Niger Media and Telecoms Landscape Guide

Reports & Surveys

Infoasaid produced this media landscape guide about Niger in December 2011.

Media overview

  • Radio is the main source of news and information in Niger.
  • The country has more than 20 private FM stations and over 100 community radio stations operating alongside the extensive state radio network.
  • Television is also popular, especially in urban areas. The country has seven different TV channels.
  • A BBC World Service media audience survey in 2008 showed that 67% of adults listened to the radio at least once a week.
  • However, only 17% watched TV on a weekly basis.
  • Radios are cheaper and more portable than TV sets. They are also less dependent on a mains electricity supply to work.
  • Newspapers and magazines are only read by the educated urban elite – mainly in the capital Niamey.
  • All of Niger’s newspapers are written in French. Only the educated elite can read them or afford to buy them.
  • The everyday language used by most people is Hausa.
  • According to UNESCO, only 28% of Niger’s adult population could read and write in 2005, the latest date for which published statistics are available.
  • 43% of men could read and write, whereas the adult literacy rate for women was only 15%.
  • Despite its poverty, Niger has a well-developed and relatively free media.
  • It ranked 104 out of 178 countries listed in the Reporters Sans Frontieres 2010 Press Freedom Index.
  • Operating alongside the state radio network, La Voix du Sahel, there are about 20 private commercial radio stations.
  • Some of the larger ones based in Niamey, also have local studios and FM relay stations in other large cities.
  • In addition, there are more than 100 community radio stations. Most of these serve isolated towns and villages using low-powered FM transmitters.
  • Together these different types of radio station cover the vast majority of the population and offer most Nigeriens a choice of listening.
  • The Hausa language radio services of several foreign broadcasters, notably BBC World Service, Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Deutsche Welle also command a large audience.
  • They broadcast to Niger on Short Wave, but can also be heard on FM in several cities through relay partnerships with local radio stations.
  • Radio France Internationale (RFI) is also influential. It broadcasts in French and Hausa on FM from its own transmitters mounted on the masts of state-run Voix du Sahel in several large towns.
  • Most town dwellers have access to a mobile phone. Mobile usage is also widespread in the countryside.
  • The BBC World Service audience survey in 2008 found that 9% of adults listened to the radio on their mobile phones.
  • Internet usage is confined to an affluent minority within the educated urban elite.
  • The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated that less than 1% of the population had access to the internet in 2010.
  • This is partly a result of Niger’s low literacy rate, but it is also a consequence of extreme poverty.
  • Very few people can afford to buy a computer, surf the web on their mobile phone or buy computer time at an internet cafe.
  • The most popular types of radio programme in Niger are news and current affairs updates.
  • Four out of ten adults listen to 30 minutes of news per day, according to the 2008 BBC World Service audience survey.
  • The survey indicated that Nigeriens are primarily interested in local rather than African or global news.
  • Dramas and programmes that focus on local and family issues are also popular.
  • There are no reliable media audience figures.
  • Radio and TV stations tend to estimate – and very often exaggerate - the number of listeners and viewers that they attract.
  • Research by the US embassy in 2011 suggested that the state-run radio network La Voix du Sahel had a regular audience of around seven million people.
  • It also estimated that TeleSahel, the flagship state TV channel had up to four million viewers.
  • The embassy research showed that Tal TV, ORTN’s second television channel, attracted up to one million viewers.
  • No recent figures are available for the ownership of TV sets and radio sets.
  • The state broadcasting corporation, Office de Radiodifusion et Television du Niger (ORTN), controls Voix du Sahel, Telesahel and Tal TV.
  • Voix du Sahel operates local radio stations in Niamey and the seven regional capitals; Maradi, Zinder, Tillaberi, Tahoua, Agadez, Diffa and Dosso.
  • These regional stations link up with network headquarters in Niamey for national programming.
  • Telesahel and its more commercial sister station Tal TV broadcast from masts in the eight regional capitals. They can also be received nationwide by satellite.
  • Two of Niger’s privately owned TV stations - Tenere TV and Canal 3 – are also available on satellite.
  • The other three private TV stations only provide coverage of Niamey and the surrounding area from free-to-air terrestrial transmitters.
  • The five largest private FM radio stations: Anfani, Sarraounia, Tenere, Alternative and Tambara, have studios and transmitters in Niamey and other provincial cities.
  • Their regional studios are often used to provide a limited amount of local news and programming as well as contributions to the national network.
  • Niger’s main spoken language is Hausa. This is the language that is most widely used on radio and television.
  • Most people speak Hausa with a reasonable level of fluency.
