Speeches from the Summit

Key Note Address by H.E. the former President of Mozambique at African Broadcast Leaders Summit on HIV/AIDS
7.00PM, TUESDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2005

We are gathered here at the behest of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who in January 2003 launched a global initiative to encourage media corporations to increase their contribution to the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I want to pay tribute to the organizers of this African regional summit for giving practical vitality to the Secretary General’s initiative. But I also wanted to say that there are many special initiatives for one thing or the other. The world and Africa in particular has many crises. All of them warrant priority and special attention. We could spend all our time in Summit’s of this kind discussing special initiatives to resolve our problems.

What gives us hope that this summit and the Secretary General’s Global Media AIDS Initiative may be more than a talk shop is firstly the fact that you have made time to be here. That demonstrates a level of commitment at the executive level in your corporations that gives us hope that real things will happen as a consequence of your being here. Second, AIDS is not something new to African broadcasters. On the contrary, radio and television across Africa already play a pivotal role in creating awareness and education around HIV/AIDS. So the fact that this Summit is not trying to sell you an idea that you have not already fully embraced gives us hope that you will find ways to build on the existing foundation of HIV/AIDS broadcasting. Thirdly, we have hope that this Summit will have enduring results because there are important international partners who want to help build on our experience and efforts, by increasing African broadcast capacity through facilitating closer collaboration among broadcasters across Africa for the purposes of greater programme sharing and co-production of HIV/AIDS-related programming, through technical and financial support, and through access to rights free programme material from some on the top broadcasters in the world.

But at the end of the day it is up to us. When you are back at your desk at 8.00am on Monday morning will this Summit wash over you as a pleasant memory or will you set about ensuring that what is discussed here, and the lofty declaration we believe you will all sign tomorrow is translated into an integral part of your business plan. I use the words “business plan” deliberately, because we should not be so naïve to believe that you will prioritize HIV/AIDS programming out of the goodness of your hearts. You are publicly accountable executives charged with managing your corporations in the fulfillment of your national public broadcasting mandates, and you are expected to run your corporation in a way that attracts audiences and builds revenues. The idea that AIDS-related programming could make good business-sense almost seems counter-intuitive. But the reality is that there are many successful examples that prove the point. AIDS programming on radio and television has moved well beyond the dire condomize or die type advertisements we all remember. The reason of course is that the intended audience has grown tired of that approach. New more entertaining ways of saying essentially the same thing had to be found.

Another phenomenon affecting your business more acutely that almost any other is globalization. I find it hard to think of any other business sector where globalization is more dramatically evident than in broadcasting. Real time 24 hour broadcasting accessible all over the world has dramatically changed your audiences’ expectations of you and the quality of your programming. As much as we might have a knee jerk distaste for the pseudo-American veneer of all the CNN and MTV look alikes—the reason they all copy is that it pays—audiences are attracted to that style of programming. I am not for a moment suggesting that African broadcasters follow that route. But I do think often times we berate the global invasion of our media more because we resent and fear the competition rather than because we have a better alternative.

While all of you as national public broadcasters certainly have a role in promoting national pride, culture and language to be viable as businesses a balance has to be struck between the essence of your public mandate and the need to attract and sustain audiences. This is very relevant to this Summit because you might all make commitments here of increased airtime, sharing programs and so on, but if you are not also thinking about how to attract audiences, more of the same AIDS programming will not necessarily have an impact on the epidemic. People will simply turn off. And of course you should be aware that the competition from other global broadcasters will only grow more intense as they find new and cheaper ways to infiltrate your broadcast space.

So we are hopeful that this Summit is taking a much more fundamental look at AIDS-related broadcasting in the context of the overall future of African broadcasting. We are very encouraged that one of the expected outcomes of this Summit is an effort to increases indigenous programme production capacity.

But to return to the Secretary General’s motives for launching the global media AIDS initiative. Perhaps you need no convincing that media (particularly television and radio) is the most universally accessible HIV/AIDS-related service. Communicating information about the disease is the most fundamental aspect of any national effort to manage the epidemic—prevention, treatment, reduction of stigma, better understanding of gender issues and so on—all depend fundamentally on information. You have the power of communication. I said earlier that there are many different problems that on the face of it appear equally urgent. But the reason this is a Summit about HIV/AIDS is the fact that AIDS is the most pervasive and deadly of all the scourges that afflict our continent, and presently things are only destined to get worse. Yes, more people are getting AIDS drugs and living longer, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the need. Our efforts at prevention I believe have faltered in the rush to establish treatment programs. More donor money than ever before is being poured into AIDS drugs and related services—as essential as all this is—we worry that we are not sufficiently leveraging our own experience. The best example of the power of information and communication is Uganda. Today there is debate about what part of the Ugandan communication campaign made most difference. Truth is it probably doesn’t matter. The bottomline is that people in Uganda talked about HIV/AIDS and the sexual behaviours that encourage the epidemic. Communication is the most powerful weapon we have in the fight against AIDS. I thank you for your commitment to the future of an Africa without AIDS and I hope in decades to come our biographers will identify this Summit not only as a turning point in communication about HIV/AIDS but a turning point in African broadcasting.