In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Media and Journalism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Precolonial, Colonial, and Early Independence-Era Media
  • Media Planning and Policy Documents of Historical Interest
  • Media Ownership, Funding, and Operations
  • Journalism Practice, Training, and Ethics
  • Media Audiences
  • Mass Media and Identity

African Studies Media and Journalism
Jo Ellen Fair
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0149


The field of media studies in Africa has grown disparately, and it has emerged multifaceted and disciplinarily diverse as mass media have become central to cultural productions of all kinds, including music, visual arts, storytelling, and literature, and as social and political life increasingly is intelligible only with reference to its media conduits. This article focuses exclusively on the media studies core: the press, television, radio, and new media in Africa south of the Sahara. It gives particular attention to works that treat media’s historically central function of encouraging and facilitating the gathering and dissemination of news. It especially tries to orient readers to the literature surrounding Africa’s perennial media challenges: infrastructure, audience development, and the frequent contestations within Africa’s new, often weak states over media ownership, control, and freedom. This focus on the media studies core requires leaving out most works on the artistic and other qualities of particular African media, such as film and video, works on African popular culture that are partly about media but ultimately are contributions to understanding social change (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Popular Culture and the Study of Africa), and social science studies that are only tangentially about media, such as election analyses in political science. Some of the most impressive and still useful studies of media in Africa date from the 1960s, when surveys of the state of the press at the continental and country level formed part of a generally optimistic project of anticipating vectors of growth and identifying strategic social and infrastructural investments for accelerating them. By the 1970s and 1980s media studies in Africa showed signs of stagnation. Descriptive and prescriptive works on media for development touted the long-term advantages of literacy and the immediate promise of radio. Critical studies detailed the implications of authoritarian government control of media of all types. And scholars, both Africans and outsiders, saw cultural imperialism in imported media content. As the field has developed since about 1990, lineaments of these earlier traditions have given way to a body of good work by a still limited number of Africanist media scholars (disproportionately anglophone, with South Africans and Nigerians especially well represented) on several themes that tie media studies to developments in social science and humanities scholarship more generally: media and the state, media and human rights, the agency and creativity of working African journalists, and the many ways that new media, such as cell phones and the Internet, are transforming relationships, culture, work, and news.

General Overviews

Writing about communication in general—from oral traditions to mass media to new communication and information technologies—in a continent of great cultural, historical, economic, and political diversity is a challenge, which is why few of these kinds of broad overviews are available. Doob 1961 is unique, an astonishing compendium of anthropological observation, basic psychology, and technology analysis, representative, despite its singularity, of a certain kind of mid-century social science, highly instrumentalist, seeking to unlock doors to African cultural dispositions so that outsiders might accomplish good work there. Bourgault 1995 and Ansu-Kyereman 2005 take the reader on a far-reaching journey from storytelling to contemporary media, with the latter work commenting on digital media. Mytton 1983, appearing twelve years before the more comprehensive work Bourgault 1995, offers a history of mass media beginning in the colonial period and continuing to the early 1980s when many African governments still held tight reign over the media. For Ziegler and Asante 1992, governments hinder the power of African media to build nations and contribute to creating strong African identities. Tudesq 1995 and Tudesq 1998 suggest that African media remain weak not only because of governments, but also because external forces impede countries’ media systems from best meeting the needs of their publics.

  • Ansu-Kyereman, Kwasi. Indigenous Communication in Africa: Concept, Application, and Prospects. Accra: Ghana University Press, 2005.

    Exploring communication in theory and application, essays consider storytelling, folk or traditional media, songs, and theater for development in African languages as well as the convergence of folk media, mass media, and digital media and training media personnel and the impact of all media forms on democracy.

  • Bourgault, Louise M. Mass Media in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

    An introductory history of mass media in Africa. Volume includes chapters on oral traditions as a form of mass media in precolonial Africa, colonial and postcolonial broadcasting, and the press during and after colonialism. Its final chapters treat the relations of contemporary mass media to development discourses and political control.

  • Doob, Leonard W. Communication in Africa: A Search for Boundaries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.

    Funded in part by the US Army, this in-depth study reflects Cold War preoccupations with understanding the relationship of interpersonal and mediated communication, attitudes, and behavior as decolonization was beginning. Author attempted to classify the key components of who communicates what to whom and with what effect.

  • Mytton, Graham. Mass Communication in Africa. London: Edward Arnold, 1983.

    A broad history of mass media in Africa from colonial times forward. Less comprehensive than Bourgault 1995, the book is most useful for its case studies of mass media in three countries that in the year of publication showed interesting divergences: Zambia, Tanzania, and Nigeria.

  • Tudesq, André-Jean. Feuilles d’Afrique: Étude de la presse de l’Afrique subsaharienne. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995.

    This volume is concerned with the development of a newspaper and journal readership in Africa. The author takes pains to survey the history and the state of the press and the press-reading public in anglophone and francophone countries.

  • Tudesq, André-Jean. L’espoir et l’illusion: Actions positives et effets pervers des média en Afrique subsaharienne. Talence, France: Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine, 1998.

    The author argues that media in Africa are still relatively undeveloped because market and political forces exterior to Africa dictate many of the conditions, technological and otherwise, under which African media must operate. Nonetheless, analysis of African media, especially radio, offers excellent insight into the preoccupations and concerns of Africans.

  • Ziegler, Dhyana, and Molefi K. Asante. Thunder and Silence: The Mass Media in Africa. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1992.

    The book examines how states expand or contract media freedoms of print and electronic news organizations to achieve development goals and create African national identities. The authors conducted some of their own interviews, but much of the book synthesizes others’ research in an attempt to contextualize African media within African cultural systems.

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