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 such as Egypt, Palestine, Bahrain, Lebanon, Singapore, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.
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. Our challenge 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. So what? 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!’
Commissioned by Deutsche Welle Akademie #MEDIADEV
After messaging services and social media helped fuel protests earlier in 2016, the Zimbabwe government is clamping down on cyberspace. With elections due in 2018, online rights are expected to erode further.
On July 6, 2016, Zimbabweans across the social, political and economic divide heeded an online call to stay away from work. Spurred on by hashtags such at #zimshutdown2016 and #shutdownzimbabwe, the action was the biggest show of public dissatisfaction with the government of 92-year-old president Robert Mugabe for more than a decade. With the streets virtually empty in many cities across the country, most schools, hospitals, business and shops shut their doors.
Those calling for protest action included a social movement united under the hashtag #ThisFlag, led by pastor Evan Mawarire, and a youth campaign #Tajamuka/Sesijikile (which means “We have rebelled” in the country’s local languages of Shona and Ndebele).
Another significant contribution to the success of the shutdown was the mobilization of civil servants who stayed away from work to protest the non-payment of their salaries. Zimbabwe has been facing a severe economic crisis and is struggling to pay its government workers.
Social media played a big part in publicizing and mobilizing people to take part in the July 6 shutdown (as it did in earlier protests, such as demonstrations against the ban of imports on essential household goods and the proposed introduction of bond notes to ease a cash shortage).
Government clamp down on the Internet
The government’s immediate response to the July 6 shutdown?
To create a shutdown of its own – WhatsApp was unavailable for several hours on the day of the protest.
The government’s next response? To curb Internet use by hiking mobile data prices. Following the day of action, Zimbabwe’s mobile network operators announced they had been ordered to wind down cheap mobile data promotions by August 31, 2016. The promotions had allowed call, data, SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter bundles for as low as 4.50 euro (US$5.00).
This move is a huge blow to digital rights in Zimbabwe.
Buying mobile data without taking advantage of a promotion is expensive in Zimbabwe. In fact, according to the think tank Research ICT Africa, the cost of 1GB of prepaid mobile data in Zimbabwe is the third highest on the continent.
In the recent past, the Zimbabwean government has defended this high price, citing the need to expand infrastructure and the generally high cost of providing Internet access in a landlocked country. However, mobile data promotions often ran for lengthy periods, indicating that data prices were sustainable at the cheaper, promotional prices. Therefore, it seems unlikely the stoppage of promotions following protests is sheer coincidence.
Zimbabwe, whose press is ranked as ‘Not Free’ by Freedom House, already has tight controls on the media and also limits citizens’ ability to access information. In the past, Internet has been subjected to fewer controls than the press; the fear now is that Robert Mugabe’s government is seeking to bring the Net under its control too.
In 2016 alone, 27 people have already been either arrested or charged for political opinion deemed as “ridicule” to the person of the president, according the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Zimbabwe Chapter. In another case, which generated much discussion on Facebook and Twitter, the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, Shingi Munyeza, was questioned by police after he published a three-part series of articles online about the state of the economy entitled, ’10 point plan to run Zimbabwe Limited.’
As a result of the current climate, people in Zimbabwe have become more cautious in their social media interactions, even when sending private messages.
This self-censorship and fear of surveillance curtails the Internet’s potential to increase citizen engagement and participation in national discourse. Even more worrying is the current default surveillance and policing of opinion by citizens among themselves and on behalf of the state, a status likely to worsen as the country moves towards national elections in 2018.
Internet service providers have little leeway
Another factor that further weakens digital freedom in Zimbabwe is the legal vulnerability of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecommunication companies. Two pieces of legislation, the Interception of Communications Act (ICA) and the Statutory Instrument on surveillance (gazetted in 2014) clearly leave no room for ISPs to protect the rights of their users.
The laws obligates providers to facilitate the interception of user information by installing hardware or software that would provide call-related information in real time, as well as after the call. The laws also obligate providers to allow access to decrypted user data flowing through their networks. The ICA criminalizes non-compliance or refusal to cooperate by the service providers.
We have already seen this vulnerability at play twice in 2016.
Firstly, the July 6 WhatsApp shutdown can’t be explained away as a WhatsApp technical fault. WhatsApp was definitely working because Zimbabweans masking their physical location with VPNs (virtual private networks) were still able to access the messaging service. This lays the blame for the shutdown firmly at the door of the Internet providers, presumably responding to government pressure. And although Zimbabwe’s government denied ordering the shutdown, it was unusual that the ISPs made no effort to explain why WhatsApp was suddenly unavailable. Also, the telecommunications regulator POTRAZ made no attempt to hold them to account for the service failure.
