African News Media in the Age of AI: Balancing Disruption and Development

African News Media in the Age of AI: Balancing Disruption and Development

Adebayo Abdulrahman

Artificial intelligence (AI) as a technological feature has been around for at least half a century, the rise of generative AI over the past decade has fuelled its rapid integration into various human activities, creating a general acceptance of AI solutions across sectors. 

No doubt, these developments have largely been led by the US, Europe and China. A pattern has emerged of various sectors in Africa embracing the disruptive opportunities that it represents. In Tanzania, a tech start-up is deploying image classification to help farmers detect and treat poultry diseases. Also in Ghana, a venture Chestify is developing AI systems to diagnose 14 chest conditions; pockets of these instances can be found in sectors on the continent. 

AI usage on the continent cuts across various sectors but with minimal attention to its use for news media.  The news media sector across the continent struggles with the rise of authoritarian regimes, and instances of governments’ usage of AI negatively emerging. The ability to engage AI will determine its capacity to report on its misuse, deploy it responsibly, and set the agenda for its responsible utilization in line with democratic tenets. 

At an Artificial Intelligence conference in May, organized by the Center for Journalism, Innovation and Development (CJID), stakeholders met to discuss the current state of AI in the news media industry in Africa and address some of the key challenges – including navigating the  negative usage of AI within the sector. Dataphyte presented Nubia AI and its hyperconnected relationship to Goloka in searching and documenting hyperlocal stories across the continent as a significant stride for the future of media in Africa.

The deeply diverse nature of how organizations are responding to these concerns further underscores how disruptive they are. For example, in response to copyright concerns,  on one hand, the New York Times, The Intercept, and eight newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital chose negotiate AI companies for right of use. Conversely,  others like the News Corp, the Associated Press, Axel Springer, the Financial Times, Dotdash Meredith, The Atlantic and Vox Media have entered into various forms of licensing deals with AI companies. Organizations that have signed these deals argue that it is  essential because it gives them the ability to influence how AI platforms use their contents. But platforms on the other side of the divide believe doing this deprives them of the ability to set a fair value for their journalism by removing copyright information attached to publications. 

Collective efforts, like the Global Principles for AI and the Reporters without Borders-led AI Charter in Media, have also emerged to develop guidelines and chart a path for how the industry engages AI.  

A 2021 study of AI and the news industry indicated that 43 and 39 percent of the application of AI in the news media industry happen in America and Europe respectively. 

The larger percentage of news media organizations in Africa barely have enough resources to keep their reporters on the field, extracting from this limited resource to invest in AI initiatives is a luxury many can’t afford. 

The absence of an adequate governance framework for AI in many African countries is also a drawback for its growth – for example, only seven countries have developed national AI strategies to shape its development and minimize risks. The implication of this is that there is a limited governance framework that guides how media organizations engage with the complexities of AI application. 

To resolve these challenges and enhance the ability of news media organizations on the continent to embrace the opportunities that generative AI offers for media development, a few steps must be taken. First, there must be increased investment dedicated to enhancing the capacity of journalists and newsrooms to engage AI for media innovation. 

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