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EU-AU seek to set up a Pan-African “Media Observatory”, but will it fly?

Guy Berger's picture

African media is supposed to be served by a proposed a Pan-African “Observatory”, but it could be a target of the initiative.

This anticipated “Media Watch” is being driven by the Commissions of the European Union and the African Union. You can find information about it on a European Commission website.

If you want more, you can also try the email address on the site, DEV-MEDIA@ec.europa.eu. I tried this recently in search of answers for a column raising concerns about the plan.

No immediate response was forthcoming, so I approached a colleague who was able to give me a different email contact, again at the office of the European Commission.

In reply to my query there, I received a response from a person at the original DEV-MEDIA address. It read: “We are very keen to reply to the questions you sent […] but please let us a bit more of time.”

Four days later, and there is a detailed email response - at last the trail has led to an African (albeit using a hotmail address). The respondent is Habiba Mejri-Cheikh, the spokesperson for the African Union Commission.

She takes pains to present the Observatory initiative as African-driven:

“The African Union Commission and the European Commission are really working together as partners. The African Union's Commission is at the forefront on the thinking. The blueprint has been written by African experts and this document has been endorsed at the highest level by the AU Commission, namely President Ping. Commissioner Michel did also agree on this project of course but the AU Commission is at the forefront on this subject.”

That may be, but it is not exactly clear why this “African” document is online only at the European Union website.

At any rate, Mejri-Cheikh goes on to explain that the envisaged new body would “address claims and applications for remedy with the objective of settling disputes primarily through mediation”.

In terms of timing, “we are dreaming of a Pan-African Media Observatory for the beginning of next year.”

Responding to reservations expressed by media activists, Mejri-Cheikh says the Observatory would be independent.

In addition, the consultation period on the “blueprint” has been extended to the end of March.

But notwithstanding the consultation, the instigators are planning to proceed with the body. Mejri-Cheikh advises that there is funding committed to “launch studies and the thinking on the modalities to put in place the Panafrican Media Observatory”.

The commitment, she says, serves as “an indication of how seriously the project is taken at all levels”.

However, despite the EU-AU’s intention to proceed with the Observatory, it may be asked as to whether, even setting controversies aside, the initiative will actually take off.

According to the consultation document, the EU Commission will provide support on the condition that the AU Commission is involved and that it “shows the will to bring about change on the continent, in particular for the media.”

Going by the AU Commission’s recent relations with the media, that conditionality could be difficult to achieve.

In June 2007, the World Association of Newspapers congress in Cape Town invited the then Chair of the Commission to give the keynote address – without receiving a response.

In September that year, the same Commission proved unable to deliver as regards an agreed historic debate in Accra between The African Editors Forum and African heads of state.

If the AU has too much else on its hands, the continent’s media practitioners also have their work cut out for them just doing their job. The Observatory idea could just pass them by.

Column on this subject at the Mail & Guardian.

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