Published by: GenderIT.org on 31/08/17
In the last week of July, Zimbabwe held its first Harare City Conversation, collaboratively facilitated by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and feminist organisations, Her Zimbabwe and Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL). City Conversations are one-day exchanges, hosted by APC in partnership with local organisations, which bring together activists from gender, sexuality, reproductive rights, digital and women’s rights and women human rights defenders sectors to discuss, expand and localise the Feminist Principles of the internet (FPIs). Participants for this particular conversation included feminists in journalism, visual art, internet rights activism, digital security, movement building, as well as sex and sexuality rights activism.
The Zimbabwean context of private and public expression
The lines between individuals’ private and public life are growing thinner everyday as we spend more and more time on the internet. Feminists at the conversation agreed there is general lack of awareness of the consequences and potential risks that come with being online, especially with the painful reality that “the internet doesn’t forget”.
While internet penetration in Zimbabwe stood at 50.1% at the end of 2016, the country Regulators Quarterly Telecommunications Sector performance reports1 do not give gender-disaggregated data on use. However, recent regional statistics reveal a wide gender gap in internet use on the continent in spite of women constituting almost 52% of the continent’s population. Just a simple scan of Zimbabwe indicates that fewer women own personal gadgets, are computer, security and internet literate and/or openly and actively utilise the internet to engage.
In addition – as with a number of other African countries – patriarchy is continuously visible in Zimbabwe’s private and public spheres. Media rights monitors have noted that, in general, coverage by the mainstream Zimbabwean media of the voices of women remains low, biased and in some instances, sexist.
A key consideration, as eloquently expressed by one participant, was the need for social media platforms, especially, to establish local partnerships that would simplify, promote and translate terms and conditions of their use into local languages in order to increase women’s ability to make decisions online and report abuse of their private content.
Within the ambit of access, the FPIs highlight equal access to internet, unrestricted relevant information on sexual and reproductive health and rights and the use of technology for creativity and expression, as well as challenging sexism and discrimination. On expression, the FPI calls for use of the internet to amplify women’s narratives in resistance to existing oppressive governance, religious and other extremist ideologies and monopolies that have silenced women over time. As such, it would seem access and expression are intertwined. The two also are evocative of restrictions imposed on African societies in the colonial past in respect to accessing information and free expression. As was observed during the conversation, Zimbabwe has a vast inheritance of colonial legislation – such as the Sexual Offences and the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act – that continue to dictate and contradict standards of sexual access and expression.
As such, it would seem access and expression are intertwined. The two also are evocative of restrictions imposed on African societies in the colonial past in respect to accessing information and free expression.Zimbabwe has a vast inheritance of colonial legislation – such as the Sexual Offences and the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act – that continue to dictate and contradict standards of sexual access and expression.
One of the contentious issues that was discussed was around the definition of pornography. As one participant observed, it is difficult for women whose private intimate images are leaked to the public to seek recourse to justice as they too are potentially liable for the production of ‘pornography’ through reporting such violations. Online movements online, more than just pushing a hashtag Currently the ruling and political elite in Zimbabwe are on a drive to curb free expression and organising on social media through threats against dissenting views on social media and surveillance of social pages of targeted individuals. Following years of criminalisation of offline dissent, citizens themselves have also begun to police each other online with reports being made leading to the arrests and/or questioning of individuals, or the disruption of organised resistance or action. Naturally, fewer women and sexual minorities would initiate or support politicised causes publicly.
Following years of criminalisation of offline dissent, citizens themselves have also begun to police each other online with reports being made leading to the arrests and/or questioning of individuals, or the disruption of organised resistance or action. Naturally, fewer women and sexual minorities would initiate or support politicised causes publicly.
It was agreed that that movements are not ‘just moments’ but sustained build-up of years of awareness raising for consciousness and sustained action. The significance of online social movement, #ThisFlag that started in May 2016 by a Pastor, Evan Mawarire in response to the continuing deteriorating socio- economic and political environment cannot be understated. Pastor Evan posted an emotive video online reflecting on the contradictions of the lived realities of Zimbabweans today against the promises made to the Zimbabwean people at independence in 1980. He ran parallels of this reality against the symbolism of the colours of the country’s flag. The video became the launch of a movement that commands a following of over 62,000 on Facebookand over 22,000 on Twitter. Daily members of the movement speak and organise against mis-governance in the country. Image Source: Spoondog on DeviantArt. CC license Attribution No Derivatives Non commercial. #ThisFlag movement has often been cited as having been in the forefront and most significant player in the organising of the country’s first citizen led nationwide stayaway in July 2016. Its impact cannot be measured in the absence of the context of the mobilising and organising that other sectors such as civil society, labour unions and feminist activists have initiated over the years. However, #ThisFlag popularised this resistance internationally and shone light on the multiple oppressions prevalent in Zimbabwe. Possibly the main reason why the movement is less visible just over a year after its launch is its failure to link up with older movements, that include civil society, the women’s movement and the state opposition in order to tackle relevant issues in sustained action.
Movements are not ‘just moments’ but sustained build-up of years of awareness raising for consciousness and sustained action.
