Critical political economyof the media in lusophone southern africa

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Media ownership and control in most of the developing countries are embedded in politics and this has an effect on the content that the audiences get from the media. This paper is going to discuss the media ownership patterns in Lusophone Southern Africa, specifically Angola and Mozambique. Media ownership and the messages distributed to the public in these countries are similar because they share a history that is the Portuguese colonial legacy with its policy of assimilation.

Critical political economy of the media looks at how the patterns and processes of ownership relate to the range of discourses. According to Golding,P. and Murdock, G. in Curran, J. and Gurevitch,M. (2000:73) critical political economy of the media is “…interested in seeing how the making and taking of meaning is shaped at every level by the structured asymmetries in social relations. These range from the way news is structured by the prevailing relations between press properties and editors or journalists and their sources to the way that television viewing is affected by the organization of domestic power and relations within the family”. Critical political economy of the media is especially interested in the ways that communicative activity is structured by the unequal distribution of material and symbolic resources.


Angola is a country in South –West Africa on the Atlantic Ocean while Mozambique is in South-East Africa on the Indian Ocean. From the 16th to the 19th century these two countries were riddled with slave trade and there were always civil wars where rulers were fighting to get slaves to sell to the Portuguese. Angola and Mozambique were colonized by the Portuguese. Civil wars continued even after colonization and peace in the two countries came well after they gained independence.

Portuguese, Italians and Spaniards were regarded as the poorest colonialists and as such the Portuguese aimed at enriching themselves without improving the lives in their colonies, like the French they had a policy of assimilation and those who gained education and civilization through education in Portugal were called assimilados. The Portuguese regarded their colonies as “extensions” of Portugal and the colonies were like Portuguese provinces in Africa. According to Davidson, B. (1983: 145) the Portuguese “… were privately sure that Portugal itself was too backward and too poor to support change. Not even the white settler minorities were allowed to form political parties of their own”. The natives were not allowed to grow food crops but cash crops like tobacco, cotton and sugar which were exported by the colonizers for their own good. As such, the two countries under study are still very poor though there is high rainfall and vast fertile lands and Angola is also very rich in minerals especially diamonds. With Angola poverty is worsened by corruption.

During the colonial era, Portugal had political problems back home as there were civil wars. The same scenario prevailed in her colonies to the extent that even after gaining independence in 1975 Mozambique and Angola had civil wars up to 1992 in Mozambique and 2002 in Angola. In Angola Movimento Popular de liberate, cao de Angola (Popular Liberation Movement of Angola) MPLA, Frente NaCional de Liberta Cao de Angola (National Front for the Liberation of Angola) FNLA and Union Nacional para a Idepedencia Total de Angola (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) UNITA were fighting against each other during the colonial era and it continued even into Independence. The warring parties in Angola used the media to gunner supporters from the public. The official and most used language in Lusophone Africa is Portuguese and most media messages are in Portuguese.

In the era before peace in Angola and Mozambique the conflicting parties used the radio to propagate their ideas. The liberation movements in Lusophone Africa got material support from China, Cuba, Russia and other Communist states. They were not only given ammunition but were also given equipment to set up “bush” radio stations and some of the radio stations operated from outside and used local languages to reach the outskirts where some people did not understand Portuguese. Both countries had a very high illiteracy rate and newspapers were not much used during the era of war. However there was only one radio station and one television station in both countries.

The policy of assimilation was used to force Africans and they adopted Portuguese culture. This was done through the education system and the media and they also used force to coerce the Africans into using the Portuguese language and culture in everything, at home and at work. This is in line with Louis Althusser when he talks of the meaning of power relations which is not given but is constructed historically. Those in power would use ideological state apparatus (ISAs) which include; the family, the church, education and especially the media.

