UNESCO Symposium on African News Agencies opens in Yaounde

Yaounde- Cameroon (PANA) -- A symposium opened Tuesday in Yaounde, Cameroon on the future of news agencies in Africa, in the context of the New Information and Communication Technologies (NICTs).
The meeting, organised by UNESCO, brings together several African news agency decision-makers and clients, as well as entrepreneurs and Internet providers.
From the consensus at the inaugural session, presided over by the Cameroonian Communications Minister, Jacques Fame Ndongo, it is clear that African national new agencies must adapt to the context of the NICTs or disappear.
The Director of the UNESCO Sub-regional Bureau, Cheikh Tidiane Sy and the Director-General of the Dakar-based Pan African News Agency (PANA), Babacar Fall, underscored this point.
Fall said "the National News Agencies of the 1960s, characterised by mono-product activity made up of the telescripted general information service generated by their networks and the redistribution of foreign news casts by the transnational news agencies, is outdated".
According to him "this form of news agency no longer meets the requirements of today's market, marked by an intrusion of NICTs and the extra-ordinary networking achieved by the Internet technology in Africa in the past 10 years".
"The time when the news agency was exclusively a matter for governments is now over," Fall said, stressing that the African private sector must be actively involved at all levels to help development sustainable and financially viable media on the continent.
He said the experience of PANA, a former inter- governmental news agency, now privatised, is proof that it is possible to meet the challenge.
Established in 1984 by the OAU as part of the New International Information and Communication Order (NIICO), PANA experienced the same difficulties as the national agencies.
But 17 years after, it now operates under a new legal framework with reassuring prospects.
From 2,000 words per day in 1992, Fall said the production has gone up to 85,000 words, adding that the service is now received in 48 African countries and 118 countries outside the continent.
The Agency's cast is currently in three languages- English, French and Arabic-, with a plan to add Portuguese soon.
PANA is also diversifying its products, with the introduction of a photo service to be followed soon by a Television service.
According to Fall, PANA is equally expanding by opening new regional offices and recruiting correspondents in many more countries.
In his intervention, James Onobiono, a Cameroonian businessman stressed that communication was a profitable sector.
According to him, the demand exists and can be satisfied by quality production based on good infrastructure and human resources.
He said if the prospects are bright in the sector of information and communication technologies, the investor in the media, should take into consideration conditions such as the market, equipment, finance and human resources.
"Despite the hindrances and handicaps, there is every reason to invest," Onobiono said, while stressing that the crisis of the news agencies was not peculiar to Africa.
He cited the example of the London-based Reuters news agency, which has seen its stock market value fall, and now plans a 30-percent staff cut.

07 august 2001 23:19:00

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