Issues discussed during the Conversation confirmed that while a feminist internet is possible, the internet is an extension of the offline space; it is political and fraught with complex power dynamics. Yet amid all these challenges, a feminist internet still remains possible. The possibilities are in the ability of women and the queer community to identify the connections between offline and online realities, mark moments strategically and push for space for expression around rights on the internet and beyond.
The internet is an extension of the offline space; it is political and fraught with complex power dynamics. Yet amid all these challenges, a feminist internet still remains possible.
The HIGH COURT’S decision to grant Kwese TV satellite television services rights in Zimbabwe has been hailed, by media practitioners.
Another serious call to the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) to licence community radio initiatives was made at a community meeting held in Kariba recently, hosted by Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio Initiative and facilitated by Misa Zimbabwe (Koliwe Nyoni)
Following conversations at this years annual Deutsche Welle Akademie (DW) Global Media Forum held under the theme, Identity and Diversity. I have taken time to reflect on the two concepts and how they relate to each other especially with the evolution of the media globally brought about by the internet. Having worked for a regional media rights advocacy group, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, for almost a decade now, I interact daily with the complexity of achieving diverse and plural media on the African continent. I have also taken time to reflect on diversity for the mainstream media in the Global North. What is interesting across the globe, is how the internet has made audiences active consumers,with the capability to create content that offers counter narratives, and forms new identities as geographical boundaries are continuously collapsed. But media diversity is not just a black and white issue. It takes many forms: diversity in the ownership patterns of those licensed, diversity in the distribution of content in different languages and on different platforms and diversity in the issues covered based on both geographical and interest communities. Interest communities include gender, racial, cultural, religious and political groups. Ultimately, all these forms of media diversity must complement each other, to ensure that a wider cross-section of the society is catered for in terms of ownership of, access to and representation by the media. Diverse mainstream media a pipe dream? Africa has a long standing history of civil society campaigns for a media that bridges information gaps through a variety media platforms and that cater for different political, racial, religious, gendered expression and opinion. However, varying governmental, political, and corporate forces continue to hinder the achievement of a diverse media on the continent through the licensing of partisan players and/or the control of media content. Although African governments have made commitments to open up the media, continuing media rights violations over the past two decades indicate a lack of sincerity by governments to continental commitments to democratise the media. The demands for media diversity that allows for multiple opinions have remained the same from the signing of the Windhoek Declaration on promoting an independent and pluralistic media in 1991 to the current day African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, which has come to the fore in the face of increasing internet shutdowns on the continent. Interestingly, in some African countries, the demarcation between working for the state and the private media has split the sector to a point that journalists are reluctant to put up a unified front in the face of violations to their profession. Although South African journalists, last year stood unified in protest against censorship and suspensions, at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), it is not characteristic of journalists in other African country’s. Last week only a handful of freelance and independent journalists marched in silent protest in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare against police brutality on journalists conducting their work. Journalists from the state-media did not show their support in anyway.
At face value, the increase in the number of players in the media industry on the continent since the oldest African nation, Ghana’s independence in 1957, gives a semblence of diversity. The reality however, is that despite an increase in the number of players in both the print and broadcast media, ownership patterns, content, language and editorial policy reflect a different story. At the centre of this challenge is the death of the public media, as it disregards its public service mandate and serves government interests. This is an unfortunate trend that has grossly affected the quality of information made available to citizens and as a result thwarted their participation in important national issues. Public media still remains the most accessible form of media for the majority on the continent. Governments interference in especially the affairs of public broadcasters has compromised the extent to which these broadcasters can genuinely represent the identity and interests of the people. The long standing pressure for a probe into the governance, mismanagement and poor performance of SABC is a case in point. Over the years, the public broadcaster, once viewed as the best performing on the continent, has been accused of censoring news. This it has done through the ban of the coverage of opposition political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and of ‘sensitive’ events such as the violent service delivery protests held in the country last year. The scenario obtains also in Zimbabwe. In 2015, a forensic audit by KPMG of the country’s public broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) pointed to gross mismanagement and malpractice that had resulted in its near collapse. Since the report was tabled before parliament, there has been no movement on the recommendations. The broadcaster continues to be partisan in its reportage, and is in fact expected to launch more channels on completion of the country’s digital migration from analogue to digital broadcasting. The responsible minister, has failed to appear before the Media Parliamentary Portfolio Committee four times this year alone, to respond to progress on ZBC. Independent broadcasters have not been spared from the censorship. In July last year, the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) issued a memo to all broadcasters hindering the coverage of the demonstrations in the country sparked by a nationwide stay away popularised on social media. The authority stated that coverage of the stay away would “incite, encourage or glamorise violence or brutality”. In Zambia, government suspended the broadcasting licences of two community radio stations, Kombani Radio and Itezhi Tezhi and private television player, Muvi TV, over broadcasting of content deemed to threaten “national peace and stability”. Media ownership is another sticky issue. The current media ownership patterns on the continent, simulate precedent colonial controls or monopolies. Over the years, African licensing authorities, appointed by and with very strong ties to the government, have tended to license mainly entities with strong political ties to the government of the day. For instance, in Rwanda the government controlled media licensing body, the Media High Council is accused of licensing mostly players that will tow the line. As Rwandas public sector