Stronger regulation should be the lever to eliminate those TV channels that do not meet high standards from the race, says OIF’s Tidiane Dioh
French organisations have played a key role in supporting both culture and media in Africa in a way that has little parallel amongst other former colonial powers. One of the key organisations is l'Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF for short in French). This week Balancing Act’s Broadcast Analyst Sylvain Beletre spoke to journalist and writer Tidiane Dioh, who heads up its media programme which supports radio and television in francophone Africa.
Q. What were the founding objectives of the OIF?
A. In March 1970 a few members of governments from ex-French colonies came up with the idea of a cultural and technical union between France and its former colonies (especially in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and in parts of Asia).
France had long dithered about joining the union by fear of criticism against what could be perceived as the continuity of its ex-colonial policy.
This entity later became the “International Organization of the Francophonie” (OIF). In 1997, the agency grew from a cultural union to a political cooperation in order to support a changing geopolitical ecosystem. Indeed, the fall of the Berlin wall and the rallying of some countries from Eastern Europe into the OIF changed the situation. Today, the voice of the Francophonie is now heard in all global debates and 14 countries of the European Union are members of the OIF.
Q. At a cultural level, what are the main activities of the OIF?
A. La Francophonie is present and represents artists from the South at all major Francophone cultural events such as at ‘the Cannes International Film Festival’, the FESPACO and so on.
Q. What are the specific activities of the OIF in the media sector?
A. Funding, advocacy and representation of the media are the basis of the action of the Francophonie in the media sector. Initially, the OIF focused on community radio welded around a single language, French. The OIF helped launch these community radios in most member countries. Later, it became clear that the democratization of media became a priority. Members of the OIF thought it was not normal that the media were not liberalized, particularly in Africa. The OIF has since accompanied these things despite extremely modest means.
The OIF continues to support the press - especially private newspapers upon request. These newspapers must meet strict conditions such as political independence in order to get grants from the OIF.
The organisation also noticed that national news agencies suffered from lack of means to allow their countries to resist the flow of information coming from the four corners of the world.
Regarding the TV sector, the OIF does not have the means to finance TV channels but it is rather focused on fostering networks between these TV channels. The OIF helped establish the RAPAF - the African Network of Francophones public TV channels - to help them for example negotiate TV programs - such as expensive football matches - at a lower costs and to establish best practices.
The OIF also supports the REFRAM - the network of regulatory bodies in French-speaking countries.
Q. What are the OIF’s activities on digital switchover in Africa?
A. « L’institut de la Francophonie numérique » located at OIF offices in Paris has been working on the transition to digital technology including in Africa. The department advises governments on technological and regulatory choices. The aim is to insure that regulatory bodies on the African continent have as much information on the transition as possible to implement a smooth transition. For example the OIF warns against distributors trying to sell digital products incompatible with a country’s digital technology choice.
Q. What is the point of view of the OIF regarding African media that extend their reach outside of their territories?
A. There are several types of African media. Firstly, there are African media installed in a city outside of Africa. This is the case with TV channels such as Voxafrica in London or Africa24 and Telesud in Paris.
The other type involves African media that have a pan-African or international address and which are trying to extend their audience via satellite and payTV networks.
In order for the latter type to survive, there is a minimum international standard to meet. Local media need to interest various audiences other than their local or national market.
Written media must also implement these standards especially if they are to position themselves on the internet. Local journalists should not forget that they write for everybody and they need to explain the context of their articles.
Q. What about better monetizing African content? Does it mean that African producers and broadcasters must open their geographical coverage and audience, and find new ways to get more advertising revenues?
A. I believe that strong regulation is the lever that will protect the African media. Once you override the moments of euphoria when the liberalization of media systems occurred, one must return to the fundamental of the media to meet a number of high standard. Stations that do not meet these criteria should be eliminated from the race. This will prevent excessive fragmentation of advertising budgets.
The accreditation of licences should be a role for the regulators. We need to see regulators being strict when it comes to cancelling a media licence. This type of strong regulation based on quality will clean up the sector and (help) form large African media groups. Quotas to protect local content must be put in place to prevent massive foreign invasion. It belongs to those who settle in Africa to adapt to the reality of the African countries.
Q. Regarding TV programmes’ piracy across Africa, do you consider it as a threat or as an opportunity?
A. I see it as a threat; any intellectual work must be respected and the entry ticket must be paid. Again this is related to strong regulation.
Q. In summary, what are the successes of the OIF in the media sector?
A. There are only 220 million French speakers (Data 2010, Observatory of the French language) vs. 7 billion people in the world. Nevertheless, the OIF is not ashamed of its balance sheet through its support and its influence with Francophone media groups available throughout the world such as TV5 Monde and AFP.
The article is a summary of a video interview in French which can viewed by clicking here.
Above: Balancing Act’s Broadcast Analyst Sylvain Beletre.
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