Radio broadcasting in Africa is struggling to keep up with the democratisation of the region, according to a special report in the latest issue (No. 1, 1995) of Index on Censorship. In the report, entitled "Making Waves", Richard Carver of ARTICLE 19 and Adewale Maja-Pearce of Index on Censorship say that "radio is the most effective means of disseminating information and ideas in Africa," since poverty and illiteracy render television and the press inaccessible to the majority of the population. "This is why African governments refused to open up the airwaves to private competition until the last two or three years, when the pressure for liberalization became too great to resist." The report says that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was one of the last to resist private radio, reportedly waiting until the end of 1994 to change his mind.
"Hate radio" is one of the outgrowths of relaxing the controls of the radio, the authors note. South Africa had been an exception to the region's ban on private radio, having had private stations since the 1970s. But this exception had its downside since right-wing Afrikaaners took advantage of the freedom of the airwaves to promote hatred. They further used broadcasts to incite their followers to violence, a tactic used by the now infamous Radio Mille Collines (RTLM) in Rwanda. The "Index" report argues that "If a waveband is being utilised by a station which is inciting its listeners to acts of violence, then a legitimate community or commercial broadcaster is being denied that same air space." Such occurrences indicate the necessity of an independent broadcast body to regulate access to the airwaves.
The report notes that freedom of expression becomes an issue when discussing restrictions on "hate speech," but points out that "hate radio" can cross the line between freedom of expression and incitement. "By this point the broadcasters had moved from the protection of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression, to the opprobrium of article 20, which prohibits advocacy of racial hatred and incitement to violence," write the authors.
Carver and Maja-Pearce conclude that commercial broadcasting has been opened up throughout Africa, "but the victory has proved a hollow one." They write, "As most governments have realised, the international community is more concerned with the form than the substance of political change." Thus, in most countries broadcasting licenses go to the ruling party's friends "who will reap advertising revenue from pop music shows or evangelise on behalf of fundamentalist religion." The crucial struggle now is to open up the publicly-funded national radio networks, and this will prove immeasurably more difficult.
"Making Waves" is a shorter version of a joint-publication entitled "Who Rules the Airwaves? A report on broadcasting in Africa" and is available from A19 for UK L9.99 + 2.40 post/US $15+ 3.60 post at 33 Islington High St, London N1 9LH; fax: +44 171 713 1356. Some copies are available free to countries of the South. To apply, send details of your organisation to Index at 33 Islington High St, London N1 9LH; fax: +44 171 278 1878.
The IFEX Communique is published weekly by the IFEX Clearing House, Toronto. The facility is operated by the Canadian Committee to Protect Journalists in partnership with the member organizations of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Material may be submitted to the Communique at E-mail: email@example.com; Fax: (1-416) 867-1034; or Tel: (1-416) 867-1638. Editor this week: Kristina Stockwood. Subscriptions are available by e-mail and surface mail.
AMARC - association mondiale des radiodiffuseurs communautaires
world association of community radio broadcasters
asociacion mundial de radios comunitarias
3575 boul. St. Laurent, Suite 704
Canada H2X 2T7
Tel: +(1-514) 982-0351
Fax: +(1-514) 849-7129