Thursday, August 26, 2010

Nurturing Media in West Africa

The West African Media Development Fund opens it doors to facilitate the growth of media in the region. AudienceScapes interviewed the fund's CEO about their plans to sow the seeds of a vibrant and pluralistic media sector.

By Kwami Ahiabenu II

The growth and development of the media as a business venture in West Africa is hindered by a number of factors. The region possesses a limited professional capacity to produce journalism, operating a media outlet is expensive, access to credit facilities is limited and the cost of borrowing is typically high. These factors are threatening the growth of pluralistic media in the region.

To solve some of these challenges, media funds have been established to provide media organizations with affordable and readily available lines of credit. Examples of media funds active on the continent include country-based funds like the Tanzania Media Fund, regional funds like the Southern Africa Media Development Fund, and at the global level, the Media Development Loan Fund.

Media organizations in West Africa were encouraged when the West Africa Media Development Fund (WAMDEF) was set up. Launched in April of this year, WAMDEF will provide financial support to privately owned, independent media organizations established on weak capitalization and operating under precarious economic regimes.

From its headquarters in Accra, Ghana, Kwasi Owusu Asare, chief executive officer of WAMDEF, spoke to AudienceScapes about the progress of the fund and his vision for the future:

AudienceScapes: Can you tell us more about WAMDEF, when it was established and why the need for such a fund?

Asare: WAMDEF was launched on the 13th of April 2010 as an initiative of the Media Foundation for West Africa and Free Voice of the Netherlands. This was after comprehensive research had been conducted which showed clearly the challenges independent media had in accessing credit for growth.  The WAMDEF Fund does not only provide credit, but also provides technical support which is critical to the support/sustainability of these businesses.

AudienceScapes: What is your geographical coverage and do you have country offices or representatives?

Asare: Our mandate is to work in all West African countries, but currently we do not have in-country offices, though we are planning to develop this in the near future. We are currently using an in-country representative of MFWA which has a presence in all West African countries.

AudienceScapes: Why is a special case being made for media funding in the region instead of the media being empowered to apply for commercial lending?

Asare: This is because the media has the challenge of not being able to meet the requirement for credit of most financial institutions in the subregion, plus the media is generally seen as a high-risk venture.

AudienceScapes: Who qualifies to tap into the fund and what is the procedure for doing so?

Asare: Basically, any registered news and information disseminating agency, registered and operating within the subregion, is qualified to apply. An applicant has to visit WAMDEF to download an application form. After submission of the form, it will be assessed and a decision communicated to the applicant within 8 weeks.

AudienceScapes: Does WAMDEF have any particular focus in the types of media organizations it will select for funding? Any priorities?

Asare: WAMDEF is particularly interested in news and information-dissemination independent media organizations.

AudienceScapes: Do you providing funding for new media?

Asare: Yes.

AudienceScapes: Do you have any funding opportunities for freelancers or sole proprietorship-type media operations?

Asare: Each media organization is assessed based on its merit.

AudienceScapes: Are funds provided interest free? And typically what is the duration for paying back such funds?

Asare: Our portfolio includes:

* Quick operating loans of up to $10,000, repayable between 60-120 days.
* Short-term loans between $10,000 and $50,000, repayable between 120 days and 2 years.
* Medium-term loans between $50,000 and $100,000, repayable between 3 and 5 years.
* Long-term loans between $100,000 and $200,000 repayable between 5 and 7 years.

Please visit our website for more information. These options are not cast in stone but are assessed and dealt with on case-by-case basis. These loans are not interest free but are offered at much lower interest rate (60-70% less) than prevailing commercial rates in the country of the applicant.

AudienceScapes: How many applications have you received so far?

Asare: Some 30 applications have so far been received, and more keep coming in.

AudienceScapes: Has WAMDEF made any investments yet?

Asare: We will be making our first investments in September 2010.

AudienceScapes: What kind of technical assistance do you expect to deliver the most? What do you see as the greatest technical assistance needs for media organizations?

Asare: The greatest technical assistance media organizations needs are its internal systems. Most of them have no software to harness revenue, ensure internal control, track performance, etc. Closely following these are the human resource capacities especially in the areas of management and general leadership.

AudienceScapes: What are some of your key challenges and achievements over your short period of operations?

Asare: The general volume of financial requests is a testament to the fact that private independent media needs support and we need more partners in this venture.

AudienceScapes: What is your vision for the fund and how do you see contributing to the growth of free and vibrant media in the region?

Asare: The fund will definitely make a major contribution to the strengthening of democracy in the subregion.


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