African Broadcast and ICT players need updated regulatory framework to boost local Media Economy

Regulation & Policy

Start of June 2009, Sylvain Béletre, associate editor at Balancing Act interviewed international law firm Gide Loyrette Nouel for African "Broadcast, Film and Convergence" new update. International lawyers Olivier Cousi (partner, OC in the interview) and Leonard Vielle (senior associate, LV in the interview) from the Intellectual Property, Technology Media and Telecommunications (IP/TMT) department at Gide Loyrette Nouel, provided their view on the current African regulatory landscape and upcoming challenges.

Q: What does Gide Loyrette Nouel provide?

OC: Gide Loyrette Nouel is a leading international law firm, founded in Paris (France) in 1920 with more than 700 lawyers from 30 nationalities worldwide and providing global legal services including in the Media/Telecom sector. It has offices throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East (Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dahbi) and North America (New York), and Africa.

Q: Has Gide Loyrette Nouel been very active in Africa recently?

LV: Gide Loyrette Nouel has a strong presence in Africa and has been very active on the continent: The Tunis office was founded in 2001 followed in 2003, by the opening of the Algiers and Casablanca offices. Apart from its North-African offices, Gide offers dedicated services to its client in Africa working together with the best local law firms through the "Gide Afrique Network" (in Ivory Coast, Mali, Republic of Guinea, Senegal) or through "Lex Mundi", an international association regrouping independent law firms.

Q: Could you give us some examples of recent projects you have supported in Africa in the ICT/Media sector?

O.C: Our team has recently advised on three projects:

firstly, an African TV Channel in restructuring its activities and drafting some standard agreement relating to broadcasting, TV production and film making and transfer of rights;

secondly, an American TV Channel on the legal issues relating to the filming of a reality show in several African Countries (including privacy rights);

and thirdly. an African movie producer in the drafting and negotiation of international distribution and co-production agreements.

LV: We are also currently involved in various projects relating to the rolling out of high speed data network in Africa, including in Madagascar and in North and Central African Republic. We have also assisted the Tanzanian government in the drafting of the law applicable to the post, telecommunications and broadcasting sectors.

Q: What are some of the current and upcoming main legal subjects in the African broadcasting sector?

OC: The continuing growth of the media sector in Africa has incurred a recent significant increase of the supply and demand of media services in Africa. Major discrepancies can however still be observed between the African countries regarding the design of media and broadcast legislations and regarding their implementation, which bring about various legal issues to the players.

In particular, few French speaking African countries have established independent regulatory authorities and enacted rules regulating the broadcasting activities and media content. Failing to establish such authorities and rules may limit the development of competition in the broadcasting sector.

Regional/pan-African stakeholders may also face specific issues due to the lack of harmonization of national laws: Regulatory issues (several authorizations are requested), issues regarding content or the protection of their rights. Piracy is for instance a major issue as it determines the sustainability of the economic models of African broadcasters. Whereas regional rules have already been enacted in the telecommunications sector by organizations such as ECCOWAS or UEMOA, in the broadcasting and media field a considerable amount of work remains to be done. It is important for Policy Makers and Governments to keep up with the evolution of the sector and to ensure that the legal framework they are designing and implementing is paving the way to the growth of the sector's activities.

LV: Due to technological breakthrough and to convergence between media and telecom networks, the promotion of high broadband fiber networks in Africa is a key issue to enable and boost the development of media services. African countries together with regional and international organizations seem well aware of the importance of establishing such networks across the continent, in order to access submarine cables and broadcast services at reasonable prices. Some ongoing major projects are enabling such access (Eassy cable is one of them), and a few others are about to be launched such as a project currently considered by the CEMAC.

In terms of hertzian technologies, now that the first digital paid channels offerings have recently been launched by private operators, the conversion from analogue to digital terrestrial television (DTT) is a challenge to be anticipated by Broadcast players. Issues such as optimal spectrum allocation, absence of interference and population coverage, among others, are to be carefully considered.

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