The Portuguese used ISAs as well as repressive state apparatus. To maintain their hegemony in Africa the Portuguese managed to implant their ideologies to the extent that even those who are illiterate can speak Portuguese because of its use everywhere; from legal dealings to social activities like the church and family rituals as well as in business. During the colonial era all media messages were in Portuguese and this meant that the messages that were sent out represented Portuguese culture. This is also in line with Herman and McChesney’s ideology of manufactured consent in terms of imparting Portuguese ideologies through the media, church and education. Though the majority of Angolans and Mozambicans were and still are illiterate and could not read books and newspapers, due to assimilation and the use of the church the majority of Africans acted and behaved like real Portuguese.


The polarization of the media in the two countries started during the colonial era and it is still maintained though to a lesser extent in Mozambique. In Angola MPLA had a radio station known as Angola Combatente ( with the popular programme Kudi banguela) which mainly featured its reforms on education and its endeavor to end exploitation. They also used their evening paper Diario de Luanda and a national daily Journal DE Angola. On the other hand UNITA owned The Provincial de Angola a weekly newspaper and Radio Desperta (even up to now) which they used to deliver propaganda messages to the Angolans. Journalists and the public were also either for MPLA or UNITA. A 1994 MISA report states, “In Angola… where the public was polarized by the war and journalists threatened and branded in the streets; the pressure was such that the majority of the journalists opted for self censorship in the interest of self preservation. According to Muna Ndulo (2006) the civil war in Angola was equated to another version of the cold war where MPLA was aided by USSR, China and Cuba . On the other hand UNITA and FNLA were assisted by South Africa, France, Britain And America. The media landscape was also divided thus with radio playing a significant part and Bergerol, J. and Wolfers, M. (1983; 76) also say the media became the battle front for the warring parties”, The same sentiments were echoed Roque,P. (2008: 30) when he says, “Throughout the war, the media were used as an ideological and military weapon reporting on important victories , concealing serious defeats and were used to improve troop morale”.

In Mozambique the same scenario prevailed with the Mozambique Front of Liberation ( FRELIMO) using the state owned newspapers and the national radio station to gunner support. RENAMO which was aided by SA and America used private radio stations newspapers . FRELIMO followed the Soviet normative theory of the media where all media be subject to the control by the state. According to McQuail, D. (1987: 118) the major principles of the Soviet media theory are

  1. Media that work to promote worker interest

Media that are owned by the state

Media that respond to the wishes of the audiences

The aims of the journalists that coincide with those of the state

The government owned all newspapers and radio stations while RENAMO had pirate radio stations and newspapers.


In both countries, the government owns the majority of newspapers and radio stations. The government does not fund the private media but most of the private are linked to the ruling party officials with the countries’ economic status, the private media owners who are not linked to the ruling party find it difficult to run their newspaper companies as the printing and transportation requires a lot of money as the countries are very big. The people themselves are very poor and cannot afford to buy newspapers and radio receivers.

Both countries have no strict rules on the licensing of media houses and it is not the government’s duty to accredit journalists. In Mozambique licensing of printed media is performed by GABINFO a government agency which also issues licenses to radio and television operators after the board of ministers approves an application. However the criteria for such licensing is not quite clear, creating the impression that only private media must be licensed, as there is an automatic licensing for public media. Although the Press Law ensures the right to privately access public information in practice there are problems. Natal, I.(2006:4) a Zambeze Newspaper reporter based in Beira said, “There are still access difficulties to public information sources especially in the furthest areas of the country where the lack of knowledge about the law at large still prevails, and the concentration of political power as well as the intolerance to the district administrators”.

The situation in Angola is worse as the government manipulates the media to its own ends. There is intimidation of journalists if any media outlets do not conform to the government. This is also supported by de Morais, M. (2009: 1) when he says, “For the past nine years , an alternative media has been challenging the status quo of the former Marxist-Lenin regime of the MPLA which has been in power for 32years in Angola the oil rich and yet poverty-stricken Southern African country . In reaction the authorities initially embarked on widespread threats, arrests, harassment and legal actions against the dissident media which in turn had a boomerang effect on the regime, for it attracted greater public solidarity, networking and legitimized such media outlets as the weapons of the weak and beacons of democracy. Then they would face the wrath of the MPLA. For instance in July 2008 UNITA’s Radio Desperta was ordered off the air for six months for allegedly its signal 400km beyond the Capital City. The Catholic Radio Ecclasia, one of the most outspoken media outlets, has since 1978 (the date it began suffering restrictions by the MPLA) fought to broadcast nationally on FM. In November 2003 the Ministry of Information, which licenses media outlets and journalists, cautioned the church against broadcasting in Provinces, indicating that any attempt to do so would be an affront to the law and the state.

Journalists in the two countries lack professional qualifications due to the inadequacies found in the education system due caused by war and poverty (Mozambique) and corruption in (Angola). For instance there are few educational programmes with Mozambique having a School of Journalism and Communication and Arts School of the Eduardo Mondlane University (named after a national hero who was educated in Portugal but refused to be assimilated). In Angola there are a few colleges that train journalists media associations like MISA also play a part in the training they offer to practicing journalists.

According to Merril, J. C. (1993) there is no overt censorship in Mozambique but there is a certain level of censorship though. Although the media are free to write, publish and broadcast what they want, they face criminal libel laws, which may have chilling effect on their ability to gather and disseminate news and information. In Angola the situation is worse with stringent libel and licensing laws and journalists who work for private media being threatened if they write about any corrupt dealings of government (MPLA officials). Mozambique has recorded two serious incidents, the death of Carlos Cardoso a renowned investigative journalist who had successfully created and ran an influential faxed daily newspaper Metical. There is also the case of the kicking of a Diario de Mozambique reporter in Beira.

Although there are journalists associations in both countries, there are not very helpful and MISA is the only active one. MISA and other domestic as well as foreign NGOs also help in the training of journalists.



In both countries the state controls most of the media outlets and Portuguese is the language which is mainly used in both radio and television. Radio is the most effective form of communication and access to information given the high illiteracy rate and the level of poverty in the provinces, In Angola all the independent radio stations have been either shut down , had their broadcast range restricted or have been silenced in some way. The government own Radio Nacional de Angola (RNA) which has four different stations broadcasting from the capital. Two of these are available nationally though only one, the Portuguese service is available throughout the country on FM. A second RNA service radio Radio Ngola Yetu, which broadcasts in five national languages during the day , is available on FM in parts of the country but only Short Wave in the rest of the country . A private, non-state radio broadcaster , Radio Ecclesia, is currently available in Luanda 24hours a day on FM and for one hour a day across the rest of the country on Shortwave. RNA also broadcasts in English, French, Spanish and major local languages. RNA promotes government interests and it acts as MPLA’s moth piece. The two private radio stations are not allowed to broadcast outside Luanda. Radio Ecclasia and Radio Desperta are not allowed to reach the rest of the country as the MPLA is afraid their message will counter the MPLA propaganda from RNA.

Other radio services are only regional in footprint and each province has a state run station which are 18 in total. These do not contain any content which is different from that of the public media as they rebroadcast material from the Luanda based state RNA stations. There are also four regional privately owned broadcasters and all four of them are partially owned by the ruling MPLA party. All radio stations in Angola except Radio Ecclesia and Radio Desperta are funded by the government. The government does not only suppress private media through funding but through regulation where private radio stations are not allowed broadcasting outside Luanda. This is also supported by a report from BBC world Trust (2006: 17) in the statement, “ As evidenced by Radio Ecclesia failed attempts to widen its broadcast reach, the government remains heavy handed in its approach to dissenting voices.

The point above serves to illustrate how the dominant ruling parties viewed the power of the media. The private media are mostly known to back-up opposition are restricted to capital cities and towns where the ruling party knows that the opposition supporters are found. MPLA is afraid that if the private media are allowed to enter its strongholds in the rural areas the supporters are likely to default to UNITA. For instance Roque,P. (2008) said MPLA used radio in the recent election and the only information circulating throughout the country was controlled and manipulated by promoting all the construction projects and affirming that the only party prepared to rule was the MPLA.

