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AFRIK-IT  July 1995

AFRIK-IT July 1995

Subject:

Re: IT and the media in southern Africa

From:

Dula Abdu <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Sun, 2 Jul 1995 10:28:20 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (343 lines)

Hello David & Everyone:
 
I enjoyed 's piece and the purpose of his organization. I wish we have a
similar organization for the rest of Africa. I was in Eastern and
Southern Africa, where the media still vibrant and alive(especially in S.A.).
 
Unfortunately, in places like Ethiopia, Sudan and  even Egypt there is no
free and independent media. Everything is censored or any publication or
distribution could very costly including jail or disappearance. For
example in Ethiopia out of 100 or more journalist that sprung in 1991 at the
demise of
the Communist regime, more than 70% of them have been jailed, disappeared
or silenced. The ethnocentric and minority regime has systemarically
wiped out any independent media in order to solidify its narrow and black
on black on aparthied policy.
 
Would it possible for MISA to incoporate Eastern Africa too, where very
egregious human rights abuse is taking place especially in Ethiopia and
the Sudan. In particular the divide and rule - copy-cat of apartheid
policy of the Ethiopian regime is very dangerous and it should be exposed
before it becomes an agent for the balkanization of the rest of Africa
into tribal nations probably with great chaos and bloodshed.
 
D. Abdu.
U.S.A.
 
 
 
On Thu, 29 Jun 1995, David Lush - MISA wrote:
 