remains the largest advertiser, survival of the media is, naturally, dependent on support for President Kagames government. In Zimbabwe, the bias in the licensing of independent local commercial radio stations in March 2015, came to light, when it emerged that two of the new licensees, Capitalk FM and Nyaminyami FM, licensed under Kingstons limited, are in actual fact, under the state controlled media stable, Zimpapers. Cross ownership was initially prohibited in the country’s Broadcasting Act, but was amended and has resulted in the concentration of ownership by especially government entities. Diversity up North? In the Global North, diversity and plurality in are prominent in debates of representation of racial minorities, sustainability of the mainstream media and ownership. Last year, it was interesting to observe the finalisation of the debate on whether or not to amend media laws to allow TV-newspapers the same market cross-ownership in Australia. Although the Federal Communications Commission eventually voted to continue the 40 year old ban on cross ownership, interesting issues were raised in respect of diversity. One of the arguments was that social media has brought the diversity sought in the media for years and that allowing cross ownership in the mainstream would ‘not harm’ the sector, but rather rescue failing newspapers to be more sustainable. Other quarters felt that it was important to evaluate whether corporate interests of the mainstream media were more important than preserving control of media distribution in the public interest. Following the awarding of this year DW Press Freedom Award to White House correspondents, I was interested in exploring the extent to which proximity to the White House has enabled reporters to adequately cater for America’s diverse society. It emerges that the absence of correspondents of colour at the White House has been ‘the elephant in the room’ throughout different administrations. No doubt this has a bearing on the inclusion of minorities in mainstream policy debates. Three months after his election, President Trump, proved this to be the case after he asked African-American White House Correspondent, April Ryan to arrange a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus after she asked whether he would consult them on urban policy. President Trump implied that because April is black, she must know the blacks in the caucus, because all blacks know each other and have the same interests! Mainstream’ media versus the ‘Peoples’ media Speaking at the proceedings of the opening ceremony of the Global Media Forum, UNESCO Director General, Frank La Rue, noted that the mainstream media have been left behind by the coming in of social media mainly because of the desire to remain sole arbitrar of news. Social networking platforms Facebook, WhatsApp Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter, which ranked among the top ten social media applications globally in January 2017, have increased the reach of alternative news and opinions. The monopolies of officialdom, gatekeeping privileges and boundaries of editorial policy news are equally broken. Audiences generate their own content and have opinions that carry the day through retweets, shares and likes. The diversity in the social media platforms has ensured that geographic boundaries and marginal interest communities find an alternative platform to engage. This is a definite threat to the hegemony that the mainstream media has enjoyed for centuries through propaganda, misinformation and selective representation. It is no wonder that the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ has been coined to counter this ‘smaller’ more vociforous media, which is to an extent, equally as partisan. Fluidity of identities online vs stagnant tradition identities Could social media be the solution to our search of legitimate representation of our diverse identities as citizens and consumers of a globalised media? The mainstream media has carried traditionally acceptable free expression, gender, sexuality and political ideologies, especially in respect of national identity. Having been born and currently residing in independent Zimbabwe, I am exposed, to a highly polarised media environment, dominated by a ruling political elite, who over the years have defined and set the parameters for the identity of patriotic nationals. Attempts to ‘reclaim’ Zimbabwean identity on social media have oft been labelled a part of a regime change agenda, that seeks to reverse the gains of a ‘hard earned’ independence.
However, the internet has no respect for tradition. By increasing their interaction time and creativity online, new media has demonstrated that audiences in their diversity are capable of shaping discourse and challenging the mainstream to step up. Because of the comfort of the ‘safety net’ of anonymity, citizens are able to form multiple identities that enable them to engage more freely on issues of public interest unfolding in their locality and globally. To a larger extent, the emergence of the new media has provided alternatives to the mainstream conversation and makes an attempts to bridge the gaps of officialdom. However, as more and more leaders find themselves online there is a thin line between the mainstream and the alternative. It will be interesting to observe how the case President Trump’s Twitter account unfolds after the ruling by the Federal Court a few days ago, prohibiting office bearers from blocking social media users from their accounts on the basis of their views. The major question, of course, being whether Trumps personal account will qualify as a public page as the official United States Presidential Twitter account, @POTUS does exist. It can be argued though that the president does not engage actively on public policy on the official account. So in a sense public officials may carry over the same censorship they employ in their official capacity offline on their private online accounts, despite having the opportunity to be exposed and reach out to a wider audience for diverse opinions. Social media giving diverse identities a platform? At a City Conversation on the Feminist Principles of Internet held in Harare recently someone said that they enjoyed Tumblr more than any other social media platform as it is more tolerant of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer(LGBTQ) community. Another said she never engages on popular Zimbabwean Women’s Facebook group, Pahushamwari hwedu, meaning As friends, because more often than not, conversations go viral, and expose members. A number of people are on multiple WhatsApp groups primarily because they cannot be ‘themselves’ on ‘others’. We should start thinking about whether or not social media genuine offers the space for diverse identities or is it just a temporary facade. We must also remain aware of the contradictions and implications of media organisations such as Buzzfeed, the New York Times, and the Guardian signing deals to produce live content on Facebook Live. Already Facebook has received criticism on censorship such as the pulling down of The Activist Mommy page after bible scriptures were quoted against homosexuality. The Facebook LGBTQ page is also said to be unavailable in countries where homosexuality is illegal. It may be safer to say that diversity, whether in the mainstream, online and social media must be contested and re-contested particularly as the line between the them gets thinner. Corporate interests are always at play. At the same time, the struggle for the representation of the diverse identities of consumers of media must continuously be negotiated to a point where what we consume and produce in the public interest is universally acceptable as well as openly contestable.
