SA and the future of journalism

2010-07-16 09:25

Amidst the madness of the World Cup semi-finals last week, delegates of three global journalism conferences challenged African governments to open their countries to the free press – and journalists from around the world to report accurately on Africa.

Grahamstown-based Rhodes University simultaneously hosted the Highway Africa conference, the triannual World Journalism Education Congress, and a citizen journalism event called Digital Citizen Indaba. In doing so, organisers including Rhodes journalism head Guy Berger demonstrated the incredible value of partnerships for African democracies (and rebels in non-democracies) looking to grow their press.

Hundreds of media, technology, and political heavyweights from around the world made the pilgrimage to Grahamstown, arriving just as the National Arts Festival was winding down. They hoped to raise the bar for reporting in and about Africa, and there is plenty of evidence they succeeded.

I was struck by the great balance of world-class talent from academia, mainstream media, citizen journalism, and the technology space. Engineers from Google taught workshops on new media reporting while executives from telecommunications giants MTN and Telkom discussed their efforts to build infrastructure supporting high-speed Internet access throughout South Africa.

South Africa’s Department of Communications called on the reporters in the room to present a fair and positive view of the country in their work. Of course, positive views are not necessarily the work of journalism, but sponsors like the DOC get to deliver their message to the audience whose meals they purchase.

At the same time, the US State Department showcased its “Democracy Video Challenge”, one way that America pursues its interests in Africa. Some of the most powerful panels featured journalists who report from crisis zones, whether from Haiti during and after its massive earthquake or in exile from repressive states like Zimbabwe and the Gambia. One exiled journalist spoke about how she missed her mother’s funeral because she cannot return to her home country.

Delegates who were not already aware learned that mobile penetration tends to be dramatically higher than that of broadband access throughout the continent. This presents a very different environment for Internet storytelling in Europe and the United States, for example.

One innovative use of available resources is, a Kenyan information mapping site built on open source software by developers around the world. The site accepts SMS updates from people on the ground, and was first launched in response to the 2008 post-election violence in Kenya.

African entrepreneurs are now pressuring media outlets here to pay market prices for locally created content, while building venues where African journalists can sell their work. They are pulling stories and information from the “crowd” to supplement their own reporting. The larger picture is that African journalists are tired of outside media telling and profiting from stories they feel best qualified to report.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu signed the Declaration of Table Mountain calling for more press freedom at a farewell braai last Wednesday night, he reminded those assembled of their responsibility as pursuers of truth. Some of those in the audience knew the cost of this pursuit all too well.  Tutu also reminded us that South Africa’s media had chronically failed the public during apartheid, just as media organizations often fail the public in countries around the world.

I left the conferences realising the centrality of journalism inside a budding democracy. The power of the press is even more starkly evident in countries where democratic freedoms are not recognised. Those countries with longstanding free presses may take them for granted, but journalism becomes a more sacred task when so much risk is involved in doing it.

Grahamstown represented a gathering of influencers of all types with a vested, long-term interest in the African media. It was also a testament that South Africa will continue to serve as a home base for media development in Africa, and that Rhodes University will continue to be a stronghold. There is much work left to do but no doubt that journalism is better for it.

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  • Joey - 2010-07-16 09:39

    Very informative, thank you very much! As an aside, I'm quite a fan of Al Jezeera, they offer quite a different view to things compared to the main stream media houses. I find that with local news, it seems very much to be a copy and paste excercise, with everyone having the exact same opinion about things.

  • THE MAN - 2010-07-16 09:44

    government must e in full control of the media finish and klaar

  • Cynical@author - 2010-07-16 09:52

    Well now despite our endless problems in this caantry, it is heartwarming to know that at least our journalism is on a good footing. Phew! What a relief! Now I can sleep better at night. Haaaaa ha ha ha

  • White Man @ THE MAN - 2010-07-16 10:00

    Its a democracy not a dictatorship, there is no finish and klaar, we have a say.

  • cuba @ White Man - 2010-07-16 10:08

    mate, don't feed the trolls, The Man (a.k.a. The Pussy) is just a jack ass that tries to get everyone riled up

    @ the Author: Thanks for the article buddy

  • @THE MAN - 2010-07-16 10:16

    But they never will be. Get used to it or LEAVE for a dictatorship that you will feel more comfortable with. I'll help you pack your bags.

  • White Man @ Cuba - 2010-07-16 10:19

    Yeah you are right, better to ignore the idiot.

  • Sam - 2010-07-16 10:25

    I have absolutely No Respect for journo's,
    they have no 'gudzba' after the shables of proporganda of 9/11, the embedded journo's and the ja baas attitude of the locals, there is no hope for their future integrity. Journo's are a Joke....hahahahahaha... Truth is seen through the eyes of the Power that be.

