To match feature TELECOMS AFRICA RURAL
Mike Hutchings  /  Reuters file
A township resident chats on his mobile phone in Hout Bay near Cape Town.  
updated 1/15/2007 12:16:42 PM ET 2007-01-15T17:16:42

Sports and cell phones are helping to drive a massive growth in African media, giving consumers greater choice and building the potential to influence governance on the continent, a report said on Monday.

The African Media Development Initiative (AMDI) surveyed the media in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and found huge changes, with media outlets increasingly serving young people as well as rural and non-literate populations.

“The sector is weak, but there are grounds for optimism,” Stephen King, director of the BBC World Service Trust, said in a statement.

Cell phones showing huge growth
The survey found radio to be the dominant mass media channel across Africa, while television is far less available and newspapers still tend to concentrate on urban consumers.

But mobile telephones have shown spectacular growth across the continent, while the Internet is also beginning to make inroads and satellite sport channels are winning more and more viewers, the report said.

“Mobile telephones and the rapid roll-out of satellite sports channels, especially of football [soccer], have changed the way even very poor people consume information in Africa,” the report said.

Cell phones have been touted as a way to get news and information to ordinary Africans who cannot access the Internet via computers, although surfing the web on mobile phones has yet to take off in a big way on the continent.

Radio still dominates
The AMDI is one of the programs inaugurated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Africa Commission, which made its report in 2005 on ways to support development on the world’s poorest continent.

Strengthening Africa’s media is seen as an important part of the process, although the AMDI said in most African countries the media was neither strong nor independent enough to act as a watchdog on government and business.

Rapid population growth and burgeoning advertising markets are bolstering the growth of Africa’s media sector, although in most of the countries surveyed state radio remained the dominant media voice.

Commercial radio including religious broadcasters have nevertheless logged “large increases” in nine countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo which saw the number of private commercial stations rise to about 150 between 2000 and 2005.

Television remains less accessible for many Africans, although it is increasing its market penetration particularly as commercial television stations go on air.

Seven out of 12 countries that provided countrywide figures said more than 50 percent of the population watched television at least once a week.

Growth across the board
Many African newspapers are also growing, although most remain focused on urban areas and educated elites. In some countries including Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria, this is beginning to change with the emergence of tabloid-style “people’s newspapers” that are taking on established titles.

The AMDI report said the biggest growth area in African media was in mobile telephones, with 10 of the countries reporting compound annual growth rates of 85 percent or more.

Internet use was far lower, with an estimated 2 percent of the population in 10 countries currently able to get online. Only South Africa and Zimbabwe now have more than 5 percent of their population with access to the Internet.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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