We need to have an honest and open conversation about sex and sexuality in digitised Africa!
Given the evolution of African cultural norms and the changing media environment, the trends on access to, censorship and regulation of sexual content on the continent, must be confronted openly and realistically.
It is time to stop treating sex and sexuality issues with conservatism. Africans have sex! The ‘with who’, ‘why’ ‘how’ and ‘to what end’ which, yesterday was not spoken about openly, and with not just ‘anybody’, today blatantly pops up on the screens of our mobile phones and television sets in different forms, with or without our consent. Africans are consumers of global media, made easily accessible daily via Digital satellite television (DSTV) and the internet. As a result their view of the world is different today than it was, say, two decades ago.
A significant number of African countries openly recognise only heterosexual relationships. 33 of the 54 African countries have laws that criminalise same sex relationships. Within the scope of heterosexual relationships, the chastity of women is valued with very little recognition of their individual sexual and reproductive rights. Generally, women on the continent regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation, are in the majority of the sexual and gender group that carries the consequences of a society where patriarchal norms govern and characterise sexual behaviors.
Sexual offences, obscenity, content or censorship laws run afoul of free expression and access to information rights. This is because they border on indecency and obscenity, which are usually, largely defined by morality, culture and religion; in most instances, these yardsticks are not standard even in a single community.
Other characteristics of our African societies include the lack of honest family level and institutional adolescent sex education; intolerance of the gay, lesbian and trans community and little opportunity for women’s discussions on sex and sexuality . Abortion is illegal or immoral and sex work, despite being a highly ‘demanded’ service, is criminal.
In the past two years, the aforementioned laws, the morality question and the rise in access to the internet have made for interesting observation in as far as efforts to regulation sexual content in Africa’s mainstream media is concerned.
The naked truth
Sex and sexuality issues can no longer be kept under the wraps. You just need to watch television to prove it!
Children’s viewing has evolved. A couple of years back, cartoon cat and mouse characters, Tom and Jerry innocently chased each other in an endless battle. In the series I watched with my eight-year old daughter last Monday on DSTV’s Boomerang a ‘small and beautiful’ She-cat, as my daughter described her, distracts Tom. Similarly, teenage television viewing borders on relationships. Any parent who takes time to sit and watch popular teen series’ Jessie on the Disney Channel and Henry Danger on Nickelodeon, knows that more often than not, episodes will depict the complexities of teenage dating. Together with the internet, the television is, in a sense, the new sex ed class for our teenagers.
This makes a folly of two recent developments on the continent.
Last year, Kenya was at the forefront of what led to the continental ban of an episode of cartoon series, The Loud House, on Nickelodeon. The country’s Film Classification board caused the ban after complaining that the series featured an animated gay couple. Earlier Nigeria had caused a continental pull down of the second season of reality show I am Cait from E! Entertainment. Last month, media reports indicated that Kenya had called for a ban of yet another seven cartoons on three children’s channels for being ‘pro-gay’ and ‘normalising, glamorising or even glorifying homosexual behaviour’, a trend they noted as damaging ‘family’.
It must be noted that a request by one African country for a pull down of any show on DSTV has implications on the entire continent. This is because, in most instances, some of the channels and content providers have one feed for the entire continent. This is the case for Viacom International Media Networks Africa (VIMN Africa) and NBC Universal International Networks, that provided the aforementioned shows. While other providers like M-Net have regionalised channel feeds for South, East and West Africa in order to satisfy regulatory codes in the regions, it may still be a challenge in other regions. Take for instance, Southern Africa where approaches to sex and sexuality and sexual content differ from one country to another. South Africa has legalised same sex marriages and revised its Sexual Offences legislation to grant rights to children between the ages of 12 and 15 to consent to sexual acts with each other. Next door, in Zimbabwe, same sex relationships are outlawed, and even the distributing contraception in schools was declared a No, No!. As a result, recent reports rated Zimbabwe as having the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Sub Saharan Africa. Within that scope, a move to ban sexual content may deprive South African citizens of content that would be acceptable in their society.
