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Advertising threatens media freedom, say WAN conference delegates

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 3 June 2007 WAN press release:

Advertising threatens media freedom in Africa: conference

CAPE TOWN, June 3, 2007 (AFP) - African media's growing reliance on private advertising poses threats to press freedom similar to state ownership, panelists told an international gathering of journalists in Cape Town Sunday.

As the continent's media struggles to shake off the shackles of government interference, news content is increasingly being shaped by advertisers, panelists told delegates to an annual gathering of the World Association of Newspapers.

"The media in Africa seems to be caught between the hammer of the state and the anvil of the market," said Zambian media analyst and columnist Fackson Banda.

He said the growing interaction between the media and the corporate sector presented both opportunities and threats for journalistic freedom.

A media operating in a free market system promised free competition, better content and the chance to contribute to greater democracy.

But it also threatened to see the media concentrating on its largest clients, avoiding financial risk and neglecting the poorer sections of their potential audience. It could also lead to a dwindling focus on investigative reporting and a trend towards tabloidism.

"Media freedom in Africa is held captive by both the government and the world," said Banda.

"There is a tendency to focus on the lead sources of information, to focus on business interests as opposed to serious political debate."

Several African delegates argued that without the opening up of free-market economies, many countries would never have achieved a free press.

But Fernando de Lima, chairman of the Mozambican journalists' association Mediacoop, lamented the small pool of advertisers, telling the forum: "You get banks, airliners and telecommunications companies dictating the policy of newspapers".

The 60th world newspaper congress and 14th world editors' forum kicked off in Cape Town on Sunday with a number of round-table discussions ahead of the official opening on Monday morning.

About 1,600 participants from 105 countries are to attend four days of meetings, including publishers, chief executive officers, editors and other senior newspaper executives.

The gathering is to be officially opened on Monday morning by South African President Thabo Mbeki and WAN president Gavin O'Reilly.

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