  • AQUARIUS - 2010-07-16 10:27

    @The Man-SA is a democracy and freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution.You did not like the apartheid govt.gagging the pres then,so why should they be gagged now?Is it because all the corruption etc is being exposed?
    @Cynical-you must have one of the lowest IQs in RSA.I often read your comments.Please amuse us some more with the way others pronounce English words.How about your brothers in the Platteland?Or even those in the UK?Like the Irish,Scottish,even the English?Have you read George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion?

  • THE MAN@wit man - 2010-07-16 10:31

    no never your say ended 17 years ago

  • White Man@ The Boy - 2010-07-16 10:45

    17 years ago, 2010 - 1994 I know its big numbers for you but let me help, its 16. So you can type, but you will never be able to think!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • SimonP@the little child (the man?) - 2010-07-16 11:05

    Do you understand what democracy is? A one party state that controls the press is NOT a democracy. Im thinking you want no choice because it hurts your brain too much when you have to think for yourself.

  • Pimpnamedsliqbag - 2010-07-16 11:13

    Yada yada yada more like an industry practitioner blowing their own vuvu, mxinm!!
    Where are the details about how the industry will deal with imbedded Journalist, Pay as you go journalists and even better the JOURNOPRENEURS. It’s very hard to find credible stories in the media these days, there are lot of insinuations and not enough detail more like taking a popular lie and repeating it long enough to become common truth.

  • Journalist - 2010-07-16 11:21

    with all due respect, look your article is well written - don’t get me wrong – however, it's too long, it meanders into a whole lot of boring rhetoric, i’ll puff but i’ll most certainly not pass. Good luck for the future kevin.

  • DeonL - 2010-07-16 11:27

    South Africa is one of the few countries that have freedom of press, THE MOUSE (MAN) go to Zimbabwe if you want only government news, Julius says Zimbabwe is a great country!, He must be right? Only die hard ANC youth leaguers believes him!

  • TKB@THE BOY - 2010-07-16 11:29

    Bad monkey! Back in your cage or no banana.

  • Shrek - 2010-07-16 11:37

    SA has a better chance of hosting the 2014 SWC than these African "leaders" allowing freedom of the press.

  • @ Author - 2010-07-16 11:41

    Corrupt African leaders = poor service delivery = self enrichment = poverty = unemployment = crime = lower education standards = lower life span, etc. Notice during the SWC, the One Goal initative, the advert was around education. The advert only featured children from Africa.....I wonder why that is.

  • So funny - 2010-07-16 11:42

    I am for objective journalism based on actual facts and not for journalist with their own agendas. If you use your profession to write filth, attach religious beliefs, etc without facts, you should be curbed. Apologies for not selling more newspapers based on airy fairy sensationalism

  • Eles - 2010-07-16 11:46

    Freedom, democracy and leadership is not synomous with Africa - Bob is happy for you to report anything positive about him even if made up. What do you expect from a continent where a person can still be sentenced to stoning to death for adultery - these extreme islamists should pack up their bags and return to their own countries. No one else wishes to live in archaic times, don't even let their people use toiletpaper but they are happy to use bombs what contradictory bull - most of their shi* is custom doesn't feature in their bible at all. It is the women I feel sorry for - they truly have a sorry life!

  • fisher - 2010-07-16 11:54

    @ everyone - please ignore "THE MAN", he is trying to stir trouble, dont let him win.

  • 10111 - 2010-07-16 11:55

    The standard of journalism is free falling like all other standards in this country. Reading and watching local news is a joke.

  • Richie - 2010-07-16 12:37

    We need journalist more than ever to come forth lift their game try harder they can be white, black or pink as long as they catch these corrupt so called leaders as they are looting or country. Their work is coming increasingly harder as the "truth" and documentation gets ever more sheltered by these corrupt leaders! Can’t wait for the ANC to launch their news paper... hope they employ a good spell-check program? LOL

  • journo's rule - 2010-07-16 13:17

    Our counrty can be what ever someone calls it, but at least we have Freedom of the press and freedom of speech, thank God for it...
    Can you imagine what it would be like in if we didn't have those rights?
    Certain journos should just not abuse it, like a certain journo(D)... don't want to be sued for defamation

  • Diamond Dog - 2010-07-19 09:56

    Ironic though that the government is considering a commission to attempt gagging journos in the future, and what about these new state security laws being discussed. Certainly this is painting a bleak future for true freedom of speach and access to information in this country.

    THE MAN. Are you and Malcomx sharing the same toilet. It must be difficult to float together in such a tight spot. There must be a problem with the cistern otherwise the baas would have flushed you a long time ago.

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