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About: Benin opens up its airwaves

Thu, 15 Jan 1998 07:20:38 -0800 (PST)

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    Originally dated: Thu, 15 Jan 1998 07:20:38 -0800 (PST)

    > x-posted from Bruce Girard[SMTP:bgirard@PULSAR.ORG.EC]
    > MEDIA-BENIN: Tiny West African Nation Throws its
    > Airwaves Open
    > By Gisele Glele
    > COTONOU, Dec 12 (IPS) - Come next year, 19 new radio and TV stations
    > will be able to operate in Benin, following a decision to that effect
    > by the West African state's media licencing and regulatory body.
    > The Higher Audiovisual and Communication Authority (HAAC) last month
    > authorised eight commercial radio stations and seven non- commercial
    > ones along with one TV station and three satellite-TV channels.
    > They still have to wait, though, for a final green light, this time
    > from an ad hoc committee set up by the Ministry of Culture and
    > Communication. Among other things, that committee has to ensure that
    > the frequencies awarded by the HAAC are in line with international
    > accords and do not interfere with the frequencies of state services.
    > The HAAC's move marked the implementation of a decision to de-
    > monopolise the airwaves, taken in 1990 by the National Conference
    > that
    > placed Benin on the road to multi-party democracy. It was welcomed by
    > many Beninois, who had awaited it with impatience.
    > ''The freeing up of the audiovisual sector has come late in Benin,''
    > says Fernando H., a teacher here. ''They took too long to draw up the
    > legal provisions.'' Still, he is happy that Beninois can now benefit
    > from a broader range of news. ''I'm not satisfied by national
    > television,'' he says. ''There are many things that are hidden from
    > us.''
    > Economist Abdoulaye C. feels much the same way. ''The political
    > debates on national television are not satisfactory,'' he says.
    > ''Economic debates do not even exist. Our television does not educate
    > people and it does not have current films.''
    > National television exists only for the state, adds Abdoulaye, who
    > explains that many Beninois have been turning to foreign channels
    > because they have been disappointed by national television.
    > But not everyone throughout Benin is likely to see or hear the new
    > stations. While he welcomes the fact that there will now be more
    > sources of information, Abel Gbetohenomo, a journalist with a private
    > periodical, notes that ''some regions are more favoured than others
    > with regard to the private audio-visual media'' since about a third
    > of
    > the new radio stations and all four TV channels will be set up in
    > Cotonou,
    > Gbetohenomo also wonders how well the new media will work.
    > ''We know what the start of the private print media was like,'' he
    > says. ''And when you know that the radio is the medium most widely
    > listened to, it would be a good thing to introduce some safeguards,
    > with regard to both the quality of the programmes and the
    > presentation
    > of the information.''
    > The safeguards include paying staff well, he suggests.
    > Under the terms of their licences, the new commercial radio and TV
    > stations are required to employ qualified journalists and
    > communicators, and some have already started preparing for this. The
    > Africa Obata Centre, which is setting up a community radio, has sent
    > its announcers for a crash course at the Ouagadougou International
    > Centre for Studes in Rural Radio (CIERRO) in Burkina Faso.
    > However, some of the media houses are dissatisfied by the way
    > frequencies were allocated. ''It's bad to say there are not many
    > frequencies while, at the same time, two frequencies are granted to
    > the same person,'' says Thomas M. of the Africa Obata Centre.
    > ''People said the de-monopolisation would be something for the rich
    > and that is what we are seeing,'' he adds in a reference to an
    > extremely wealthy businessman who received two frequencies.
    > Others radio owners, including the founder of Aheme F.M., another
    > community radio, are unhappy that they have been required to take out
    > subscriptions to the state-owned Benin News Agency (ABP), which
    > distributes national and international news in the West African
    > nation.
    > ''The amount set by the agency is exhorbitant and, moreover, a radio
    > like ours does not necessarily need international news,'' he says.
    > Some consumers support the concerns of the new broadcasters, arguing
    > that the profitability of their operations might be impaired. ''Since
    > Beninois are not accustomed to paying to follow programmes, I am
    > afraid that the law authorises the creation of the media, on one
    > hand,
    > but on the other it creates material and financial difficulties for
    > these media,'' says businesswoman Martine H.
    > Some of the stations had done test runs on Benin's National Day,
    > August 1, and this had aroused much enthusiasm here.
    > Some people had vowed to march on the HAAC if the stations were not
    > authorised. Other commented that even if the private media were to
    > disappear one day, the mere fact that they had existed or that it had
    > been announced that they would start operating would have served to
    > improve the public media. (fin/ips/gg/nrn/97)
    > ___________________________________________________
    > Bruce Girard Agencia Informativa Pulsar
    > Email:
    > Fono/Fax: +593-2-501 180 o 551 674
    > Fax en Montreal, Canada: +1-514-221-2009
    > Av. Atahualpa 333, Casilla 17-08-8489, Quito, Ecuador

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