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Digital for Development, what role for journalism?

11.07.2022

A media debate touched on the challenges and opportunities of reporting digital technologies’ impact on African societies
Localisation
Afrique

In recent years, Africa’s burgeoning tech sector has increasingly received attention from the continent’s media landscape, including both traditional media and new — and mostly digital — players. Specialised outlets have emerged to meet a growing thirst for stories on the innovations, key actors, and issues behind Africa’s digital transformation.

During a recent discussion which took place on the sidelines of the European Development Days 2022 between Daniel Adeyemi, Senior Writer at TechCabal, and Szymon Jagiello, Forbes Afrique Correspondent in Brussels, the two journalists shared their views on the role that media can play to ensure that digital technologies contribute to the well-being of all citizens.

The debate revealed journalists’ interest in covering the “big issues” and critical questions regarding digital technologies and their potential to promote sustainable and inclusive development in Africa. However, it also shed light on some of the challenges that might constrain these ambitions, from profitability to language barriers.

Positive signs

According to Jagiello, the prioritisation of the digital sector among African policymakers has led to an increase in media scrutiny on issues such as data protection, cybersecurity, and big tech regulation. “For example, the African Union adopted the Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection in 2014, and about 33 countries have already taken steps towards enacting laws in that direction,” he explained. Arguing how these measures have triggered public attention, he added: “Recently there was a cybersecurity conference in in Lomé, Togo, which attracted coverage from 30 or 35 media across the continent. This clearly signals the increased appetite from readers and the media.”

According to Adeyemi, there is indeed a growing interest to cover these issues. However, he warned that it remains a niche sector. “There is a lot of demand for stories on technology and how it is changing the continent, on the tools and solutions that make life easier, and also on the people behind it and role models. There is certainly an African public who understands the tech ecosystem and its potentials, and a critical mass. However, there is also a large section of the population who is unaware and lacks interest on what is at stake in the digital transformation,” said Adeyemi.

Making media profitable

Developing sustainable business models is a challenge for media outlets in all sectors all over the world, and tech journalism in Africa is not the exception.

Even though tech-focused outlets are multiplying across the continent, only a handful have succeeded in developing strong business models to grow, monetise their reporting, and recruit highly qualified correspondents to cover issues from the ground, explained Jagiello. Amongst them, Nigerian companies Big Cabal Media (parent company of TechCabal) and Stears Business successfully raised USD2.3 million and USD600,000 respectively from venture capitalists, which has helped them strengthen their reporting.

One of the solutions, according to Adeyemi, might be to develop more partnerships between media organisations, African companies, and other actors who could sponsor strategic content. Jagiello supported the idea, regretting that currently many African businesses prioritise foreign media for their advertising budget.

Finally, Adeyemi called for building bridges between the English and French speaking media landscapes and across sectors. “Media continues to operate along regional and linguistic silos,” Adeyemi said. “We need a more balanced perspective that will go beyond the language divide and can capture contributions from communities, businesses, development actors, and civil society,” he concluded.

Watch the debate: