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Sibusiso Nkomo is Afrobarometer's communications coordinator for southern Africa.

Access to news is not the same in every country even though technologies such as cellphones are widely available. This article is an examination of daily news consumption, new and old technology using the latest Afrobarometer survey data (and other sources) from more than 30 African countries, representing 84% of the total population.

Daily news consumption

Daily news consumption varies greatly based on location and access to technology. Indeed, changes in the media industry have also had a huge impact. Newspapers in most regions have seen a decline due to increased levels of television and radio penetration. But social media is also on the rise (read Afrobarometer dispatch AD27 for more).

Afrobarometer surveyed respondents on the “source of news from radio, television, newspapers, Internet” and whether they received the news every day. A total of 34 countries were surveyed between 2011 and 2013. What is clear from the results is that countries that are better off with infrastructure and/or have stronger institutions tend to do well with supplying news to their people.

While poorer and/or repressive states tend to limit the reach of news in their countries. In the case of the latter: Niger, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Malawi and Lesotho sit at the bottom of the table. Whilst in the former, the wealthier African countries: Mauritius, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and South Africa, are at the top of the table.

On average six in 10 (62%) of Africans surveyed by Afrobarometer had access to different news sources every day. While this is a good sign that the majority of people on the African continent know what is going on in their countries and regions, these levels do lag behind the rest of the world.

Over the last two decades television has taken over the space of newspapers and to a limited degree, that of radio in the 16 countries tracked over time that were originally surveyed in 2002: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Everyday consumption of news has gone up from 26% in 2002 to 33% today using television whilst reading of newspapers declined to 9%. But it must be noted that newspapers never did have a readership of more 15% since 2002.

Access to news via social media is on the increase in Africa due to the high penetration of mobile phone networks across the continent. Preliminary results from 2014-2015 in Southern Africa show that access to Facebook and Twitter is at about one in 10 people (excluding Mozambique and South Africa whose results will be released soon) correlates with the high number of cellphones on the continent. Mauritius leads the way with a third of its population using social media such as Twitter and Facebook for news. Also close are Namibia and Swaziland with a quarter of their population also using social media for news. The exponential increase in the number of people using social media in those three countries has to do with an increase in the amount of technology in Africa in general but in the Southern Africa region in particular.

The 16 countries tracked over time are Botswana, Cabo Verde, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Q&A

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