In the second development, which is in fact more recent , Ghanaians last month petitioned the country’s media regulator, the National Media Commission, to stop the screening of pornographic movies on three free-to-air television channels stating that by showing these, the channels disregarded ‘constitutional responsibility’. The regulator found the channels lacking in as far as meeting media decency standards. The country’s Minister of Information, Mustapha Hamid reportedly said that within the African context it was ‘incorrect’ to show the movies.
Is this to say sex, in its varying forms, and sexuality issues have never been a part of our mainstream media consumption on the continent?
As I reflected on the dimensions of sexuality on television in the past, I immediately remembered one of my favourite TV shows in the 1980’s, My two dads. Upon much reflection, I came to the realisation that the show was, in actual fact, about same sex parenting. While, I admit, that, at no given time were we driven to think that there may have been a sexual relationship between Michael and Joey (the two dads), my conclusion is that, there were no issues raised about the show, only because at the time, the queer society was definitely ‘invisible’. The show, therefore passed as innocent, in spite of the ‘inappropriateness’ of the story line, within the African context where a girl is raised by two men that her mother dated when she was conceived. Their co-parenting was based the uncertainty of which one of the two was her biological father.
Furthermore, publication of private intimate images of political activists in the mainstream media in order to discredit or silence them in politically related ‘attacks’, begs the question on who has rights to, and when is acceptable to publish sexual content. Never mind the scandal behind their publication, it has implications on individual rights to privacy.
Zimbabwe’s state media has quite a reputation with this tactic. After he resigned from Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, in June 2016, former youth leader, Acie Lumumba’s intimate images were published by the state-owned tabloid, H-Metro. This followed his vocal criticism of the party and its leader Robert Mugabe after he left the party. The leak of the images extracted from a sex tape followed a search his residence by the police. In one interview Lumumba said that the leak of his images on social media and in the mainstream, were an attempt to silence him.
Earlier, in 2007, the country had woken up to the country’s precedent case of the mainstream media publishing sexually explicit content when state owned newspaper, The Chronicle, published intimate images of Catholic cleric and critic of Robert Mugabe, Archbishop Pius Ncube. Archbishop Ncube, who was involved in an adulterous relationship with one of the congregants, submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI , following what he termed a state-driven, vicious attack on not just his person, but by proxy the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe.
Enter the World Wide Web
The internet has presented itself as an alternative platform to overcome the aforementioned restrictive laws on publishing of especially content that relates to diverse sexualities. The relatively affordable cost, ease of publication and access to this content has made the internet very important for the publication of sexual content.
Marginalised groups have space on the internet which they would have never known in the mainstream, to express themselves, resist and mobilise support. Take for instance the online call by the Coalition of African Lesbians for contributions to the Southern African Charter on Access to health; which call recognised of the lack of access to affordable and accessible health services, including HIV related services for sexuality and gender-marginalised groups.
Also interesting, is the launch and rise in popularity of Nigerian feminist, Iheoma Obibi’s women’s online sex shop Intimate pleasures . The shop also provides sex education and awareness sessions online under the hashtag #Sextalk.
However, the same internet, and especially social media, has replicated offline violations in the distribution of sexual content. This time by the users themselves as they continue to violate each other’s rights through invasion of individual privacy and violence based on sexual identities. As a result there is a continuing a trend of discrimination and criminalisation of sexual expression. Chief among these is the emergence of revenge pornography.
The parameters of what defines pornography must be made clear because it continues to shadow the importance of
sexual content in our societies today. Appreciating that morality can no longer be a basis to guide the extent to which sex and sexuality rights are exercised, would be a step in the ‘real’ direction. That the imposition of measures to suppress or restrict broadcasting of sexual content, such as same-sex marriage, rights to legal abortions, sex workers and sex education, will preserve our Africanness is a fallacy. African cultural identity is not static, it is fluid.
The continued existence of sexual offences and censorship laws with obscur pornography and obscenity provisions is problematic. While we are in agreement on the protection of children against pornographic content, we need to decide whether censorship, of any kind, on other sex and sexuality content for consenting adults is feasible. In this technologically converged global media environment maybe African governments need to realistically weigh the costs of censoring what they classify sexual content against the citizens rights to access content of their choice, privacy of communications and free expression and opinion.
Lastly, it is clear that within the scope of national, regional and continental multi-stakeholder internet governance processes, Africa finds itself faced with varying paradoxical socio cultural realities as it attempts to maintain strict reigns on the production and circulation of sexual content. Given the amount of debate on revenge pornography across the continent, the slow pace in its criminalisation is disturbing. People have rights to take and share images of their intimacy with who they chose in confidence. What is problematic, is the malicious distribution of those images without consent, and with the intention of causing harm or damage to another persons reputation. It is not a morality issue. It is a rights issue. As it is, some of the existing anti-obscenity laws on the continent fall short in the protection of victims and prosecution of perpetrators of some of sexual crimes. To date most victims of revenge pornography have found themselves equally liable to the sexual offence of production of ‘pornography’. If the law supposes that, then it is apparent then that ‘the law is a ass, a idiot!’
African governments need to be a lot more sincere about embracing the benefits of a digital broadcasting environment that the completion of the migration from analogue transmission is set to bring on the continent.