> Greetings. Firstly I must apologise for taking so long to introduce
myself.
> However, I thought I would lie low a bit because, being a die-in-the-wool
> techno-nurd, I felt a bit intimidated being in the presence of such capable
> people as yourselves. However, I feel I can contribute something to the
> discussion on telecommunications/IT access on the continent, particularly
> from a media perspective.
>
> I am a journalist by profession, and the grand-sounding "Information
> Co-ordinator" for the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a
> non-governmental organisation promoting media freedom and diversity in the
> SADC region. One of the main projects I am working on is the MISANET - an
> e-mail/Internet network of media orgnanisations in the region aimed at
> making the flow of information between media organisation in the SADC
> region - and hence their audiences - more free.
>
> What follows is the edited text of a presentation I made to our annual
> congress last November, which should give you an idea of where we are
> coming from, what we are trying to do, and where we are heading (sorry to
> those of you who have to pay by the byte for their e-mail - it's a bit long
> but I'll try and keep it as short as possible).
>
> Let me first put this in context. When MISA was established, our job was -
> and remains - to co-ordinate media and journalists in the 11 SADC
> countries. However, this soon proved to be extremely difficult because of
> the region's apalling and expensive phone lines, and its slow and equally
> expensive postal services. As with other African coutnries, we could
> phone/fax/smail Europe and the US no problem. But getting through to
> neighbouring countries in what is supposed to be a "development community"
> was a nightmare. For example, if my figures are right, it was 350 per cent
> more expensive for our members in Zambia (our neighbour - we are based in
> Namibia) to phone/fax us than for us to phone/fax them. Our representative
> in Angola (another of Namibia's neighbours) had to pay about U$10 just to
> RECEIVE a fax at the press centre he worked from, and sending a one-page
> fax to us cost him about three times that amount (the average salary for an
> Angolan editor at that time was about U$30 per month!).
>
> Part of our work is monitoring media freedom, and we issue "alerts" about
> abuses of this freedom in our region. Issuing of these alerts has to be
> rapid, so faxing was the means of communication. This involved sending a
> single, one-to-two page alert to about 50 destinations in the region and
> beyond. To do this, I had to stand over the fax machine for about 2 days
> solid sending the one fax, with much of the time wasted trying to get a
> line and re-sending faxes which did not go through properly. The sending of
> one alert cost us about U$150 in telecom. charges. We also produce a news
> letter (now a magazine). This had to be posted. But it took often up to two
> months to reach some of our members in the region - sometimes it never got
> to them at all (members based in the same region as ourselves!). Yet the
> newsletter would get to subscribers in Europe and the US within 10 days.
> Our postage bill for sending out the newsletters was upwards of U$900 per
> edition. (Then 1500 suscribers receiving a 12 page bulletin every other
> month).
>
> So an alternative had to be found, and e-mail was the most suitable
> alterative we could think of. We now have 20 or so MISA members on the
> MISANET, and communication is vastly improved. In 1994 we issued more than
> 70 alerts via MISANET, and the International Freedom of Expression eXchange
> (IFEX) e-mail global netork of media and media freedom organisations. The
> issuing of these alerts cost us in the region of U$4 in local telecom
> charges (sending messages to the Internet gateway at the University of
> Namibia). It would have cost us in the region of U$10 500 in telecoms and
> 140 working days of my time (this was not my only task) to have sent them
> by fax! And the benefits go well beyond savings as we are now able to lauch
> quick campaigns against media freedom violations etc with rapid response
> from around the world. For example, in August last year a young journalists
> was shot in the leg by soldiers while covering a demonstration against the
> royal coup in Lesotho. He was going to lose his leg if he didn't get
> treatment in neighbouring South Africa fast. We issued an alert via MSIANET
> and IFEX calling for donations to pay for his treatment and within 12 hours
> we had raised the money and he was being taken to SA for surgery which has
> saved his leg. This is just one example.
>
> The MISANET network is by no means perfect, but nothing is. Some of the
> problems mentioned below are being overcome. Member organisations are now
> feeding information into the news-exchange. Two of our members have WWW
> sites (The Post in Zambia - http://www.zamnet - and the Weekly Mail and
> Guardian from South Africa - http://www.is.co.za/services/wmail/). However,
> e-mail remains the main means of communication because so few countries in
> our region have direct Internet access. As Afrik-it netters have been
> pointing out, phone lines and phone-access is crucial. It is easy to be
> bilinded by the glitz of WWW, Interactive software etc. But those are
> currently pipe dreams to many of us. What is cruicial is access to
> computers and functioning/relatively cheap phone lines, and at present both
> are scarce in our part of the world.
>
> I hope this and the following will be of interest to you all, and I will be
> happy to answer questions.
>
> Best wishes.
>
>
> THE ADVENT OF THE INFORMATION SUPER-HIGHWAY AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO THE
> MEDIA IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
>
>
>
> By David Lush, MISA Information Co-ordinator
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> Those of you who attended the now-legendary Chobe meeting in 1989 - a
> meeting at which the seeds for MISA were sown - might remember that the
> co-ordinator of the conference, Patrick van Rensburg, was promoting a
> dream. He wanted to see the launch of a regional newspaper, but, his dream
> was floored for logistical reasons. Poor and expensive communications
> within the region would have strangled the news-gathering process, and
> would have it too expensive and impractical to distribute such a printed
> publication; the venture was simply unviable.
>
>
>
> Patrick's dream might have faded, but the needs which it addressed remain
> increasingly pertinent to the region's media business. Our respective
> countries are together, side by side in a region - a development community.
> And yet we as media workers - and thus our audiences - know alarmingly
> little about each other. We have to rely largely on multi-national news
> agencies for information and images about our neighbours; agencies which -
> as we all know - have the news sense of vultures when it comes to reporting
> on Africa.
>
>
>
> Efforts of the region's news agencies to provide an alternative to the
> multi-nationals have been stunted by the continuing problem of distributing
> their news and information, while cost has prevented many impecunious
> independent media organisations from receiving these agencies' material in
> a quick, ready-to-use  format so essential to NEWS organisations.
>
>
>
> In short, the free flow of diverse information now recognised as an
> essential - some will say THE essential - ingredient of development is
> being stifled by the region's appalling communication systems. I would go
> as far as to argue that the post and telecommunication networks of southern
> Africa are the most subtle and most powerful forms of censorship in the
> region.
>
>
>
> While we are increasingly swamped with news and information from America
> and Europe, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, we still struggle - sometimes
> for days - to send a message from one country to another. We as media
> workers are communicators, but we can't communicate with ourselves. We are
> in the communications industry, and yet we cannot apply our trade beyond
> the most basic and localised form.
>
>
>
>  However, in theory, and increasingly in practice, we now have the means
> with which to overcome many of the problems which hinder inter-regional
> communication. The information voids which insulate us and our audiences
