THE media has once again come under the spotlight, a day before the opening of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly, which roars into life in Victoria Falls and Livingstone in less than 24 hours.
The general assembly opens at a time when international tourism registered growth of four percent in 2012, reaching a massive one billion.
Growth in emerging economies, incl-uding Zambia and Zimbabwe, has inc-reased by 4,1 percent in spite of the handicaps developing economies face in attracting international visitors.
Growth is, however, projected to continue beyond this year riding on better publicity by the powerful global media, which will improve destination awareness.
Governments are now asking about the role of the African media in promoting tourism.
In Lusaka and Harare, the belief is that the African media can be the catalyst for the industry’s growth.
The feeling in both governments is also that the growth registered on the continent in 2012 in terms of tourist arrivals could have been much higher had Africa not been confronted by the extreme negative publicity.
Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister, said it was high time the bolt of bad publicity is tackled by nurturing a vibrant African media, which tells the African story.
“We have to deal with the image aspect,” Mzembi told The Financial Gazette in Victoria Falls on Saturday. “For example, we can have our own African CNN. We must fight images with images in the same manner that CNN has done.”
CNN, along with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), The Economist (popular for its ‘Africa hopeless continent headlines’), and other influential media focu-ssed their African reports on famine, diseases, conflicts, civil wars, infrastructure decay, bad governance, corruption and kleptocracy.
The global media’s reportage on Africa is therefore being viewed by Lusaka and Harare as destructive, obstructing foreign direct investment, whipping up emotions in volatile regions, with their agenda setting strategies said to be fuelling widespread protests against sitting governments.
Both governments also accuse the global media of ignoring Africa’s achievement in technology, democracy and peace.
Mzembi said there was need for investment in stronger African media to take the global giants head on in an effort to build a formidable tourism industry.
Zambia’s Tourism Minister, Sylvia Masebo, has called for increased efforts to save the tourism industry through greater information dissemination.
“There cannot be tourism without information,” she told reporters in Livingstone.
“We need the media to market and promote our destinations. I am grateful with the work done by Livingstone journalists (in) promoting UNWTO,” said Masebo.
In the past, African governments have tried to invest in stronger African media that would rival the global giants in their efforts to project a better image for the continent.
The birth of African news agencies such as New Ziana in Zimbabwe and Namibian Press Agency was partly in response to the global media’s growing influence.
But just like all government funded enterprises across Africa, news agencies have been operating with shoestring budgets hence they have not been effective in discharging their roles.
Ironically, Western news agencies have been blossoming.
But looking at Zambia and Zimbabwe, Lusaka has done much better in strategically positioning its media.
The Zambian government has been cultivating a robust private media, including community and private radio and television stations.
Zimbabwe’s northern neighbour has over 60 broadcasters, which has all focussed on the UNWTO.
Zambia has received far greater publicity on the UNWTO than Zimbabwe, and their government has been singing praises for journalism.
And yet Zimbabwe has been throwing spanners into the industry.
Draconian laws and policies have discouraged free speech, a critical ingredient to development.
In an environment where free speech and independent journalism have effectively been criminalised by the State, one hopes that the incoming administration would realise that a vibrant media is important not only for democracy and good governance, but for developing tourism and attracting investment.