The public television station Televisio Publica de Angola was owned by the government. In 2008 President Jose Erduardo dos Santos’s children took one of the two channels and this helped tighten the control of the media by forces related to MPLA. To make matters worse the government hired Portuguese and Brazilian journalists and producers to revamp the media landscape both private and public. According to de Morrais, M. (2009: 2) “In April 2008 the government completed the poaching of all the relevant journalists from the Catholic-run Radio Ecclesia to Televisio de Publica de Angolan and RNA”. It offered far greater financial and material rewards in the face of the priests’ poor management and the bishop’s public disavowal of trouble making journalists to appease the authorities.

According to a BBC report Mozambique had 15 TV stations and 88 radio stations in 2005 and these include private and commercial radio stations which are supported by UNESCO and the government. However, state-controlled Radio Mozambique remains the country’s man source of news as BBC does not cover all parts of the country. The opposition party REMAMO also owns some radio stations and there have been a lot of developments in media through the purchase of both television and radio receivers and this also led to the increase in listeners and viewers. Private broadcasters get their international news from the same sources and for local news they use the public media sources. This shows that audiences receive the same type of information from different sources. The state controlled Radio Mozambique covers 96% percent of the country and is broadcast in 23 local languages as well as English and Portuguese. The national public TV only broadcasts in Portuguese and only covers 35% of the country and is limited to major cities and villages. Mozambique has an illiteracy rate of 55% and television does not cater for many people as it broadcasts only in Portuguese.


In Angola there are 13 newspapers and most of them are owned and controlled by the state. The papers use Portuguese, French and Spanish. There are daily, weekly and online newspapers and the most vibrant private is the weekly Seman Airio Angolense which is an online newspaper. Private weeklies and dailies only circulate in Luanda as they do not have resources to print many papers or to transport them to the outskirts or to the rural areas. Radio Ecclesia-used to magnify, through reviews and other creative ways, the most critical coverage of the papers before it was restricted to Luanda. The other weekly Novo Jornal is co-owned by politburo members of the MPLA and the Portuguese Banco ESpa f Atro Santo which all serve the regime. MPLA also owns and uses the national daily Diariuo de Luanda to de-campaign UNITA. There is only one news agency (Agencia Angola Press ANGOP) and it is also controlled by government. BBC, Reuters, CNN and other international news agencies also operate in the country.

A report from UNESCO 2006-2007 states that advertising is the most widely used means to acquire funds to maintain the media. As such, the media later day licensing have to be careful and not to be contrary to the interests of those who advertise in them. This is in line with Golding and Murdock in Curran and Gurevitch (2000:78) when they say, “……corporations that are not directly involved in the cultural industries as producers can exercise considerable control over the direction of cultural activity through their role as advertisers and sponsors.

According to Nyamnjoh, F.B (2003:77), “In Mozambique, the private press is taxed for its production equipment and advertising while the government-controlled media are exempt from taxes.” These results in the private radio stations having to broadcast in only a few areas and their news sources are not varied due to lack of resources. The private broadcast media produce their news based on news collected from the internet or other national or international radio stations and newspapers. Poor transportation resources and a lack of personnel limit the ability to generate in-house news. Chibudje, L, a freelance reporter in Xhimoio says, “…in terms of news, the independent media excel, as they report in a more unbiased way.” (Media Sustainability Index 2006-2007:230). However the input of conglomerates has an effect on the news content and Mozambicans like many countries world over rely on the same news content from the same sources.

The ordinary people who can not access fax newspapers cannot afford to buy print newspapers which are very expensive. There is need for need for subscription for one to access fax newspapers. According to a report by BBC World Trust 2007:26, “The lack of in-house printing facilities for all but two of the newspapers makes most papers vulnerable to cartel pricing by printing press owners.” All investment on private press in Mozambique have been by Mozambican initiatives led by local journalists, typically after the journalists left other papers over disagreement on editorial policy. Setting up a newspaper in Mozambique is a fairly straight forward process but most privately owned newspapers are small-businesses struggling to survive due to lack of enough advertising revenue and the printing costs. The BBC 2006-2007 report says, “The constitution and Press law gives the government no power of control over the press, even though this can be done indirectly through the threat of advertising, withdrawal by government departments and parastatals, and through the imposing of high printing costs on private papers by printers aligned to the ruling party.” (ibid).

