by Richard Goerens
It’s been quite a year for the Dutch Broadcasting Corporation in Africa: a 75th anniversary special being broadcast into homes across the continent, a slew of new programming. But it’s also a sign of the increasing pressure for Dutch and English media companies to operate in emerging markets.
“South Africa can welcome their best,” said Dorothee Otto, vice-president of the International Foundation for Broadcasting (IFB), which promotes development of public service broadcasting in Africa. The IFB has been providing training for radio, television and other public broadcasters in the continent since 1974.
Her organisation is helping the Dutch company join the fray. Along with the International Broadcasting Development Institute (IBDI), it has been working with Somilink to support their radio operations on the continent, specifically the addition of a news bulletins as well as digital radio.
Somilink is a new-media and internet service provider in Uganda that has partnered with several other broadcasters, as well as journalists in Uganda. They are currently building a multimillion dollar transmitter in a remote region of northern Uganda. It will allow Somilink to provide high-speed internet to the same region where Al-Shabaab militants are based.
“We are also working together with the I.B.I. in Ghana to help build a site in Ghana,” said Otto. “We have a lady, Maggie Monroe, who is training Ghanaians in information broadcasting as well.”
Morocco will also be getting an I.B.I. supported radio station, but it won’t be the same thing as Somilink and the I.B.I’s training. I.B.I. and IFPI’s support will come in the form of materials, like dictionaries, that will be used by a Moroccan partner organisation.
Otto says one of the larger benefits of the work will be that I.B.I. will be able to provide training for their Moroccan partner.
“We have a partner in Morocco that I think is going to be very successful in helping provide scholarships for radio and TV to train journalists,” said Otto.
These partnerships are striking, given what might have seemed like a foregone conclusion before the internet transformed public broadcasting in the 21st century. However, this is not to say that these partnerships won’t continue to struggle. More than ever, these partnerships are also funded by Dutch companies and the Dutch government.
Otto is optimistic, however, that I.B.I. and I.B.I. can still work to make their training structures more compact.
“They need to continue to work so that they can strengthen their co-ordination structure and continue to build long-term links within the continent. We have created the International Foundation for Broadcasting in order to support this in several African countries and work as a private foundation,” said Otto.
Still, organizations like I.B.I. and I.B.I. are not a panacea for African public broadcasting and they don’t always involve African companies. IBF has also found its impact is contingent on individual countries participating and providing networks.
“For this initiative in Uganda, the IFB is engaging international public broadcasters for which the government is financing. Also there are a few private broadcasters we are engaging to train local public broadcasters, particularly in the developing world.”
Sometimes, European and American companies and governments will help with the training, but often the action is at the same time to direct public broadcasting in the same direction as the European and American networks.
Kinyanjui Kanagi has been with the IFB for 23 years and has taught broadcast business and technology in East Africa, Kenya and Ghana. She has been to many countries on Africa and says the rest of the continent is starting to produce well-trained technicians and journalists. In her experience, these resources are in most cases privately financed.
“A lot of countries are actually having their own professional technical training now,” said Kanagi. “This actually means there is a great build up of capacity.”
She understands the case of the Dutch broadcasters but says that more attention needs to be paid to training in Africa in general.
“If you look at the money being put in through these international platforms, it is a very small minority,” said Kanagi. “We are grateful for what is being done and we are looking for more of this to happen, but we need to do more training in Africa, and we have to do this as soon as possible.”