Internews launched its first ever Madagascar Media Needs Assessment Report in Fort Dauphin and Antananarivo in mid-October. The two roundtable events brought together 30 media professionals.
The assessment was carried out by Internews Senior Program Officer Thibault Chapoy supported by the Internews Africa regional team, and in partnership with Ordre des Journalistes de Madagascar (OJM), Ilontsera, the Coalition des Radios and Communication Idea Development (CID) Madagascar, the Media Regulation Department of the Ministry of Culture and Communication and all the media outlets that participated in this study. The aim of this assessment is to provide updated information on the state of the media sector in Madagascar, and to seek to explore the following research questions:
– What are the needs of the media and media professionals to foster the practice of better quality journalism that responds to the information needs of the Malagasy people and the development challenges of the country?
– To what extent are the legal and regulatory frameworks of the media favourable to the media and journalists?
– What are the factors and conditions that could foster a healthier information ecosystem in Madagascar?
The assessment provides information on the media’s organizational strengths, weaknesses and needs; the capacity of media houses to collect and disseminate information and content to its audience and how they meet their various information needs; the professional capacity of journalists, editors and managers; the legal and regulatory framework; and the impact of COVID-19 on media operations. The study aims at identifying areas of intervention that would allow the emergence of a more dynamic media sector that meets the information needs of the Malagasy people.
This study employed a mixed methodology integrating both quantitative and qualitative elements. For the qualitative aspects, the research involved interviews with key informants, focus group discussions, observations during field visits and extensive desk research. The qualitative methods used flexible tools (semi-structured interview guide, checklist, open-ended questionnaire, etc). For the quantitative method, two structured surveys on the needs of radio stations and media professionals were conducted.
In Madagascar, media and journalists face an ambiguous legal framework that both guarantees and limits the exercise of freedom of expression. Certain notions such as “attacks on state security”, “defamation”, “dissemination of fake news” or “incitement to hatred” are often left to the discretion of the judge and used against journalists. The State continues to use an arsenal of retaliatory measures (imprisonment of journalists, suspension of publications, intimidation and pressure, etc.) against journalists and medias.
The general state of freedom of the press and expression is poorly documented and monitored. Self-censorship remains the norm in the practice of journalism constrained by highly directive editorial policies. Online harassment by supporters of the government or political factions also seems to be a new emerging phenomenon that undermines the protection of journalists who have no notion of digital safety. Many taboo subjects and topics on governance, corruption cases, trafficking of natural resources are difficult for journalists to tackle. With the state of emergency decreed as part of the health response to Covid 19, the Malagasy authorities have taken some of the most restrictive measures against media in Africa.
According to estimates, there are about 40 daily newspapers and magazines, more than 300 radio stations, about 30 television channels and a dozen online media. The Ministry of Culture and Communication (MCC) is reportedly about to set up the National Authority for the Regulation of Media Communication and to lift the suspension on the issuance of new operating licences, which has been in place since 2010. The vast majority of media outlets are owned by political leaders or parties whose interests they reflect. A phenomenon of concentration of ownership is emerging and accelerating with the appearance of large media groups. There is an exacerbated polarisation of the media landscape which is divided in a quasi-manichean way between the opposition and pro-government press. The beginning of the year 2021 has seen a worrying rise in political tensions that have been transposed into the warmongering content of the medias. It is worrying to note this deterioration when the next presidential election will only take place at the end of 2023. Several observers of the media landscape point to the lack of opportunities for debate and dialogue.
The written press remains confined to the capital and the prerogative of the city’s political and economic elite. Newspapers remain marginal in provincial towns due to distribution difficulties and delays. According to the MICS Madagascar survey, 9% of men and 8% of women are exposed to newspapers. It is the medium par excellence for conveying political and economic interests and for shaping opinion. The written press has only timidly begun a digital transition.
The radio landscape is divided between the national radio station Radio Nasionaly Malagasy (RNM), which has exclusive national coverage, and commercial, associative and religious radio stations, which are officially limited in their local coverage to 150km. There are no community radio stations with their own legal status. Like other media, radio is used as an instrument of political propaganda and many local notables and politicians own a station. Despite this, the radio landscape remains in many ways the only space where independent media can operate. Radio remains the primary source of information for the Malagasy people and is the most accessible in the provinces and in rural areas. According to MICS, 49% of men and 41% of women declare to be specifically exposed to radio. The majority of radios operate with rudimentary equipment that suffers from numerous malfunctions without qualified technicians.
According to MICS, exposure to television affects less than a quarter of men or women (23% of women and men). While it remains the most followed medium in the capital, television is a marginal source of information in the provinces. In many respects, TV shares the same constraints as radio in terms of maintenance difficulties, lack of equipment and technicians’ skills. It is also a highly politicised medium. For the moment, the online media landscape remains very embryonic with very few players that could be described as pure players. The new law on media communication of 2020 enshrines the legal existence of online media. Citizen media initiatives remain both marginal and precarious. Nevertheless, there are many blogs, influencers and well-followed Facebook pages in the Internet landscape. Internet penetration is limited (7-14% according to estimates) in Madagascar but several factors could favour the emergence of new independent online media.
