Media legislation in Africa: a comparative legal survey

The study includes an overview of the existing media legislation in ten multi-party democratic countries in Africa and a comparative analysis, whilst also putting the legislation in perspective with regional and international standards, and best-practices in the field of media law conducive to freedom of expression.

It is widely accepted that a vibrant and flourishing media is essential to democracy and development. UNESCO has long championed media development, with particular attention to the developing countries in general and Africa in particular.

This study is significant because, although there are many factors impacting on the development of the media sector of a society, the reigning legal regime in any country is probably the most significant. A favourable dispensation does not guarantee media development, but it is an essential starting point if there is to be a sustainable quantity and quality of media enterprises that contribute to the challenges facing a given country.
Most countries covered here have had an explosion of media in the past decade. It is no coincidence that this has accompanied changes to earlier law (or, as in some countries, the non-application of some prior law), especially reform which permitted the relatively free development of private media (whether commercial or community in character). Meanwhile, countries like Ethiopia, which keep a tight legal rein on the entire media landscape, are at the bottom of the list in terms of media density, and therefore in the per capita information services available to their citizenry. While state-owned media assets, especially in broadcast, still predominate in many countries — and usually under political control, the motors of growth and pluralism are usually to be found located outside them.

Against this backdrop, this study shows that there is still much progress to make in reforming legal environments in general, including state powers over the broadcast landscape and especially laws on state-owned broadcasting.

This conclusion arises from the objective of this research which was to undertake a comparative analysis of media-related law in ten African countries, focusing particularly on changes in the period of January 2000 to December 2006, later updated to mid-2007.

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