TAT Commentary: It is urgent to have a National Communication Policy

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Mr. Alieu Famara Sagnia, TAT Consulting Editor
By Alfsoninke
To the keen observer of the media landscape, and media content these days – both on mainstream and on social media – there is a crying need for robust national communication policies in African state.
Definitely, one cannot fail to notice and then to feel the urgency of having them in place, when one sees the daily fare of our media purveyors of information and news.
The Indian journalist and writer D. R. Mankekar is the author of “Whose Freedom? Whose Order? A Plea for a New International Information Order by Third World”. 
According to Mankekar, the 19th session of Unesco’s General Conference held in Nairobi Kenya in 1976 adopted a resolution inviting Amadou-Mahtar M’bow as Director General “to undertake  review of all the problems of communication in contemporary society seen against the background of technological progress and recent developments in international relations with due regard to their complexity and magnitude”.
M’bow went to work and established the International Commission for for the Study of Communication Problems headed by Sean MacBride, whose team of media practitioners or those associated with the media was called the Sixteen Wisemen.
Chapter 12 of Mankekar’s book is titled: Communication Policies, and it is stated therein:
 “In point of fact, every country, developed or developing, does pursue a communication policy – consciously, in a planned manner, or in an ad hoc way.
“That communication policy is based on a country’s vital social needs and national goals. These national goals could be, in the case of developing countries, political stability, modernization, national integration, ethnic and racial concord, and containing alien cultural invasion via the media…”
It is imperative, according to Mankekar, for a developing country, with many social, economic and political problems, to formulate a communications policy to resolve these problems “speedily and in an integrated manner”.
Chapter 13 of his 234-page book has the title: The MacBride Report which, according to Mankekar, “is comprehensive in scope and depth and covers almost every aspect of the communication media and allied issues”.
The MacBride Commission declared that “a new world information and communication order must become the instrument that for peaceful cooperation between nations, and that national communication policies should be consistent with adopted international communication principles and should seek to create a climate of mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence among nations.”
The reader would recall that the Senegalese state last weekend opened the new Amadou-Mahtar M’bow University in Ndiamniador near Dakar. It is commendable that African icons like Cheikh Anta Diop of UCAD before him, now Mahtar M’bow is being fittingly honored in this way.
We believe that the greatest accolade to Mbow – who is still alive and believed to be living in Senegal – is to have implemented in Senegal the recommendations of the MacBride Commission.
For instance, setting up an International Centre for the Study and Planning of Information and Communication was one of its recommendations.
It’s tasks would include, among others, to promote the development of national communication systems in developing countries, and balance and reciprocity in international information flows.
To open such a center at the new UAMM would help realize what M’bow’s UNESCO sought to achieve for the developing world, and this would be the proper homage to the man.
Indeed, it is argued here that it is not enough to name a university, like UCAD (after Cheikh Anta) and now UAMM (after Mbow) to honor these great sons of Africa. It is our view that such institutions of higher learning must have programs to bring to fruition the dreams of these African pacesetters.
For instance, UCAD should by now been a renowned world center for promoting the work and ideas of the great African Egyptologist, Cheikh Anta.
Thus building on the foundation laid by Unesco’s Macbride Commission, further research and studies in the field of communication – as recommended in the Macbride Report – should be spearheaded at UAMM.
For instance, the work and objectives of Unesco’s International Program for the Development of Communication (IPDC) could be enthusiastically continued by opening a new institute or think tank specifically for that purpose at the new university.
However, some recent happenings in Senegal, M’bow’s birthplace, show how the state is deviating from properly honoring M’bow’s legacy.
These include the recent arrest on state security-related charges of Pape Ale Niang, the prominent Senegalese investigative journalist, who continues to be detained in one of Senegal’s notorious prisons located far from Dakar – where it had incarcerated past prisoners of conscience.
Niang is currently on hunger strike since he believes that he is being held illegally by a repressive state persecuting all who work to expose some of the nefarious goings on within Senegal’s ruling elite.
Also, with effect from 1 December 2022, any person who works as a “journalist” in Senegal must go through a vetting and registration system in order to be issued a press card, under a state-sponsored licensing system approved through Senegal’s legislature and a presidential decree.
Senegal’s CNRA the national regulator of audio-visual companies polices the country’s airwaves and could – and without any prior judicial process – remotely click a button to switch off the television signals of operators whose programming on any day displeases the-powers-that-be in Dakar.
The Senegalese state, according to reports and ongoing debates on television, is seriously contemplating putting restrictions on people’s activities and content on social media.
This is concerning in some quarters since it is seen as a looming threat to freedom of speech and expression, and to the right to communicate.
It is also perceived as a threat to the ongoing democratization of communication, which the proliferation of the new digital communication technologies are facilitating as seen in the sprouting worldwide of social media platforms.
Indeed, such events definitely dishonor Mbow’s good work at UNESCO, which helped promote freedom of the press, and to safeguard the work of journalists worldwide.
“The Commission pronounces Communication as a powerful means of promoting democratization of society and of widening public participation in the decision-making process. 
“By way of removing obstacles to that goal, the Commission  recommends adoption of measures to enlarge sources of information needed by citizens in their everyday life”.
Now, to put things in proper context context, all this is happening in Senegal at a time when, as recent local and legislative election results show, the present government in Dakar is very unpopular.
In fact, for the first time in the country’s history, the government has lost its absolute majority in the National Assembly, where the opposition now has nearly the same number of seats – 80 compared to 82/83 for the ruling Benno Bok Yakarr coalition.
Also, Senegal’s opposition politicians and certain civil society activists, are not welcome on RTS, the publicly-funded national television service.
Its fair to say that it’s like in The Gambia, where the “public broadcaster” GRTS engages in the same discrimination against the opposition, as it ignores with impunity the constitutional requirement to give access to and to carry divergent views, including dissenting opinion.
As for the Senegalese state, and as highlighted in recent global rights indexes, all that is happening in the West African state increases the blots in the not-so-impressive governance record of the present government.
In fact, the prosecution and imprisonment of persons on politically-motivated charges has increased exponentially in Senegal in the past decade, even though Senegal continues to maintain that it is a paragon of democracy in Africa.
Indeed, the attitude and actions of the governing elite in our two states are contrary the stated expectations of their patrons in the West who opposed vehemently M’bow’s work which they claim would hinder the activities of journalists working in the “free press”.
Yet they are not being sanctioned and required, for example, to display the mandatory identity tag as “state-owned media”, which the West now requires of Chinese media such as Xinhua news agency and Russia’s RT.
But that they are not building on M’bow’s legacy is simply because the policy-makers, media managers and editors in Senegal and Gambia deliberately ignore finding inspiration in M’bow’s good work toward the achievement of a new world information and communication order.
Instead, today media in both countries, public and private, are willing purveyors of information designed to brainwash their people by feeding them with the propaganda cloaked as news, spewed out daily by transnational news media such as the BBC, DW, and France 24 among others.
However, that these powerful agenda-setting media in the West are aided and abetted by the owners and staff of media in Senegambia and elsewhere in Africa is made possible due to the absence of meaningful national communication policies.
Such communication policies must be in place, and be designed to guide policy-makers, media practitioners, and all communication activities in today’s society. 
And, the necessity to highlight and to address this reality – as recommended in the Macbride Report – is more pressing now than ever before!

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