Secondly, during #zimshutdown2016, POTRAZ issued a warning about “the gross irresponsible use of social media”, saying it would arrest users circulating abusive information. The warning contains a chilling sentence that highlights the cooperation of ISPs with the government: “All sim cards in Zimbabwe are registered in the name of the user. Perpetrators can easily be identified.”
These examples illustrate how in Zimbabwe, as in a number of other authoritarian states, ISPs will actively slow down, throttle or shutdown Internet services or give out customer information when instructed.
But being custodians of such critical data, ISPs should be in a better position to protect customer information, privacy and rights to free expression, association and access to information.
Following the United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Internet governance processes must ensure ISPs are able to assert their responsibility to protect and mitigate against human rights violations via their operations, products and services.
In addition, on July 1, just five days before WhatsApp shut down, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning countries that intentionally disrupt citizens’ Internet access in violation of international human rights laws.
Published by :MISA(Windhoek)
The 2015 Southern Africa Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF-15) is currently underway in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 8-9 December 2015. Koliwe Majama, MISA Zimbabwe’s Programme Officer for Broadcasting and ICTs, suggests some priorities for reflection.
As Southern Africa convenes this year’s edition of its Internet Governance Forum (SAIGF-15) in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 8-9 December 2015 it should identify and reflect on its key priority areas.
This comes on the backdrop of developments in the past year including recommendations made at the just ended 10th edition of the Global Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held in November in Joao Pessoa, Brazil.
The nine-SADC member states that attended the SAIGF-14 hosted by the Government of Malawi in Lilongwe last year noted key recommendations that are worth revisiting for consideration and prioritisation as the continent thrives to ensure the development and governance of the internet in the region.
Multi-stakeholderism as echoed in the SAIGF 2014 resolution relating to internet and human rights remains a hazy point that needs critical introspection for the continent. The recommendation makes a call to the tech community to engage actively in human rights online and internet governance related issues. Multi-stakeholderism is a process in which stakeholders make decisions based on consensus in an open, transparent and accountable manner.
Input into the Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Strengthening Multistakeholder Participation Mechanisms at this year’s global IGF, noted important issues pertaining to strengthening multi-stakeholder participation mechanisms, which the region must recognise and take on board. Trust, albeit recognised over time, remains a huge component of successful multi- stakeholder engagement and that transparency and accountability are the main components in building trust.
The second issue is that of defining consensus or ‘rough’ consensus so that all stakeholders are aware of processes for decision making and that the national IGFs have mechanisms or ‘equality safeguaurds’ in place to ensure that all stakeholders are adequately represented at decision level.
For the 2015 SAIGF, it is prudent to take stock of the extent to which member-state IGFs reflect multi-stakeholder engagement to reach a model that works within ‘our’ context.
Of note is the variations in the five Southern African countries that have established national IGFs. In Malawi the convener of the MIGF is the Department of e-government in the President’s Office. In Tanzania, its civil society led by the Union of Tanzania Press Clubs.
For South Africa the conveners are the Internet Society Gauteng Chapter, in collaboration the ZA Central Registry and Google S.A. As for Zimbabwe, this is through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).
While the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s (MISA) national offices in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi recognise the importance of engagement in setting up national IGFs, there are challenges that may hinder participation by some stakeholders. These include economic, social, linguistic and cultural barriers and gender inequality.
Net-neutrality vs. zero-rating
One of the prominent debates at the Global IGF related to net-neutrality versus zero-rated services in the context of both competition among internet service providers and content consumption by the everyday user. In her blog post: Zero Rating: Are we in Danger of killing the goose before knowing if its eggs are golden, pro-poor market advocate, Helani Galpaya’s argues that poor people should have access to the internet.
Galpaya’s argument that zero -rated services offer an opportunity for the poor to consume their favourite content for free or at a much lower price, was central to debates during the Global IGF.
It was argued that choices by telecommunications companies on which services or applications should be zero-rated was not necessarily driven by their popularity, but rather on how much they stood to benefit.
Critical for Southern Africa within the context of connecting the next billion is consensus on whether or not zero-rating is an issue warranting either net-neutrality policies or policies maintaining or limiting zero-rating. The latter would require a definitive role for the regulators in assessing the impact of zero-rating on fairness and competition in the sector.Overall, this is a debate relating to the determination of special promotions, their cost and benefits for service providers, end users and content producers alike.
