Governance, democracy and role of media in promoting development in Africa dominated discussions on the first day of Pan African Media conference.

Democracy and coverage of politics and less policy development took center stage as politicians and media practioners at the conference traded excuses regarding who is to blame.

“In many cases, politicians have policy and development issues to discuss but the media always focusses on politics for commercial reasons; because that is what sells newspapers,” said Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Raila was responding to the question whether politicians are to blame for over reliance on politics and why Kenya is more obscessed with politics compared to the other countries in East Africa.

The conference was discussing serious issues but there was a moment of laughter when the chief guest President Kibaki acknowledged the role of social media in development, trying his best to show that he was still in touch with tech developments.

“The advent of citizen journalism has become possible because of tools such as SMS, blogs and social networking websites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Myspace,” said President Kibaki.

In his speech, the President challenged the participants to examine how new media can be used to promote democracy, fight against corruption, nepotism, and environmental challenges.

The Pan African Media Conference was organized jointly with Highway Africa and Africa Media Initiative.

Nation Media Group founder Aga Khan addressed the conference, talking about freedom of the press and the responsibility that comes with it. He noted that media independence does not mean taking sides with the opposition.

“Let me sound a word of caution. Freedom, in any area of human activity, does not mean the moral license to abuse that freedom.  It would be a sad thing if the people of

Africa in the name of freedom, were expected to welcome the worst of media practices, whether they are home-grown or imported,” said Khan.

When Khan started the Nation Media at the age of 24 and at that time, he had no journalism training. But he demonstrated commitment to journalism by announcing plans to establish a new Graduate School of Media and Communications based in East Africa.

The school, will have its first campus in Nairobi by next year and later be integrated in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Aga Khan University to be created in Arusha.

“The Aga Khan University is planning to establish a new Graduate School of Media and Communications, based in East Africa and dedicated to advancing the excellence of media performance and the strengthening of ethical media practices throughout the developing world,” Aga Khan said in his speech.

The proposed Graduate School of Media will offer a Masters Degree program, serving recent university graduates as well as media owners, managers, and mid-career journalists.

“This new School will also work on the cutting edge of media technology, embracing especially the new on-line world – its complications and its potentials. The rapid spread of mobile phone technology supports this view – as do recent advances in broadband availability – including the new SEACOM undersea cable development,” Khan said in his speech.

The conference was addressed by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, ex-Presidents Joachim Chissano of Mozambique and Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, and Information and Communications minister Samuel Poghisio.