril: Africa changing media landscape. Afrobarometer, Dispatch No 509. https://www.afrobarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/AD509-PAP7-Promise-and-peril-Africas-changing-media-landscape-Afrobarometer-dispatch-19feb22.pdf
  3. (Dr Mosleh, M. 2023). University of Exeter Library https://libguides.exeter.ac.uk/fakenews/consequences

The full report can be downloaded here.

About the Author:

Michelle Agoh is a Nigerian multimedia journalist who reports on News, Politics, Development and Nature. She works as a full time broadcaster at Lagos Talks 91.3 FM and freelances as a writer.  Michelle has participated in the ACRP-Paradigm Initiative Journalism Workshop on Digital Identity, Data & Technology in Africa, 23-26 August 2021, Abuja, Nigeria.  She was a panelist for the ACRP in the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF22), Lagos, Nigeria. 27-28 April 2022.  In addition, the Africa-China Reporting Project featured her publication in the New Book on Digital Identity, Data and Technology in Africa, 2022.

© 2024 Africa-China Reporting Project. All rights reserved. 
Terms & Conditions. 
Privacy Policy.
crossmenu