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Key findings
  • Radio remains by far the most common source of news in Africa. On average across 39 surveyed countries, two-thirds (65%) of respondents tune in at least a few times a week.
  • Almost half (47%) of Africans say they get news from social networks or the Internet at least a few times a week. Regular access to information via digital media varies from only 14% in Madagascar to 82% in Mauritius, and is growing more slowly than in the past. o Urban residents, more educated and better-off citizens, men, and youth are most likely to use digital media. On most of these measures, the digital divide is about as large as – and in some cases larger than – it was almost a decade ago. o But the demographic divides that mark differential access to digital media are small to non-existent with regard to radio.
  • Africans express broad support for the media’s role in fostering government accountability, and majorities support media freedom in all surveyed countries except Mali, Mozambique, Morocco, and Sudan.
  • A majority (57%) of Africans consider the media in their country "somewhat free" or "completely free" of government interference, although fewer than one in four citizens in Gabon (14%) and Congo-Brazzaville (21%) agree.

Africa’s media landscapes have shifted tremendously in the past 30 years. The end of state run monopolies in most countries brought thousands of potential sources of news,  information, and entertainment to the continent. These outlets in the print, broadcast, and  digital sectors vary widely. Some are doggedly independent, while others are known mouthpieces for partisan actors. Some vet information carefully before  dissemination, while others are vehicles for mis-, dis-, and mal-information.  And some are parts of large, even multinational, media houses, while others are shoestring community-run efforts. 

The latest Afrobarometer data from 39 African countries document important changes in how Africans use media to access news and information. Radio remains the most-accessed medium, although digital  use continues to grow. However, despite significant gains in Internet and social media  access in recent years, inequities in access across gender, education, age, urban/rural, and  income lines persist, and on some dimensions have actually grown larger than when overall  access rates were much lower. Radio, on the other hand, continues to be accessible across  demographic groups more evenly. 

Africans are generally supportive of media playing important roles in democratic  governance. They are overwhelmingly supportive of media reporting on government  mistakes and corruption, and a strong majority support media’s right to report without  government interference. And while there is great variation on this measure, a solid majority  see media in their country as mostly free. 

These results suggest that, in spite of continued attacks on media freedom in many countries,  Africans generally support media helping to hold politicians accountable, even if they feel  their governments don’t always provide such environments. That said, continuously changing  media contexts are bringing both new opportunities for Africans to be informed about  important political, economic, social, and health issues and new challenges in the form of  false information and divisive language. 

Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz

Jeffrey Conroy-Krutz is an associate professor at Michigan State University and editor of the Afrobarometer Working Papers series.

Kelechi Amakoh

Data analyst for Afrobarometer and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science, Michigan State University.

Komi Amewunou

Komi Amewunou is editor at Afrobarometer.