By Rebecca Ekpe
Featuring Perspectives from the Second African Media Convention, Lusaka Zambia.
In recent times, conversations about regulating Social Media Platforms have taken center stage in conversations, especially in Africa’s media ecosystem, where Digitization and the multiplicity of online news portals are rendering Legacy News Media gradually a redundant item on the bucket list in most Media organizations.
To regulate or not to regulate is the catchphrase.
At the Second African Media Convention which took place in Lusaka, Zambia from 11th to 13th May 2023, Media stakeholders discussed among other topics, ‘’Lessons from content regulation practices and round-table consultations on outstanding issues in the Global Guidelines for regulating Digital platforms – Voices from Africa’’.
It was clear that a number of organizations and at the country level are taking steps to regulate social media platforms of some sort, social media platforms to minimize the spread of fake news.
The concern, however, is that ‘’freedom of expression must not be stifled in an attempt to regulate social media’’.
What is the magnitude of the problem? Why is it a concern?
Looking at Freedom of expression at the same time upholding rights in a Digital era simply puts a balance between Freedom of Speech and rights.
In some parts of Eastern Africa, such as Uganda for example we pick up signals that citizen Journalism is going overboard.
As a government official stated, ‘’Citizen Journalism is exploding in Uganda’’.
Experts are counting about ‘’300 digital media platforms with the State grappling with hate speech, pornography’’, amongst other vices. ‘’Uganda Social Media Use is in overdrive’’, a Minister in the government posited.
According to the Country Experts, the situation is alarming and the government is taking steps to regulate the space.
It is therefore prudent to ask, who must lead the discussion to regulate social media? Government or State holders?
Convenors at the Second African Media Convention in Lusaka Zambia believe the conversations may have to be two-way, but, the media Stakeholders should take the lead in the discourse, because everyone, not only the media and the government must be brought on board.
UNESCO is already in the process of designing Global Guidelines for regulating Digital platforms
The outstanding issues have been issues of contextual analysis.
For example, the fact remains it cannot be one guideline that fits all scenarios, as situations vary in the Sister African countries.
For example, what pertains to Sudan where there is a crisis could be different from advanced social media hubs and stable democracies like Ghana, Kenya etc.
While, there would be more localized content in the Ghana situation, with regards to information dissemination, etc. information flow from Sudan could be distorted by diaspora elements or even propaganda, due to conflict there, experts posited.
The question remains, what is the best way to regulate social media in Africa, where there is a lack of standards?
Lack of Transparency is identified as an issue, with the multiplicity of languages spoken on the Continent, with no clear standards for regulation in an answer to the question, what is the best way?
What is the best way to regulate online content in Africa and at the same time uphold freedom of expression?
- In streamlining policies to take care of digital platforms,
- African governments ought to remain proactive on clear Guidelines for regulating media platforms.
- Some Experts propose Human Rights Impact Assessments to measure and determine the kind of environment, and to determine moderation levels in the regulation mechanism.
- Also, the space for discussing regulation must be expanded for more engagements.
- Above all, the data collected must reflect the actual African context.
The way forward:
Clearly, Online Media platforms are developing faster than how to determine mechanisms for regulating these platforms.
The question remains, to regulate or not to regulate.
What is the human rights standard?
A clear understanding of the problem and situation is key.
How do we address issues of imbalance should companies go ahead to regulate-(big techs) (Twitter’s Elon Musk, losing Blue tick, account verification and other matters).
Working at a common approach with stakeholders is probably the way to go in regulating online platforms.
On the other hand, regulating does not necessarily eradicate a problem, because what is happening in the streets- offline is what happening, inside- which is online and vice versa.
What can be done differently to promote free speech online- Experts say ‘’innovate how you regulate’’, that is the way forward.
The Third African Media Convention
Ghana however won the Bid to hold the Third African Media Convention in Accra.
The Ghana Journalists Association would spearhead the program.
GJA President, Albert Dumfour told the convention in Lusaka that he is ‘’thrilled’’, to have been given the opportunity.
He was grateful to the Ghana Chancellery in Lusaka Zambia, FAJ, UNESCO and all the teams that supported Ghana’s bid to host one of the biggest Media gatherings in Africa.