• Thursday, 30 November 2023
THE STATESMAN OPINION: Investigative Journalism Regaining Ground In Africa

THE STATESMAN OPINION: Investigative Journalism Regaining Ground In Africa

Amidst growing viability challenges and shrinking space for independent journalism, evidently there are brilliant initiatives and prices of public interest journalism across Africa.

Over the last few years and belonging to several journalistic groups on the continent and having participated a Fojo discussion project on state of investigative journalism, it’s satisfying that Sub Sahara Africa is experiencing a resurgence of investigative journalism, as new approaches of content curation and journalistic enterprise have emerged.

As big media struggle with heavy operational costs and reduced revenues to support heavy investment in investigative journalism, it’s encouraging that small sized and highly specialized online investigative platforms and individual bold journalists, solely or jointly with civil society or partners interested in public interest journalism, have emerged, and shown that the continent still has solid, independent, and free minds in that space.

Frustrated by hostile newsrooms, captured media, and working in media outlets strictly stuck on generating revenues at the expense of public interest work, journalists are increasingly establishing small and independent outlets, working in-country and on cross border are going against the odds are producing joint investigative stories by themselves or supported by partners with focus on thematic public interest issues.

During a recent annual media summit in Arusha hosted by the Media Council of Tanzania, interesting case studies were mentioned that reinforce the earlier trend analysis by FOJO  that bold and fearless journalists still exist in Africa, and even as people discredit the work of journalists and make it hard to for the to play the watchdog role, quality professional and investigative journalism in needed as a very important player in the democratization process and sustainable development on the continent.

Challenges noted facing investigative journalism in Africa include restrictive laws, corruption, safety of journalists, opaque media ownership, lack of skills on investigative journalism among others.Many pundits have bemoaned the death of investigative journalism in many countries in Africa especially because of the increasing crisis around Africa starting with elections, mega government procurements, mega development and construction projects and war against terrorism.

Independent media and access to information are essential vehicles through which good governance, access to justice, and democracy are built for effective political, social and economic development of any country.

The level of development of a country will be guided, determined, and reflected by the intensity with which freedom of expression and access to information of integrity devoid of pollution and manipulation has grown.

Investigative journalism is critical in monitoring, documenting and blowing human rights violations including corruption. Journalists as human rights defenders have a responsibility to uncover human rights abuses.

This can only be done seriously through investigation and analysis of trends, not through the current approach. Media, especially through investigating issues is critical in the monitoring of cases of public interest.

The media has the capacity to hold governments accountable, forcing them to explain their actions and decisions, all of which affect the people they represent. In a democratic society, people should know all their options if they are to govern themselves and the media is a vehicle for the dissemination of such information. This will benefit Kenyans today, and generations into the future.

Panelists during the media summit submitted that opportunities for investigative journalism and initiatives exist on the continent especially via channels like digital platforms and a number of journalists have seized the opportunity without fear. What is needed is resources from sources such as media funds or partners interested in independent voices, plurality of voices and conversations on public interest issues.

It became apparent that as several media enterprises have gone to bed with those in power because of revenue reasons or merely to survive turbulent political times in their countries, have abandoned investigative journalism to the periphery, or assigned fact checkers their cardinal role of seeking and reporting the truth.

Luckly, we have seen the entry of new players on the scene and are enjoying the best of professional and independent journalism across the continent.

Earlier studies on the subject have indicated that “sustainability of investigative journalism remains shaky as the most reported source of income for most investigative hubs surveyed is grants, from their networks, including local non-profit organizations, international partners, Philanthropy organizations and special interest groups.”

Players especially in the global North and working with journalists and media outlets in the South have found new innovative ways to produce quality content, including teaming with philanthropic organizations, international networks and joint cross border productions that have tilted governance issues in several countries on the continent.

With the society facing emerging challenges like disinformation, propaganda and a society that seems relying on social media for information, there is an urgent need to rebuild journalism including investigative so that it regains its place as a valued and trusted part of our society. 

Victor Bwire works at the Media Council of Kenya as the Director for Media Training and Development and is an environmental journalism tutor and writer.