  • Radio and TV stations also broadcast a lot of programming in French, the official language of government.
  • The other main languages used in broadcasting are Djerma (also spelt Zarma), Peul (also known as Fulfulde and Fulani), Tamasheq, Toubou and Arabic.
  • Djerma is the main language spoken in southwestern Niger around Niamey.
  • Peul, Tamasheq and Toubou are spoken in the north.
  • Arabic is also widely understood in northern Niger, where people have close cultural, social and trade links to the Arabic speaking countries of North Africa.
  • The state broadcaster ORTN broadcasts daily news bulletins in eight local languages.
  • The programme-making capacity of Nigerien radio and TV stations is limited, but is developing fast.
  • Almost all broadcasters are short of equipment, but many have plenty of staff.
  • Even small radio stations may employ eight to 10 journalists.
  • The quality of broadcast output is quite variable.
  • Some radio stations have up-to-date digital recorders and digital editing software and their broadcast output sounds very professional.
  • Others still rely on cassette recorders without proper microphones to undertake news reporting.
  • Some TV programmes look as good as their counterparts in Cote d’Ivoire.
  • Others are technically so bad that they are difficult to watch.
  • Foreign radio stations have traditionally beamed programmes into West Africa on Short Wave, but increasingly they reach Nigerien audiences on FM through relay partnerships with local radio stations.
  • The BBC Hausa Service claims an audience of 3.6 million people in Niger. It can be widely heard on FM through relay partnerships with three local commercial stations: Anfani, Sarraounia and R & M.
  • Voice of America (VOA) and Germany’s Radio Deutsche Welle also have popular Hausa language programmes. These are relayed on FM by Tenere and Anfani among others.
  • Radio France International (RFI) is available nationally in French on FM. It also has a Hausa service, but this appears to be less popular than the Hausa-language broadcasts of the BBC, VOA and Deutsche Welle.
  • The French satellite television channels TV5 and France 24 are popular amongst the educated elite.
  • Most local TV stations run a high proportion of foreign programmes.
  • Ivorian TV dramas are particularly popular.
  • Canal France International, a consortium of French international broadcasters, supplies French-language radio and TV programmes designed for African audiences to many Nigerien radio and TV stations.
  • Niger’s media scene has opened up quite dramatically since political liberalisation began in the early 1990s.
  • Until then, the state-run ORTN had a complete monopoly of radio and television.
  • Niger’s first independent weekly newspaper, Le Republicain, was launched in 1991.
  • R & M was the first private FM station to go on air. It began broadcasting from Niamey in 1994.
  • Niger’s first private TV channel, Tenere, was launched in 2000.
  • The first community radio station began broadcasting in 1999.
  • A further 100 community radio stations sprang up over the following decade, encouraged by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and a variety of other international donors.
  • Many community radios in remote locations consist of a ready-to-use radio station-in-a-box located in a mud hut. Most are powered by solar panels.
  • The community stations typically have a 50 to 100 watt transmitter mounted on a 20 to 30 metre high mast. Most have a broadcast range of 10 to 50 km.
  • By August 2011, 129 community radio stations had been established.
  • However, media sources said about 30 of them were off air as a result of technical and financial problems.
  • Press freedom suffered during the authoritarian rule of President Mamadou Tandja from 1999 to 2010.
  • But relations between the state and the media have thawed considerably since Tandja’s overthrow and the introduction of a new more liberal media law in 2010.
  • The new media law was drafted jointly by the military junta which deposed Tandja and local journalists at a conference in March 2010. It was promulgated three months later.
  • The new law decriminalised abuses of journalism. It scrapped prison sentences for defamation and the publishing of erroneous information. Instead, these became civil offences punishable by fines.
  • The new law also introduced a degree of self-regulation on the media for the first time through the creation of an autonomous body called the L’Observatoire Nigérien Indépendant des Médias pour l’Ethique et la Déontologie (Independent Nigerien Observatory for Media and Ethics) (ONIMED).
  • However, ONIMED has very limited powers to support journalists and uphold their rights.
  • The government retained overall powers of supervision of the media through a regulatory body called the Office National de Communications (ONC).
  • The new media law enshrined the principle of freedom of information and committed the government to allow widespread public access to official information.
  • Journalists have now begun to demand information from government bodies which in the past were reluctant to divulge anything.
  • Separate laws outlaw religious intolerance and hate speech. However, both these phenomena are rare in the Nigerien media.
  • In the past, journalists frequently practiced self-censorship on political issues and on stories affecting prominent figures in big business. The 2010 media law could help to make them less reticent.