Over a decade after the World Radio Communication Conference resolution for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting services, and two years after the International Telecommunications Unions(ITU) mandated deadline for switch off from analogue to digital television broadcasts, the continent continues to battle. Some African governments have remained extremely short-sighted about the process and continue to understand the implications, planning and funding the aspects of migration from either political and/or vested commercial interest points of view.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) set this June as a new deadline for its states to complete migration. How the region fares will be interesting in that it will either influence or allow reflection on progress in the other regions. In East Africa Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have already fully migrated, while in the South Malawi, Tanzania and Namibia have taken the lead. However, it is the failure by the continents two strongest economies, Nigeria and South Africa to meet the ITU deadline, that is not only worrisome but remains telling of the realities and challenges in the face of this digital reality.
Politicisation of the process
Africa needs to recognise that digital migration is more of a ‘developmental’ than ‘political’ process. However, coming from a background where controls on the creation and distribution of information, opinion and the media are characteristic, it comes as no surprise that the process is entangled in political sensitivities, monopolistic tendencies and lack of consultation.
Despite their critical role in the process some African governments have kept a complete ‘grip’ on digital migration, often having a bias on select aspects of the process over the others, depending on which one best suits their interests. This has led to uneven attention on the policy and regulation, technical , consumer interests and spectrum issues of migration as they relate to migration within their jurisdictions.
Realistic opening up of funding channels
While funding of the transition and eventual switch over, have been cited as the biggest hurdles on the continent, it is also possible to conclude that this is largely because African governments have not been open enough to explore the options available.
Of late the talk is on the adoption of Public Private Partnerships (PPP) as a possible solution for the financing of digital migration in Africa. Currently Chinese pay-TV provider StarTimes Network technology Group, South African Gotv and Inview Technology Limited have emerged front runners in partnering states like Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and possibly the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Ivory Coast on digital migration efforts. However, PPPs may not be an ideal for not so liberal states, as the option is premised on a mutually beneficial agreement that allows a financier to run the channels for a period before handing them over to the government.
Keeping tabs on the way that the partnership pan out is critical at this moment as it will define their future on the continent. Already there have been hiccups as seen in the precedent breaching of a US$97million contract by the Ghanaian government with the StarTimes.
The sale of the digital dividend spectrum is another financing option. Digital dividend spectrum is made available by the transition of terrestrial television broadcasting from analogue to digital and its sale should be through public auction. So far sale of spectrum in Africa has had its fair share of controversy with the lack of transparency in its auctioning and lack of clarity the custodian of the spectrum where the broadcasting or telecommunications regulation remains fragmented.
In Nigeria former president, Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 sparked controversy when he directed the regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to allocate spectrum at only US$15million to internet service provider, Cyberspace, run by one of the countries richest businessmen, Jim Ovia. After Ovia returned the spectrum, its sale to MTN last year has also not been spared the controversy.
In Zimbabwe, the US$200million sale of the spectrum, said to be key in the financing of the country’s migration, went to state owned Mobile Network Operator (MNO), Netone. Following failure by the MNO to honour payment plan, government seems to be dragging its feet on the re-auctioning of the spectrum. In an appearance before the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Media, Information and Broadcasting Services in July last year, Finance Minister, Patrick Chinamasa said that the value of the spectrum would have to be revisited as it had been subsidised to suit sale for a government entity.
The lack of transparency around sale of the spectrum and guidelines on regional pricing, overshadows the fact that Africa was the first region to come up with a harmonised band plan for digital dividend bands. African digital migration plans should have included clear spectrum issues – its use, timelines for clearing the band and awarding to potential buyers.
Why inclusivity matters
Buy in from all broadcasting stakeholders increases the chances of a not only smooth but a successful transition. Africa’s lack of inclusivity in the process is evident in the lack of adequate preparedness on switch off and number of courts cases over various aspects of digital migration in a significant number of countries.
In 2015, South African government departments ‘fought’ over oversight of the process, and then a year later there was
the furore between eTV, M-Net and government over the encryption of set-top boxes. In March last year, three of Kenya’s major broadcasters Nation Television , Kenya Television Network and Citizen TV stopped broadcasting after the Communications Authority switched off their analogue frequencies. In Tanzania and Rwanda there was a blackout on television as people had not acquired set top boxes by the switch off. That disputes arise with such ferocity and with much public outcry is an indication of governments poor consultation with broadcasting stakeholders and consumer rights groups from the onset.
Game of control
It is also very clear that in most jurisdictions underlying contestations around the licensing of players, and ultimately control of the sector are a reality. In Kenya, the licensing of only two signal carriers Signet, a subsidiary of the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation and Chinese-owned company Pan African Network Group were a source of controversy as broadcasters said they lacked trust in the two. It must be agreed that while the adoption of a ‘wholesale’ distribution model as adopted by Kenya is set to ease costs on infrastructure, the fact that licensees are linked to government raises genuine concerns on censorship and control.
