The ups and down of the Senegalese press

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Senegal boasts of 17 radios, eight daily newspapers and several weeklies giving readers a wide variety from which to choose.
Foreigners and children of abroad-based Senegalese who return to Dakar after several year of absence are even astonished by the buoyant media scene.
Seven privately owned dailies have seen the light of day within less than eight years.
The pioneers were "Sud Quotidien" and "Wal Fadjri" which hit the news stands in 1993.
Several others followed later although some did not last long.
A second generation of dailies referred to as "the press of the masses" has emerged since the opposition came to power for the first time in March 2000.
These newspapers attract readers because they are sold at 100 F CFA and concentrate on sex scandals and sometimes pornography.
The Senegalese business community has slowly started taking an interest in the media sector, a case in point being the famous singer and businessman, Yousou Ndour.
In 1999, the talented musician and his associates launched the "7 Com" media group composed of three newspapers and one radio.
However, the Senegalese press is financially weak because the readership is insignificant mainly because of the West African nation's high illiteracy rate, estimated at around 73 percent.
This no doubt explains the boom in the audience of private radio stations most of which were launched by newspaper owners in a bid to diversify their sources of revenue.
In most cases, 80 percent of the revenue of local newspapers derives from daily sales rather than advertisements.
This renders them financially fragile.
Circulation of most papers ranges from between 5,000 and 20,000 copies while printing costs are high.
The distribution system also leaves much to be desired, particularly in the countryside.
Since the early 1990s, the former government had established a press support fund.
In the run-up to Sunday's election, the government of President Abdoulaye Wade granted the local media 300 million F CFA to enable the media cover the 21-day election campaign.
Senegal enjoys a relatively health freedom of the press although ups and downs have occurred in the relationship between media professionals and the new authorities.
While the media played a major role in bringing about change of leadership last year and the consolidation of Senegalese democracy, the new authorities have dragged several journalists to court over the past few months.
They were charged with defamation, affront to the head of State or publishing false news.
The local union of journalists denounced this as an attempt to muzzle the press.
President Wade later dropped the two cases he had filed in court.
Generally, however, the Senegalese government has shown tolerance towards the media.
"Personally, I have never had problems with the authorities although I have given them a rough ride while remaining within the bounds of legality," said Odia, one of the country's leading cartoonists.
A majority of Senegalese journalists are not well paid although a collective wage improvement agreement has been signed, not media organs have implemented it.
Owners of private media organs complain that they lack the means to improve wages.
Thus, in most cases they work with part- time journalists or untrained volunteers who work free of charge.
"There a need to restructure the press.
Our profession is the most open.
Anyone gets into it provided he/she knows how to write.
But such people do not know journalistic ethics and that is why there are many court cases against journalists," remarked one journalist in Dakar.
Besides these problems, not many journalists have mastered the utilisation of new information and communication technologies because they are not readily available.
"With one computer for a newsroom of 20 journalists, how can one learn to use the computer tool?" one journalist asked.

28 april 2001 16:12:00

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