  • Low salaries mean that journalists are susceptible to bribery and the colouring of their reports by financial inducements.
  • The government and aid agencies frequently pay journalists to attend their press conferences.
  • The average wage of a Nigerien journalist is less than US$100 per month so most reporters are grateful for this supplement to their meagre basic income.
  • However, critics of the system argue that such payments are simply bribes that encourage journalists to give prominent and favourable coverage to the story that they have been invited to cover.
  • The institutionalisation of such payments has led to an environment in which journalists are often disinclined to cover stories where there is no financial inducement from them to do so.
  • Nevertheless a mission to Niger by the media rights organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) in July 2011 gave a very positive assessment of developments in the media following the country’s return to democracy.
  • It concluded that: “Niger could become a regional model of good governance and respect for media freedom, but must first consolidate what has been achieved”.
  • Social taboos inhibit the public discussion of several sensitive issues, such as violence against women, abortion, rape and prostitution.
  • In the past, the government has also objected to media references to famine and the continued existence of domestic slavery in Niger.
  • Sensitive social issues are often tackled effectively through dramatic sketches written and performed by local theatre companies.
  • These mini-dramas are performed in public and many of them are recorded and broadcast by community radio stations.
  • Whenever radio stations organise discussion programmes on controversial issues, they often invite Muslim clerics or scholars to offer a Koranic interpretation of the matter at hand.
  • Such discussion programmes often include questions and comments from listeners who call in by phone or send a text message.
  • Several international media development organisations have worked in Niger in recent years, mostly to support the development of community radio stations.
  • Community radios offer one of the best ways for aid agencies to communicate with the rural population.
  • They broadcast in local languages and carry local news and information of direct relevance to the everyday life of their target audience.
  • In 2011, the US-based media development organisation Equal Access was training journalists from 52 radio stations to become ‘community reporters,’ able to report more effectively on local issues.
  • Equal Access was producing three programmes per week which were circulated to these partner stations for broadcasting;
    • a rural soap opera containing social messages
    • a youth programme
    • a religious affairs programme that emphasises tolerance
  • The US NGO was also helping its partner stations to form listening groups where people listen to these programmes together and discuss them afterwards.
  • The broadcasts of each community radio station only cover a small geographical area. Potential sponsors of programming must deal with each station individually. There is no national coordination body that can sell air time on several community stations at once.
  • Neither has any telephone contact list been compiled and published to make communication with individual community radio stations easier.
  • Many humanitarian organisations find it easier to sponsor programmes on commercial radio stations with a wider geographic reach, such as Anfani, Sarraounia, Tenere, Alternative and Tambara.
  • UNICEF is a major purchaser of radio airtime for public service announcements and programmes with a social message on issues such as health and education.
  • It commissions the production and recording of radio programmes and spots and then pays for them to be aired on a large number of commercial and community radio stations.
  • The revenue raised from broadcasting sponsored programming for aid agencies is an important source of revenue for most Nigerien radio stations, especially the smaller ones, which find it difficult to attract advertising.
  • Niger’s media is still learning how to engage with disaster-affected communities, but several aid agencies have begun to encourage this process.
  • The World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF have worked directly with journalists from radio stations and newspapers, taking them to the field to meet communities affected by drought and severe food shortages.
  • The civic action NGO Alternative Espaces Citoyens, which runs its own Radio Alternative FM radio stations in Niamey and Zinder, has also organised a number of reporting missions to outlying communities to gather voices and opinions from forgotten places, and to hold educational debates there on issues of importance.
  • The US Peace Corps office in Niger has produced a useful guide on how to work with radio stations in Niger “Working with Radio, a guide for PCVs”. This is available online. It does not have a URL, but can be found through a Google search for the title.
  • Niger is 99% Muslim and socially conservative.
  • Prayer forms an important part of everyday life and most men attend the mosque on a weekly basis.
  • Traditional channels of communication such as imams and village elders are still important for reaching the illiterate sections of rural society.

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