In Zimbabwe, the censorship and control aspects come in the form of the notable silence on the licensing of private independent television players. According to the digital migration plan, six of the twelve television channels were initially meant to be occupied by private broadcasters. However, it seems that the country’s US$200 million digital migration investment is a mere opportunity for the government to further entrench its monopoly on television broadcasting via the state controlled public broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and the uniformed forces which will be awarded one of the independent channels.
Fears of liberalising the broadcasting and telecoms sectors, it seems, will haunt Africa for longer than we anticipated. They will be carried over into the digital era as measures are put in place for governments to control content distribution.
Content issues are money issues
But African governments must not forget that either way citizens will have to pay for content. Whether payment will be made through monthly subscriptions as seen in Tanzania and Rwanda or licence fees as anticipated with free digital television in Nigeria, it must be worth it! Digital migration is the opportunity that the continent has been waiting for to exploit and represents new opportunities for utilising and distributing Africa content.
What Africa needs in this new digital era are solid local content policies that will not only boost radio and television content producers and existing broadcasters economically; but also preserve African culture through the promotion of the diverse locally created content. This will undoubtedly reduce expenditure on imported programming. Content policies should take into consideration digital content production, commissioning, distribution channels that have shifted owing to the technological advancements in the industry.
In the past, demands for equality, good governance, justice and recognition of human rights on the continent seemed a preserve for opposition political players, civil society and in some instances, the traditional ‘private’ media. However, with the growth of mobile telephony and internet in Africa, that monopoly has been unbundled. The monopoly on the dissemination of information, free opinion and expression, organising and mobilisation is dead and buried.
Personally, I feel that the current internet governance processes on the continent are a litmus test of the extent to which Africans can engage on an equal footing on critical socio, economic and political issues. The rhetoric at a global level has resulted in a ‘simulation’ of the multi-stakeholder model across the continent through the National Internet Governance Forums (IGFs) that bring governments to interface with civil society, technologists, the private sector and ‘netizens’ to reach consensus on the development, use and governance of the Internet.
However, the ‘traditional’ culture of governance dominated by central government and affiliate institutions in the formulation of policy and regulation continues to present challenges and obstruct full and equal participation of stakeholders in people-centered governance.
Within the context of internet governance, government represented by the ministry of ICT’s and the relevant regulators, are key players in the formulation of Internet policy and regulation. In some cases, government spearheaded and dictates the pace in the processes often masking their dominance in insincere consultative processes.
It is crucial for governments to shift their view of the internet needing the same ‘controls’ imposed on traditional media. The Internet aids participatory democracy and opportunities to reach out to a populace without the geographical, transmission and circulation limitations seen in government interaction via the mainstream media. Unlike the media, it allows opportunities to engage and enhance citizen participation in national processes. This may initially be challenging as some governments, are not as open, transparent and accountable as expected, but it is undoubtedly an opportunity for change.
As governments are in the spotlight and face pressure for more open governance. Their response has, in some instances, come as varying forms of Internet censorship through total or partial shutdowns, state-sponsored surveillance and arrests and/or detention of bloggers, activists and ordinary citizens exercising rights online. Extreme cases of such censorship has been witnessed on the continent in the shutdown of the Internet in Egypt in 2011 , the 12-hour Internet curfew imposed in Gabon this September and the current Internet shutdown in Ethiopia following massive protests in the Oromia province.
Role of civil society
African Civil society must strengthen support channelled towards governments in the promotion of human rights. Human rights are not alien to governments, as they are signatory to a number of conventions and charters, all hinged on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Within the Internet governance framework, government needs support in interacting with the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms which aims to promote human rights and openness in policy making and implementation of the policies. This interaction must include placing mechanisms in policy and law to ensure the full promotion of rights online during the implementation.
Admitedly, the relationship between African civil society and governments is largely antagonistic. This is because, civil society has played ‘devils advocate’ in its watchdog role and attempts to balance governance in the public interest. In Zimbabwe, for instance, government views civil society as having a ‘regime change’ agenda.
With that in mind, civil society must, within its mandate strategically position itself as a technical partner to government. Over the years, civil society has become integral in policy debates, norms, standard setting processes and governance arrangements at both national and supranational level. This position requires the employing of diplomatic strategies for lobby and engagement with government in consensus building processes.
According to Paradigm Initiative Nigeria Director, Gbenga Sesan cordial relationships between civil society and government in Nigeria have seen significant adoption of civil society proposals in ICT policy and Internet governance processes. This process can be achieved by identifying individuals in political party structures or parliament that can influence adoption of progressive policies.
Alternative lobby approaches are an acknowledgement that while multistakeholderism strategy brings everyone together, power dynamics still exist. It is not only enough to participate, but it is critical to influence.
‘African lives do matter’ and the media that must ensure people are central by raising awareness on their socio, economic and political rights and their centrality in development and governance.
Reporting internet policy is complex mainly because of the conflicting interests of the key stakeholders. These include the interests of the government in the context of ‘national security’ and ‘public order’. It also includes private sector interests of profiteering, licensing conditions and operations in fragile states following social mobilization as witnessed in the 2011 Arab Spring and subsequent an online social movements #FeesMustFall in South Africa and Zimbabwe’s #ThisFlag.
