African media: We must act quickly!

The thirteenth Highway Africa conference finished on a note of celebration last night. As we all head home, I mull over the messages that came out of this gathering of African media people – journalists, academics, NGOs and students. Apart from all the usual themes one would expect from a conference such as this – media freedom, democracy, sustainability – which as ever are not resolved, two recurred in every presentation, every conversation: new media technologies, and next year’s FIFA World Cup.
The effect of new technologies on the African media landscape remains ambiguous. Powerful and radical, undoubtedly, but will they be able to bring in much-needed revenues to African media houses? The answer is a work in progress. Nobody was committing to an answer on that one.
The subject that more were hope-filled about is next year’s World Cup. Apart from Antarctica, Africa is the only continent that has never hosted either of the world’s two biggest sporting events, the Olympic Games and the World Cup. Journalists are of course a cynical bunch and are generally reluctant to get swept up into the hype, but there’s no denying that some of the pessimism about Africa’s readiness has to be swept away. Danny Jordaan, FIFA 2010 Local Organising Committee CEO, gave a fact-filled presentation aimed at converting the doubters, which is due to be uploaded at www.highwayafrica.com shortly.
The question of whether the stadia will be ready on time is now quite a tired one. Certainly the Nelson Mandela Stadium in Port Elizabeth looked to me pretty ready: down to the red leather seats already installed for the outdoor VIP section, and the seemingly perfect pitch almost glowing in the dark.

View from the VIP outdoor seating area - probably the only time I'll get to be there!
View from the VIP outdoor seating area – probably the only time I’ll get to be there!

The key figures, to my mind, are the number of people who will be watching (an estimated 30 billion people) and the media professionals who will be attending (15 000). These journalists will be creating not just column inches – more like column miles. Africa has never had such attention focussed on it. Despite the cynicism, it’s perhaps now the best time ever to be a part of the African media.
But we also need to act quickly to ensure we don’t get crowded out by the international media. “The fans want to see the team bus to the stadium, then they run to buy the ticket,” was Jordaan’s way of criticizing Africa’s slowness to take advantages of the opportunities available.