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Building Robust Broadcast Media in Sub-Saharan Africa

Interviewee: Kahlil Byrd, cofounder of the African Public Broadcasting Foundation
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson
July 1, 2008

Literacy rates in sub-Saharan Africa are among the lowest in the world, and television and radio networks on the continent remain underdeveloped. Kahlil Byrd, cofounder of the African Public Broadcasting Foundation, says that though the television market remains small, the recent explosion in cell phone adoption shows there is significant potential for broadcast media in sub-Saharan Africa. His foundation aims to strengthen civil society in the region by moving "from a media industry that serves people in power to serving the needs of the individual." The business environment in the region is difficult, however, because "countries tend to be very delicate," which makes it difficult to gather sustained financing for the broadcast community. Ultimately, any broadcast network needs to become self-sustaining. "They can't be reliant on development money" and will need to attract advertising, Byrd says. The continent has yet to develop a research organization like Nielsen, so advertisers don't yet have a good sense of who their audience is. The foundation is working on developing a continent-wide research apparatus.

Though most Westerners think of broadcast media primarily in terms of journalism, Byrd points out that the U.S. broadcast media is sitcoms, films, talk shows, and documentaries. "Journalism is just the tip of the spear," he says. Other forms of media give a society a different reflection of its culture and values. "We make decisions about how we want our society to be based on the kind of art and culture we produce," he says. "Africans should have the same amount of robust choices as people have had throughout history and in other cultures."

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