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A Roadmap to the Gray Area of African Media Development:

By Zharina B.
Tigrai Online, November 15, 2013

A Case Study of Ethiopian Public and Private Media Involvement in Poverty Alleviation

The study conducted at Mekelle University in the Department of Economics is done under the title of TRENDS OF MEDIA PRODUCTIONS COMMERCIALIZATION AND FACTORS AFFECTING AIR TIME/COLUMN SPACE ALLOTMENT IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: THE COMPARATIVE STUDY OF PUBLIC SERVICE MEDIA DEVELOPMENT IN ETHIOPIA.’ The study conducted in the field of media economics is revealed in Business and Economics Faculty library of the University last week.

I went to share readers just from the abstract of the study and some detailed facts that awaken me. I think the researcher’s idea emanated from wondering on the study of (Adaba 2001; Kate & Majority, 2013). They attested that media commercialization since the structural adjustment (The theory that peruse profit Maximization is the only way in safeguarding mass media freedom and enhance the ability of media in building informational infrastructure at low cost) forced African media to a situation whereby the media generate income from the news/editorials by selling air time/column space for news instead of broadcasting the news based on established ABC news values.

Thus, the consequences are strange: ‘important developments in the countryside are pushed aside by unimportant, even trivial news items, concerning urban events and the activities of personalities. In addition the journalists are encouraged to make money on their own in whatever manner they deem fit, thus encouraging the popular brown envelope syndrome within journalism parlance in Nigeria ‘Journalistic ethics cannot continue to be “an unwanted child of business”. The researchers finally argued that ‘No matter the constraints within which the journalism profession is practiced, societies should have the right to reserve spaces free of commercialization.’

Then the Mekelle University Study takes such media commercialization effect as a benchmark  tested on 10 purposively selected important media houses to investigate factors that determine healthy media development/PSM in Ethiopia.  The selection merits of the study for content analysis relay on the media industry strata share of print and broadcast, circulation/area coverage of each media per eligible readers and listeners respectively. The study uses primary data of content analysis and secondary data of media reach from CSA and DFID, UK.  Descriptive statistics and OLS based econometric multiple regressions are taken as an analytical tool. The researcher uses ‘media involvement in poverty alleviation as content analysis instrument. 

The study finds out that news has scale effect on public service media at every unit analysis of media strata.  As air time/column space changes by unit measurement in news package, PSM value of information delivery for poverty alleviation agenda of the country increases significantly.   Thus, Ethiopian media on average are achieving best level of OLS positive regression result of 4% increasing return to scale in creating informed society. The sample result shows on average 82.1% media sampled schedules pass the expected minimum news coverage requirement of delivering information to poverty alleviation. The significant premises here are: The balance of national Vs international news ratio (done by media houses editorial policies) in turn enables most of the media houses to commit significant portion of air time/ column space of news package to pro-poor agenda. Of course, Prohibition of Advertisement on news space (by  the proclamation on advertisement 759/2012).

Moreover, the trend of private and public media development in the country shows strong positive relation with the PSM value. The composition of private and public media in the country is feasible in free market developing economy. Thus, both the news and media industry composition of private and public development is found healthy. Composition of (public, private) media are well responding to the complex social norms of the society

This finding damages the media overall commercialization model implemented in other developing countries since the structural adjustment. The study asserts Ethiopia as representing developing countries with both public and private media are feasible on PSM. So, leaving media just to commercialization argued by FHFPI and other commercial models are not valid to Ethiopia as a developing country.

However, as a unit of airtime/column space allotment increases for program/editorial, on average information delivery for poverty alleviation of PSM value declines. The sample result shows that only 71 or on average 29.58 % of airtime/column space dedicated to poverty alleviation. This is below the expected threshold (29.6%). The main reason is that Ethiopian media have problems in delivering variety of programs/editorial about poverty alleviation. Lenient to homogeneity of soften programs or entertainment.

Infact there are few media institutions both from (private, public) recorded exceptional result committed to  their air time/column space above the minimum benchmark for program/editorial intervention in poverty alleviation. The main reason for such exceptional results is maintaining concerned program/editorial productions. But this media institution in turn trapped in the trade off financial feasibility problem to the extent of  being unable in retaining their experienced media professionals regarding salary competition.

In the study year the advertisement and sponsorship expediency trend is at an  infant stage. The main reasons are: Duplication of the same entertainment programs; assigning bulk of unpackaged music/event coverage; violating restrictions Ad on News; Too little Advertisement between programs (not within). The research farther investigates Public media exposure stand at 30% is below the minimum requirement compared to speed of radio area coverage which stands at 85%. The main determinants for low level of media exposure of the public are limited radio owners (44 % in urban, 31% in rural area) and the public listening, viewing, reading habit.

The research reached to such results by analyzing bulk of airtime/column space samples as shown in the table below.

 Roadmap to the Gray Area of African Media Development
Roadmap to the Gray Area of African Media Development

Finally the research concluded and recommended valuable policy measures to strengthen best practice of the country media and to avert its constraints. Ethiopian Media News information delivery in poverty alleviation should  keep its promising features. Even it can serve as best practice benchmark to other developing countries.  But, it needs reinforcement in editorial policy of all media houses (Consistency).It needs implementation of the law that prohibits advertisement on news package for all media houses through detailed guidelines.

Standardization and Modernization of Editorial policy of Media Houses should be incorporate on program differentiation. The real competition is in the enhancement of delivering qualitative variety of program. Not following the replica of commercialization which forced homogeneity in the era of infantries.  

In addition, National Promotion policy of circulation audit and program rating should be set up for Advertisement and Sponsorship expediency. National Promotion policy of radio set distributers to rural listeners clubs ought to be established. It is important for the improvement compatibility of media area coverage and its reach and to achieve public attitude change from word of mouth to institutional information interaction (creating media sensitive public).