Salim Amin is determined to launch A24, the first pan-African news channel. He says he wants to report both the bad and the good things about the likes of Robert Mugabe. And he follows in big footsteps: his father was Mo Amin, the great news photographer killed in 1996 when he was on a hijacked plane that crashed into the Indian Ocean.
“Normally getting into work doesn’t take too long as I built the office in the same compound as my house. It’s in a nice part of town, Lavington. I’ll be at my desk by 8.45 and I’ll usually have Al Jazeera or Sky News on in the background – very rarely the BBC or CNN.
I just don’t think they’re as good. None of the main news channels cover Africa properly. I feel we’re getting the raw end of the stick on this continent in terms of coverage. Few positive stories are being told. At the moment the continent is at the mercy of other broadcasters. We need to have a place where we can tell our own stories – that is what A24, the first pan-African 24-hour news channel, will be.
I’m meeting with investors all the time. Here, across Africa, in Europe and elsewhere. There’s a lot of travel. Often I’m out of Nairobi for weeks chasing funding. The channel needs about €18m to keep us going for five years and we’ll be cash positive in year six. We have got a couple of big African companies and big global companies that have committed to the project and we should have the funding in place by the end of October. There is a nine- to 12-month plan to be on air once we have the funds.
As well as planning A24, my time is taken up with Camerapix, the documentary production company set up by my father, Mo Amin. We do a lot of work for NGOs and corporate clients – making short films or longer features. We had a meeting today with a Croatian client who wants coverage of the Aga Khan’s visit to East Africa. We were trying to work out where to deploy producers, cameraman, sort out the logistics. If I can get the phones to stop ringing for a while, I’ll hold a lot of these meetings in my office, with a few chairs gathered round.
The experience of making films for so many different clients will really help when it comes to A24’s schedule. A programming schedule has already been drawn up – 63 programmes plus the news every week. It’s ambitious but we feel there is enough content – and content providers – on the continent. We’re going to have three to four hours of programming in French when its primetime in West Africa – the rest of the time it will be in English.
Africa suffers from a lot of restrictions on its media. We will have problems in certain countries around the continent. It will take a massive PR operation to make certain leaders understand what A24 is about – that it is not being set up to overthrow governments or as a tool of the West. The majority of our investors are African and the majority of our journalists are going to be local.
We want to make the Robert Mugabes and Meles Zenawis [Ethiopia’s prime minister] understand that this channel is something that will highlight their successes and their failures. It will be done from an objective point of view. A lot of leaders around this continent are starting to understand you cannot stop the flow of information: switching off the TV station does not mean that information is not available to the viewing public. They can get it on the internet or on cell phones. The drums are beating around the continent in a different way and if they embrace it they have a better chance of getting their message across.
We could have been based in South Africa but I think Nairobi is a better place – it’s more African but it comes with its own problems: the electricity supply is irregular, internet is terrible and getting around the city is a nightmare – too much traffic and appalling roads. We’ll have to operate like a separate island with our own power supply and satellites for internet. While our Nairobi headquarters will have 30 to 40 staff, in most countries we’re looking at a two-person bureau –a cameraman-editor and a producer-correspondent. They will have a mini HD camera, laptop and a vehicle. That’s it. We will kick off with eight to 10 bureaux. But over a couple of years’ period we want to jack it up to 46 bureaux across the continent.
I hope a lot of the staff will come from the Mohamed Amin Foundation. I try to go over to the foundation most days to talk to the guys. The foundation’s in the same compound – it’s just behind my house. We’re training 17 people a year – some of them are on scholarships paid by the BBC, Reuters and CNN. There’s nowhere else really where African cameramen and producers are being trained.
One of the main reasons for A24 is to change perceptions of Africa. It is not a PR channel – we’re not going to brush the negative issues under the carpet. But if we are doing a story on corruption in Kenya it will have a context and look at possible solutions. Corruption didn’t fall out of the sky.
The images [of the famine] my father shot in 1984 are still what Ethiopia is known for. What a lot of people don’t know is that my father spent the majority of his life trying to repair the image of the continent. He published 75 books about its beauty, knowing that the positive TV images would never get any airtime.
Everything I do is influenced by what I learnt and saw from him. In his mind he was very clear about what his Africa was. The passion I have for telling Africa’s stories stems from him. The love I have for television as a medium comes from him too. Whenever I feel I’m tired and I’ve had enough I just look around the office and realise that I haven’t done anything yet, even minutely, in comparison to what my father did.
My father’s number one passion was his work. For me, my daughters are my life. I’ve built the office in the house, so it means I can spend time with them when I’m here. They come in here to do their homework and play basketball. I’m out of here by eight most days, anyway – although sometimes I end up working until almost midnight. Usually I get to see my daughters before they go to bed.”
-There are anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 languages spoken in Africa. English or French is widely spoken in most countries.
-There are an estimated 46 million colour televisions in sub-Saharan Africa. The country with the most TVs is South Africa, with an estimated eight million sets.
-South Africa’s SABC is the strongest news media brand in Africa. Like many main news channels across the continent, it is state-owned.
-CNN, BBC World, Sky News, SABC and Al Jazeera are all broadcast throughout Africa on DSTV. Al Jazeera, CNN and BBC World also appear on many terrestrial channels. But African bureaux are small – the BBC have around six full-time correspondents for the whole continent, while CNN has just two.