The working conditions of journalists are extremely precarious in terms of remuneration, technical means at their disposal, time constraints and pressure from media owners and politicians. These working conditions are one of the obstacles to the development of a free and independent press. The profession is not valued, and many journalists choose the profession as a temporary means to serve their political ambitions. The Malagasy population has a negative perception of media and journalists. Many journalists have no specific training in journalism or communication and are trained on the job within their media. While there is a lot of buzz around investigative journalism, the most urgent needs seem to be around ethics, basics and fundamentals of journalism or on specific thematic areas.
Journalists do not always adhere to professional standards and unverified reporting is common. With many journalists being recruited with little or no training, controlling the quality of content remains a major challenge. Social media are the information providers that expose the most the population and young people to fake news and rumours. Despite the proliferation of fake news, there is no website or fact checking initiative specialised in dealing with it.
The vast majority of journalists interviewed (88%) are convinced that they meet the information needs of Malagasy people. They cite several mechanisms for collecting this feedback: telephone, SMS, emails, social networks and visits. However, several polls and surveys seem to show that there is a crisis of confidence between the Malagasy and the media. No serious and exhaustive study has analysed in depth the information needs of the Malagasy people and the different communities. Initiatives are still limited in terms of bringing the media closer to the communities, setting up feedback mechanisms and involving the communities in the production of content. There are several opportunities with video clubs, mobile cinema, cartoons and photojournalism to engage communities and the public on different issues.
Media business models are quite traditional, depending mainly on advertising without ever having developed a diversification of their revenue sources. The Covid 19 health crisis has an economic impact on the media, which has manifested itself in the form of business closures, layoffs and salary cuts. It is too early to measure the long term impact as the second wave of the crisis is now in full swing and many media outlets are suffering from a significant reduction in advertising revenues.
Several interventions targeting the media sector have been initiated in the past offering training or stimulating content production. However, while local expertise in Madagascar is available in many areas, professional media organizations are fragile and lack the institutional capacity to help structure the sector. Most of these organizations could make an essential contribution to strengthening the sector. Most of these structures have received only episodic funding which has had limited impact on expending their work and own capacity building.
In view of the consequences of the health crisis on freedom of expression and the heightened political divisions and tensions, an intervention focused on the media sector could make it possible to open up spaces for peaceful debate, to offer a greater diversity of quality content based on reliable sources, and to accompany the upcoming elections in better conditions. In order to respond to the various governance issues in Madagascar, it is essential to ensure that there is a healthy information ecosystem that contributes to democratic debate. Any intervention should focus on strengthening local actors and professional media organizations.
- Launch an in-depth analysis of the legal framework in order to better understand the implementation legislation that could consolidate the law on media communication and better protect journalists; Accompany the adoption of the law on access to information, in particular through awareness-raising among the actors;
- Strengthen the capacity of the OJM to set up a systematic monitoring of press freedom violations, documenting all violations;
- Provide journalists (especially women), media and other civil society activists with key digital safety concepts;
- Strengthen the capacity and resources of existing independent media and stimulate the production of news content on key issues of governance, gender, environment and climate change;
- Encourage and initiate debates and spaces for discussion in various medias on key governance issues and on topics concerning marginalised groups such as women, youth, rural communities, etc;
- In the context of the upcoming elections, encourage neutral and impartial coverage of election campaigns through training and awareness raising activities;
- Strengthen the capacity of journalists through training/mentoring and practical curricula on ethics, basics and fundamentals of journalism; Complement these trainings with trainings on mobile journalism, fact-checking and thematic training;
- Develop the skills of a core group of technicians specialised in audio-visual who can assist radio and TV stations in the technical obstacles they face; Encourage existing technical training courses to integrate this specialisation; Provide material and equipment support to independent radio and TV stations;
- Stimulate and support the emergence of online and offline citizen journalist initiatives;
- Strengthen and support professional media organisations (OJM, coalition of radios, journalists’ associations, etc) so that they structure and self-regulate the sector;
- Develop a culture of fact checking and initiate initiatives to verify facts, prevent rumours and hate speech;
- Carry out an in-depth study on the information needs of the Malagasy people and the different communities;
- Support community-based initiatives using video clubs, mobile cinema, cartoons or photojournalism to engage communities and the public on different issues;
- Supporting independent media in strengthening their business model and economic resilience in order to diversify their sources of funding and encourage innovative business models in the media sector;
- Supporting media in their digital transition;
- Commissioning surveys to measure media audiences and consumption patterns and assisting media on how they can use these surveys;
- Encouraging better collaboration between the media and civil society, including training civil society on communication strategies, social networking and media use.