Developments in Southern Africa related to net-neutrality and zero-rating include South Africa’s MTN’s zero-rating of its Video on Demand (VOD) service, MTN FrontRo, in December last year. This gave MTN subscribers the advantage over other consumers of paying a waived R199 fee in a country where an estimated one million households have capacity to stream videos.
In Zambia and Malawi, Airtel customers have benefitted from Airtel Africa’s partnership with Facebook under its Internet.org application, renamed Freebasics. Airtel mobile customers in Zambia that use the android application and mobile website, access Facebook and its Instant Messaging service, Accu weather as well as local health and job services.
In Malawi Airtel Malawi and Telekom Networks Malawi enjoy free access to Facebook, Ask, Bing, UNICEF and online publication, Nyasa Times.
In Zimbabwe, mobile network operator, Econet Wireless, in the past year launched its own zero- rated services by selling data in ‘bundles’ which include Data, Facebook, Whatsapp, Opera Mini Surf and Buddie Bundles of Joy. Their other services include EcoSchool Zero, which gives its subscribers free access to over 50 educational websites.
Relating to the enhancement of digital trust, SADC member states were encouraged to undertake national transpositions of the SADC Cyber Security Model Laws and facilitate dialogue among stakeholders and create awareness on privacy and consumer protection on the internet.
They were also encouraged to promote more capacity building on cyber security and cyber crime.
This, followed adoption of the Convention on the establishment of a Credible Framework for Cyber Security and Personal Data Security in Africa at the African Union’s 23rd Ordinary Session in June 2014.The Convention addressees many issues associated with increased use of information and communication technologies in Africa.
Given internet growth in the region as a key driver of not only the African, but global economy and its potential in the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals, a comprehensive approach is key to tackling cyber crime and building trust between government, private sector and the everyday user of the internet.
It is crucial within the SAIGF context to outline the critical role, firstly, that awareness on cyber crimes laws plays as well as paying particular attention to contextual trends on the most likely crimes to occur in given country.
Secondly, to ensure stakeholder participation in coming up with the ideals for countries yet to adopt the law as is the case with Zimbabwe. Some critical issues to be discussed in the region should include judicial oversight on execution of the different warrants such as the interception of communication, search and seizure, and authorisation of a forensic tool.
Without the protection of the judiciary, intermediaries continue to be vulnerable. Also related to this is the debate on the publication of transparency reports by the government and intermediaries to determine the extent to which citizens’ right to privacy are protected including the prevalence of filtering and surveillance in the region.
Appreciation by the SAIGF and its member states that the driving factors within the internet governance framework are access, security, diversity and openness is critical at this moment.
And as the continent moves forward in its bid for a more accessible and democratic internet ecosystem, it is prudent that the principles relating to the protection of the rights of Africans to free expression, access to information, privacy and fair competition takes precedence in the interest of promoting development.
Nigeria for instance has mandated passive sharing through a comprehensive policy that lists passive network components that can be shared. This move has resulted in the emergence of tower companies as specialist providers of site sharing such as Helios Towers Nintendo company of Nigeria.
Other African countries and companies already implementing the sharing mode include Zain & Essar in Kenya and Cell C, MTN, NeoTel and Vodacom in South Africa.
Unlike in other African countries’, sharing of infrastructure is not mandatory by law or policy in Zimbabwe. However, Statutory Instrument 28 of 2001 empowers POTRAZ, to issue guidelines on sharing for licensees and service providers.
For this reason, infrastructure sharing is minimal in Zimbabwe, and according to POTRAZ, service providers have a preference for passive sharing which stood at only 13.4 percent of the existing infrastructure nationwide in 2014.
This model is working in China where the country’s three mobile carriers created a new company, China Tower, which took over ownership of the three firms’ telecom infrastructure while ambitiously planning to build one million new towers in the next two years. The asset value conferred to China Tower is more than $16bn.
However, what remains apparent is the need for the overall convergence of the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors to address the shared infrastructure debate.
MISA-Zimbabwe’s Model ICT Policy Framework 2013, stresses the need for shared infrastructure through which multiple services are offered over the same infrastructure, translating to network efficiencies.
Converged networks allow operators to offer ‘triple play’ services, where subscribers can access telephony, the internet and television over a single broadband connection.
The current situation in Zimbabwe where several services are offered over wireless networks has resulted in spectrum congestion, hence the need for a single ICT policy and regulatory framework.
Co-authored with Chris Musodza and published on BizCommunity Africa
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