A Media Development Fund to support private and independent media organizations in West Africa would start operation, in January 2010, with the aim of enhancing press freedom and democracy.
The fund dubbed: “West Africa Media Development Fund (WAMDEF)” would operate as a non-bank financial institution with the primary goal of disbursing 20 million dollars to about 250 media houses within the sub-region between 2010 and 2014 on a revolving basis.
Prof. Kwame Karikari, Executive Director of Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), who announced this at a press conference, said WAMDEF is a development fund being promoted by his organization and “Free Voice”, a Dutch non governmental organization that promotes media independence, to provide support through loans and capacity building programmes for private and independent media in West Africa.
“The generality of West Africa media organizations operate under very challenging economic and financial conditions. Most of these media institutions are established on very weak capital base with the result that they are fragile and susceptible to commercial interest.”
Prof. Karikari said the private media played a crucial role in development as well as the sustenance and growth of stable democracies through providing a diversity of voices in society, encouraging debate and providing access to information.
Referring to a feasibility study conducted, he said 10 out of 16 countries in the sub-region recommended that one of the mechanisms for addressing the challenges was the establishment of media development funds to serve as catalyst for improving the economic conditions of those media organizations.
He said as part of the preparatory programme for the implementation of the fund, a roundtable, attended by editors and managing editors of newspapers, radio stations and television networks unanimously endorsed WAMDEF and indicated their commitment to making it successful and viable.
Prof. Karikari said they would engage a start-up management team to develop detailed plans to mobilize funds and establish structures for the commencement of the operations.
The fund would be incorporated under the laws of Ghana as a commercial company limited by guarantee and would appoint an initial board of directors.
He urged media enterprises in West Africa to take advantage of the initiative to enhance their capacities, become more sustainable, remain independent professionally and position themselves for deepening and strengthening of democracy in the sub-region.
Mr Bart Dijkstra, Director, Free Voice, expressed the hope that the fund would help the media in developing countries to help themselves in the near future.
“It is expected that in five years, media organizations in West Africa will not need such a fund or support to operate,” he said.