The Challenges Facing Independent Newspapers in Sub-Saharan Africa
Catherine Gicheru, the former editor of the Star, an independent newspaper in Nairobi, has written an important study of the private/independent media landscape in sub-Saharan Africa.
In her paper ‘The Challenges Facing Independent Newspapers in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Catherine argues that while some of the factors contributing to the development of private newspapers exist at varying levels in most countries in the region, the development of media, and especially private newspapers, has taken quite different paths: from the exuberant and robust media of countries such as Nigeria or Kenya to those still operating under government control such as in Eritrea or Equatorial Guinea, to Rwanda or Ethiopia where newspapers are struggling to widen their space.
Amongst the many questions she addresses are: What are the factors that have led to this situation? What needs to be done to help the development of private/independent newspapers? And what is meant by private/independent media? She looks at how the print media are taking up the opportunities presented by the new media technologies such as the internet, the growing access to mobile telephony and the increasing use of social media by citizen journalists and what impact this has had on such newspapers. She draws on insights from recent academic research, her direct personal experience of being the editor of the Star, and the results of questionnaires from 15 pre-eminent African media scholars, practitioners, editors and publishers.
As Catherine concludes, ‘The rapid growth of mobile telephony and the anticipated growth and affordability of smartphones with internet access means that newspapers are grappling with similar challenges facing newspapers in the West. Cellphones are challenging the dominance of radio in much of the continent and this presents an opportunity as well as a challenge. The peculiar circumstances unique to African media markets require that media scholars, policy makers and innovators develop home-grown solutions and exploit the opportunities that exist for the development of independent newspapers.’