Besides the exorbitant prices and the difficulty in reaching most people, newspapers in Mozambique’s high illiteracy rate, newspapers cannot be used as mediums for communication to the rural people who constitute the majority of the population. Accessibility of newspapers is another challenge as almost all newspapers are based in the capital Maputo. Mozambique is a very long country with a length of close to three thousand kilometers and newspaper companies have to bear the costs of fling their newspapers long distances. Without a government policy that subsidises newspaper distribution, it is very difficult for the majority of newspapers to be distributed and read in remote parts of the country away from urban centers. This is also compounded by the fact that, in Mozambique, there is no newspaper distribution business. Each media company uses its own strategies to sell its products. In some parts of the country, newspapers are delivered late and in other regions no newspapers are delivered at all.The majority of newspapers are found in Maputo and small private media outlets which are found in provincial capitals are poor and mainly concentrate on entertainment that is daily scandals and gossip which are not necessarily major events and problems affecting the country and the world.


Several media outlets have websites and many periodicals and newspaper editions are transmitted electronically. According to a CIA World Fact book of 2005 approximate 178 000 Mozambicans have access to the internet. However the figure is insignificant considering the fact that Mozambique has a population of 21,284, 7001. The country has an illiteracy rate of 53% and information dissemination is mainly through the radio. This gives the country a poor rate in terms of development in new media and technology in general. With the country’s poor economy, there are no chances that the internet would be accessible to many people in the near future. The country is always infested with diseases and disasters like floods, drought, malaria, cholera and others so government and people in general would spend the little they have in alleviating and eradicating these instead of buying computers or having access to the internet.

Angola also has internet services which provide on line foreign and local newspapers and these do not have any news which is different from any other media as most media houses use the internet as news sources. In 2006 the country had about 17 internet hosts. In the same year there were 23 personal computers for every1000 people and five out of every 1000 people had access to the internet. The internet, like all other media used, only serve the rich and the media messages in them are also ideas of those in power, that is the politicians and business people. Their information is meant to improve and to maintain the status quo without any effort to improve people’s lives.


Generally the media messages distributed in Angola and Mozambique do not cater for the majority. Ordinary citizens in these two countries are very poor and literacy rate is also very low. The poor people cannot afford to buy newspapers, radio and television receivers and those who can buy newspapers might not benefit as most newspapers are in Portuguese and English. Television as a powerful medium is manipulated by the government and only broadcast in Portuguese. In Mozambique there are no strict media regulations but the private media lack resources and this hinders the adequate running of their operations and this also compromises on the quality of the news and programmes they offer. In Angola the cunning MPLA government poaches experienced media practitioners from private media houses in order to sabotage them. In both countries there is self-censorship by journalists as there are a lot of cases of torture and even murder of journalists. Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few rich people especially political party leaders having large shares in the private media. This affects the quality of messages distributed to the audiences.


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2. Davidson, B.(1983) Modern Africa London ; Longman Morais, M.(2009) Angola: Mass Media-Hegemonic Power or Power to be Subverted? http.//

4.McQuail,D.(1987) Mass Communication Theory: An IntroductionLondon; Sage Publications

5.Merril,J.(1983) Global Journalism; Survey of International CommunicationLondon; Longman

6.Muna Ndulo (ed) (2006) Democratic Reform in Africa: Its Impact on Governance and PovertyAlleviationOxford; James Currey Ltd

7.Nyamnjoh,F.B.(2005) Africa’s Media-Democracy and the Politics of BelongingPretoria; UNISA Press

8.Roque, P. (2008) MPLA: Decisive Victoryin The New African October 2008 Issue London; IC Publications

9.Vogl, F.(2001) Journalism and Power: Why Ownership Matters;file://G:\mediachannel_org-OP-ED

10.African Media Development Initiative: Mozambique Context-(2007)BBC World Service Trust

11.Media Sustainability Index 2006-2007

12.World Association of Newspapers 2005

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