Once trusted because cited among the populations’ conscience rousers, the press is losing ground in its own field in Francophone Africa. And this is due to all kinds of challenges, attributable to several factors.
Every day, a series of newspapers is printed in African capitals for an audience that likes to content itself with headlines and buys fewer and fewer newspapers. It would not be wrong to say that public confidence in conventional media has fallen sharply in Francophone Africa.
“Citizens still dream of an independent press run by journalists capable of providing them with information of public interest intended to inform their democratic choice or to help them participate qualitatively in the development of their nation,” says Gérard Guèdègbé, journalist and communication strategy expert in his book “Presse francophone en Afrique de l’Ouest, Expériences et Réflexions de pionniers.”
This book was officially launched to the public in September 2019 at the headquarters of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Abidjan.
The dictatorship of money
When browsing through the collection of testimonies of pioneers of the press in Francophone West Africa by Gérard Guèdègbé, one agrees with the statement made by the head of KAS Media Africa, Christophe Plate: “Passionate journalism is a precious asset”.
In “Presse francophone en Afrique de l’Ouest, Expériences et Réflexions de pionniers”, we discover the thrilling career of journalists who have made the best days of the press in Francophone Africa such as Jérôme Carlos (Benin), Souleymane Diallo (Guinea), Diomansi Bomboté (Mali), Eugene Kokhaya Aw N’diaye (Senegal), etc.
These pioneers, who devoted their pen to the freedom of the press and to the rooting of democracy in their respective countries, are now taking a similar look at the press in Francophone Africa.
The conclusion is as follows: the press in Francophone West Africa is in a state of decline. Souleymane Diallo, a satyric press pioneer in Guinea, says the practice of the profession is experiencing an unacceptable decline.
Among the factors contributing to the deterioration of the level of efficient journalism in Francophone West Africa are the lack of political pressure, the lack of financial resources, and the lack of training of journalists.
“Our generation has escaped the dictatorship of money. Money has a weight on people today, in terms of subjection. There are plenty of young people coming into the profession today! They do not have that passion that I experienced in the profession. They are on technical stop, waiting for better,” regrets the Beninese journalist, writer and historian Jerome Carlos.
“The press is free, but the press has to defend itself”
Today, many bodies around the world advocate for freedom of expression, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
In Francophone Africa, countries are increasingly adopting legislation and institutional structures to guarantee freedom of the press and respect for ethics and deontology.
“The safety of journalists has changed a lot. Before, there was no capacity to protect journalists, but now there is a journalist status, the body of journalists as a union and other associations do exist. There are channels that the journalist can use to be heard in case of accusations. In my day, it did not exist. Now, the press is free, but the press has to defend itself” The journalist must follow the basic rules of the profession”, states Cheick Mouctary Diarra, a Malian diplomat, politician and journalist.
For the advent of a free and independent press in Francophone West Africa, in addition to guaranteeing the journalist’s safety, the economic model of the media companies should be rethought. The reliance of the media on state aid to the private press or so-called fundings from hidden sources taints the credibility of the journalist.
In Côte d’Ivoire, media affiliated with political parties de facto espoused “political quarrels”. The public service press model is slowly fading away.
Social networks have today become the real space where debate and the confrontation of ideas take place.
Without freedom of expression, there cannot be real democracy. And in Francophone West Africa, the press, the Fourth Estate, must not be in the pay of power.