Noting their role at the intersection of human rights and cyberspace, media must be vigilant in understanding, articulating and contextualising , not only cyberlaws, but other national laws that may violate citizens’ rights in contradiction to constitutional provisions. It is unacceptable for media not to appreciate internet governance issues, especially with the ubiquity of information available online.
The media must guard against propagandising digital rights through misinformation. Media lobby and advocacy organisation, MISA-Zimbabwe, in August 2016 noted misleading reports by the state print and public broadcaster on what constitutes cyber terrorism. The repercussions of such poor and biased reportage are fear and self-censorship in the exercise of citizen rights to free expression, association and accessing information. In the long run, such reporting will result in the continents failure to realise the full political and economic potential of the Internet. The media must realise that well researched and ethical reporting puts pressure on relevant authorities to ensure justice and equality.
Government, civil society and the media should effectively play their role in the achievement of democratic societies in Africa in a complementary multi-stakeholder strategy reliant on mutual respect and trust.
The emergence of the internet is touted as an opportunity for women in Africa to ‘play catch up’ after years of being ‘left out’ in the mainstream media. It is said that the internet is a platform of democracy and freedom where women can amplify their voices on and access critical information relating to their well being and empowerment nationally and globally. But what are African women’s realities and to what extent can the internet be made accessible to them and have meaningful impact in their lives? Globally, women have lesser access to the internet than men do, a clear indication that the global digital divide is highly gendered. In Africa, the gap is wider as significant social, economic and, to a lesser extent, political barriers continue to hinder women’s access to not only the internet, but new technologies in general. Some of these barriers include low ICT literacy and lesser access to and ownership to ICTs owing to little or no income at all. For women with access, patriarchal and cultural practices continue to limit that extent to which women can fully exercise rights to privacy, free expression and access to information. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) latest statistics show a nominal, albeit significant 2.3 percent increase in the number of African women accessing the internet between 2013 and 2016. During that period, there has been a noticeable increase and prominence of online content platforms focussing on women’s issues, female opinion leaders with verified social media accounts, women in Tech and internet policy who are visibly in the forefront of regional initiatives on the development of the internet on the continent. The irony of the statistics relating to access to the internet on the continent, is that seven out of ten of the worlds fastest internet populations are in Africa, where the women constitute almost 52 percent of the continents population of 1.2 billion population. Undoubtedly, these statistics are an indication that the barriers women face in accessing the internet and technologies can no longer be ignored if there is sincerity about bridging the digital gender divide. Continuing advocacy for gender mainstreamed policies and legislation by African women’s rights and gender equality activists, must now define a clear and unified strategy to ensure that women’s access to the internet goes beyond quantitative measurement. The strategy should also clearly outline indicators of positive impact of the internet on the social, political and economic well being of women. What would this involve? Consciously acknowledging that physical access to ICTs and the internet alone do not guarantee full utilisation, and going further to find out exactly which women go online and what they do when they are online. This will assist in the acknowledging that the varied uses determine the extent that women can appreciate the utilitarian value of the internet. Some women spend more time online and have the confidence and flexibility to use the internet for a variety of issues ranging from recreational use, transactional use and also for general economic welfare. Others will have very low digital literacy, and may only have access to Facebook or WhatsApp, without even the slightest inkling that they are actually connected to the internet on those platforms. There is a tendency, by especially the media and academia, to treat women as a homogeneous group by ‘lumping’ them into one marginal group. Women have differences based on geography, age, race, marital status and even sexual orientation. It is these same differences that determine the variations of motivation and interest, to fully utilise the internet. A regional strategy is particularly important, considering the general lack of political will by most African governments to prioritise bridging the digital gaps in their jurisdictions. This is reflected by the adoption of ICT policies by a number of African countries, which in trying to ensure gender equality and equity in access and use of ICTs, fail to understand existing power imbalances and gender relations at community level, and can therefore not be fully translated to gender responsive planning and budgeting of ICT development projects at implementation level. This has been evident in even the country’s that pioneered gender mainstreaming in ICT policies. For instance Mozambique’s ICT policy adopted in 2000, has a whole section on gender and youth in ICT Development initiatives though decision making, training and content development among other. The strategy that followed only made reference to women and children as victims of pornography, abuse and violence online, thereby missing opportunities to deal with real issues affecting women’s access such as literacy and geographical location. Unlike past South African ICT policies that preceded its National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper (2016) which recognised gender equality in licensing, procurement and training, the current policy skirts over gender without actually defining the strategy. On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s policy, adopted in August 2016, recognises gender mainstreaming as a strategy integration of the design and implementation of ICT programmes for equal benefit. It is critical for activists working in the sector to familiarise with their respective ICT policies in order to identify areas of intervention, support and continuous monitoring. This should so away with governments continued regurgitation of gender disparity provisions and ensure the incorporation of strategies that will bridge them meaningfully. African internet governance conversations about connecting of the next billion users, should begin to take into consideration the fact that the current disproportionate access by women on the continent translates to a set back in its facilitatory role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
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