TECHNOLOGYAND NEW MEDIA

As Internet provides new avenues for
free expression in Africa, Freedom Forum
panelists discuss new media in Johannesburg

By JERELYN EDDINGS
This report is copyrighted by free!, The Freedom Forum web site www.freedomforum.org



JOHANNESBURG, South Africa &emdash; The Internet has opened new avenues of expression in African countries where dictators have traditionally suppressed information and free speech, according to Kenyan journalism professor Joe S.M. Kadhi.

"Needless to say, African dictators everywhere have outlawed everything associated with the Internet today &emdash; free press, free radio, free television, free postal service," Kadhi said. He noted that "all this for a very long time has been either outlawed or rigidly controlled.""Miraculously," he added, "all these means of communication are combined in an Internet and have now been placed on the doorsteps of the people of Africa," giving Africans access to a global society.

Kadhi, a professor at the University of Nairobi and former editor of Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper, spoke on September 3, 1999 at a technology workshop on "New Media and the Internet in Africa," held at The Freedom Forum African Center in Johannesburg. Kadhi said there are constant attempts by repressive governments to control access to the Internet as a way of continuing to control freedom of expression. Despite those attempts, he said, African newspapers can be read online by people all over the world.

He called the Internet "the new hope for Africa." His only major concern was that commercial considerations might overshadow the free-expression role of the Internet.

Other speakers included Stephen C. Miller, assistant technology editor at The New York Times; Jai Singh, editor of CNET News.com; Tanya Accone, online editor of The Sunday Times in Johannesburg; and Adam Clayton Powell III, Freedom Forum vice president, technology and programs. In South Africa, where press freedom is guaranteed by the constitution and where Internet use has been growing for years, there has been a "maturing of the new media," said Accone. "The user base is more sophisticated and more critical of what is available."

South Africa has more Internet users than any other African country. Still, "at the moment it's a medium of the few. We're trying to turn it into a medium for many," she said. Miller said the Internet was a treasure trove of information but he cautioned journalists not to place too much faith in the information generated by computers. "Just because it's digital doesn't mean it's true, so bring a healthy dose of skepticism to how you view information on the Web."He suggested that journalists view online sources with the same skepticism they would have for other sources. "Those people are no different than the ones we interview in person or over the phone."

Singh said the Internet presented new issues of standards and ethics for journalists, but "ultimately your personal ethics come into play." He said a major issue was how to find credible information on the Internet, where vast amounts of unsubstantiated information are available. Readers are generally smart and discerning enough, Singh said, to recognize good journalism when it was being consistently provided. Powell said the Internet was changing everything from the way people listen to the radio to the way they do their jobs. There are 1,700 radio stations available live over the Internet, he said, citing the example of a Washington radio station, WTOP-AM, that has more listeners over the Internet than over regular radio. WTOP's on line audience is larger than its FM audience -- but smaller than its audience on the AM band. That is still quite a startling development, and completely unexpected at the station "People sit at their work stations and listen to the radio live on their computers," he said.
Eddings is an executive at the African Center of The Freedom Forum.


USAfricaonline.com is the first African-owned U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet. The weekly Mail and Guardian is the first continental African professional newspaper on the internet.
Technology news and new media issues may be sent to
tech@USAfricaonline.com.