"Our country is marked not only by the number and quality of its FM radio stations, but also by our desire to preserve a place for freedom of expression," said Gaoussou Drabo, the Minister of Communication and New Technologies at the opening of a regional workshop sponsored by the Voice of America.
U.S. Ambassador Terence P. McCulley echoed Drabo's support for independent media, which he called, "a pillar of democracy that the U.S. government supports around the world."
The week-long workshop for VOA affiliates, focusing on radio station management, brought together broadcasters from Mali, Niger, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin and Chad.
Drabo said the topic was difficult, but station managers needed to find ways to improve their fiscal health and performance in order "to guarantee continued pluralism" in the media. "Stations that are unhealthy financially are more susceptible to being overtaken, thus creating monopolies," he said.
McCulley, who noted that VOA has six affiliates across Mali, said, "We are in an environment where it is not easy for a station to be profitable." But the fact that Mali has more than 100 stations shows that the country is committed to the democratic ideal of a free media.
In discussions, participants outlined challenges facing radio stations across West Africa, including scarcity of resources, technical hurdles, and, in some countries, the tension between private broadcasters and the state.
Michelle Betz, who has taught broadcasting at the University of Central Florida, conducted the training on behalf of the VOA.
The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 100 million people. Programs are produced in 44 languages.