While artificial intelligence AI isn’t the solution to bolster journalism on the African continent, it undeniably offers immense possibilities of media evolution in the 21st century.
As such the African continent cannot do without the benefits of AI to the media landscape in its entirety.
In a study published in IMS in the first quarter of 2023, researchers have shed light on the current landscape of artificial intelligence (AI) utilization in Africa’s media industry. Establishing the adoption and usage of AI in newsrooms across the sub-region.
The study, which aimed to investigate AI’s role in fortifying public interest media, employed an array of methodologies, including qualitative in-depth key informant interviews, newsroom observations, and thorough document analysis.
“Our study uncovers the intricate web of AI integration in African media, highlighting both its promise and the hurdles it faces,” explains Prof. George Ogola, lead researcher of the study.
The research, which covered studies from Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa, revealed a varied AI adoption scenario across different news organizations in Africa. While AI deployment is visible across numerous African news outlets, the overall adoption rate remains relatively modest. With regional disparities in Kenya and South Africa as hotspots for AI integration.
“Innovation knows no boundaries. Kenya and South Africa’s strides in AI are commendable, showcasing the potential for transformative journalism,” says, Dr. John Smith, a technology analyst.
The study also differentiated between larger, resource-rich media establishments and their smaller counterparts in terms of AI integration. Prominent media houses have invested significantly in premium AI systems, while also crafting tailor-made AI tools. “Among the big media organizations, there was a notable appetite for digital transformation even if changes were significantly slow. Being part of much bigger business concerns is often the case with most big media organizations, such as the Nation Media Group in Kenya which has centered digital ‘innovation’ as a key plank of their transformation”
However, smaller organizations either shy away from AI or predominantly rely on open-source alternatives.
Joseph Opoku-Gakpo, a multimedia journalist in Ghana affirms most newsrooms in Ghana heavily rely on the open- source softwares for daily gathering,reporting and production of news articles.
But a media consultant, Sarah Williams says access to advanced tools on the continent remains a challenge for the smaller players since they may not have the financial resources to do so.
“AI offers immense possibilities for media evolution, but access to advanced tools remains a challenge for smaller players,” asserts media consultant Sarah Williams.
Numerous challenges impede AI’s broader adoption.
The research underscores a substantial knowledge gap surrounding AI, coupled with resource constraints, concerns over negative algorithmic impacts, and the precarious professional situation of journalists.
Additionally, cultural resistance within newsrooms, gender disparity, inadequate policy frameworks, suboptimal AI business strategies, subpar data quality, and lack of collaboration among media entities all contribute to the AI adoption puzzle. “Many journalists expressed fear of being ‘replaced’ by AI systems and were therefore cautious about embracing AI.”
Making most of them see change more as a challenge to their expertise and authority rather than an attempt to do things differently.
Concerns over algorithmic harm and job insecurity fears
People who are afraid of losing their jobs do not want to go through the hassle of proving themselves, especially in this new world that is technology-driven. So, … they try to discourage the adoption of technology and tell people how they’re going to lose their jobs… this doesn’t happen to the journalism profession alone. It’s also happening in the banking sector…” said Prof. Admire Mare,co-author of the article.
For many experts, AI is shaping every sector and journalists have to adjust to this new reality and better themselves. But most journalists don’t want to break out of their existing style of journalism. To some, if you can’t handle the new normal as a journalist, you change professions.
Poor policy and legal frameworks
In a bid to address these challenges and maximize AI’s advantages, the study recommended that the international media development organizations offer support for capacity-building initiatives to bridge knowledge and gender gaps. “As a global community, it must rally behind African media’s AI journey, aiding its growth and ensuring ethical and effective implementation”. Prof. Ogola.
The study also calls for funding research and innovation to develop localized AI tools, as well as advocating for improved AI policy and regulatory frameworks in Africa.