> from the rest of the region can now be traversed, and Patrick van
> Rensburg's dream of a regional newspaper is now possible, albeit in a
> different form.
>
>
>
>  In theory, electronic mail will allow us as media practitioners to
> communicate with each other much more efficiently than via telephone, fax,
> and post. This is why MISA has embarked on the MISANET project to link MISA
> member organisations to electronic mail. I say "in theory", because the
> MISANET is still in its infancy, and we are busy experimenting to see what,
> in practice, we can achieve with electronic mail in this part of the world.
> To date, we can tell you for sure that electronic mail has made it possible
> for the MISA secretariat to communicate cheaply and effectively with media
> freedom organisations all around the world. It now takes less than 12 hours
> for a single message sent from MISA head quarters in Windhoek to be
> distributed world wide, and thus for MISA to initiate an international
> campaign against media freedom violations in our region. This time frame
> will be reduced to a matter of minutes once Namibia has full Internet
> access. With electronic mail, it takes less than five minutes to physically
> transmit this information (the rest is done by computers), whereas it took
> several days - time spent standing over the fax machine - to fax out the
> same information to those individual media and media freedom organisations
> we now reach via e-mail. Now it costs the price of a local phone call to
> access this global network, whereas before each campaign we launched
> against a media freedom violation cost upwards of R500 in fax charges.
>
>
>
> Let me give you another example. The entire MISA Free Press magazine can
> be distributed via electronic mail to more than a hundred e-mail
> subscribers for the cost of a 1 minute local phone call. It costs several
> thousand Rand (at least U$ 1000) to post copies of EACH printed edition of
> the magazine to postal subscribers, and it can take up to two months for
> these postal subscriptions to reach MISA members in the region - if they
> arrive at all. Electronic mail subscribers to MISA Free Press receive the
> magazine long before the printed edition has even returned from the
> printers! Likewise, I receive on my computer in Windhoek the Weekly Mail
> and Guardian before it hits the newsstands in Johannesburg.
>
>
>
> We know it is possible to send photographs via electronic mail. The
> photograph on the front page of the May edition of MISA Free Press was sent
> from Johannesburg to Windhoek at a cost of about 15 US cents. Thanks to
> electronic mail, I can discuss the latest news about my favourite football
> team with fellow supporters all around the world. Meanwhile, the MISA
> secretariat and others already on the MISANET are currently receiving 10-20
> stories a day from the Harare-based Inter Press Service (IPS) agency;
> quality features on politics, general news, economics, human rights and
> environmental issues, in a ready-to-edit form (no typesetting required) in
> less than a day after they were released - far preferable to receiving the
> stories via fax, when they have to be re-typed, or via post, when not only
> do the stories have to be re-typed, they are often out of date by the time
> they arrive.
>
>
>
> So electronic mail does work in our region, and it has certainly
> revolutionised the information co-ordination work of the MISA secretariat.
> However, it is not all plain sailing. I mentioned earlier that 12 MISA
> member organisations are now hooked up to the MISANET electronic mail
> network, 10 of which were connected during the past two months (the Weekly
> Mail, and The Namibian were already on electronic mail). All these new
> connections have been "on-line" for at least a month now. During this time,
> they have been receiving - free of charge during this experimental period -
> all media freedom "alerts" and other information issued by the MISA
> secretariat, the IPS feed, as I mentioned before, global media freedom
> information courtesy of the IFEX Clearing House, together with some news
> features commissioned by the secretariat exclusively for MISANET members.
> And yet, during the entire time these MISA members have been on electronic
> mail, we have not received in return a single piece of information -
> besides "hello" test messages and a couple inquiries about tickets for
> delegates attending a MISA workshop.
>
>
>
> Part of the problem is that people are not sure how work their electronic
> mail. Admittedly, the training they received from the technician who has
> been installing the necessary equipment and computer software was rushed -
> he had a hectic schedule. I also accept that electronic mail is alien to
> many people - it certainly was to me when I first started using it. Such
> teething problems are inevitable, and can easily be over come given
> members' co-operation. However, I am not sure this co-operation will be
> forthcoming from everyone. Correct me if I am wrong, but I sense that, in
> some cases, the MISANET is viewed as another "gravy train freebie" conjured
> up by a cash-flushed secretariat in a bid to impress. I detect that some
> organisations lack the will to grasp this opportunity and to master this
> new technology and put it to practical use; they are unwilling to adapt
> attitudes and routines in order to emerge from their current regional
> isolation.
>
>
>
> Such attitudes are painful, not just because they will result in
> tremendous effort and scarce money being wasted, but also because these
> attitudes will ultimately result in the demise of MISA. MISA is currently
> 100 per cent donor funded. Perhaps this is fine as long as the donor
> funding lasts, but in a few years time, when the donors' priorities shift,
> or the people of Sweden, Denmark, Norway or Germany vote in a different
> government, that money will be gone, and MISA will be left high and dry.
> Which gives MISA with no option but to start earning its own money, and to
> start earning it now.
>
>
>
> Electronic mail and the Internet is a vehicle in which MISA can begin to
> travel along the road to self-sufficiency. But the active participation of
> MISA's members is still needed to fuel this vehicle.
>
>
>
> Already, we have begun to use the MISANET for the exchange of news stories
> between MISA members, the idea being that this will provide member
> organisations with a cheap, practical and relevant source of regional news.
> And as we wait anxiously for the first stories from our members to appear
> on the network, we would like to take the news exchange concept one step
> further. With your agreement, we want to re-package the information
> generated by individual MISA members and make it available to a wider,
> paying audience. We are currently negotiating (to publish an on-line
> regional newsletter using information available on the MISANET). We also
> intend to build up an (on-line) computerised archive, again using news and
> information provided on the MISANET, as well as information gleaned from
> other sources. It is also intended to commercialise the MISA Free Press
> newsletter.
>
>
>
> There's nothing really new in these ideas - they have been alive since the
> 1989 Chobe meeting and before. What has changed is that we now have the
> means to implement those ideas. All the projects outlined here, and many
> others, are feasible using electronic mail and the Internet. A regional
> publication is now a viable proposition as it can tap - quickly and
> relatively cheaply - the necessary sources of information via electronic
> mail. It is now possible for such a publication to be up-to-date, a factor
> further enhanced by speedy DISTRIBUTION via electronic mail and other
> services on the Internet. Thus, regional publication becomes more
> attractive to a wider readership. The same goes for the MISA Free Press
> magazine, which is already being distributed to more than 100 electronic
> mail subscribers. Furthermore, those with Internet access will be able to
> make use of the computerised archive, and have at their disposal a wealth
> of information, without having to build up their own libraries.
>
>
>
>
> ends
>
>
>
> David Lush
> Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
> Private Bag 13386
> Windhoek, Namibia
> Tel. +264 61 232975, Fax. 248016
> e-mail: [log in to unmask]
>

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