Breaking News – Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies confronts the state of journalism in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day



Presented by the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University

By Poelo Irene Keta

On 05 May 2022, in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day (03 May), the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) organized a discussion on the theme “Reclaiming African Journalism for the benefit audience”. This discussion was also part of the School’s 50th anniversary this year. The panelists offered insightful ideas and solutions to address the profession’s current challenges.

The webinar was organized and moderated by JMS staff member Taryn Isaacs de Vega. The panel of experts leading this discussion was UNESCO’s Director of Policy and Strategy, Guy Berger, President of the Africa Editor’s Forum and Editor-in-Chief of The African MirrorJovial Rantao, editor-in-chief of The continent, Lydia Namubiro and Kavita Chandran, Singapore-based journalist and media trainer. Rhodes University has also partnered with The journalistthe Courier and Custodianand Africa Highway to make this webinar possible.

Namubiro started the presentation by defining some of the integral keywords to investigate how African journalism can be reawakened and reclaimed in the public interest. “Public service journalism is journalism learned by doing. You get a feel for it over the years through practice; you get a sense of it by occupying space and engaging with a particular community over time. African journalism in the public interest is journalism done by African journalists,” she said.

It has also become clear, Namubiro explained, that the only way for some newsrooms to recover is to receive financial resources. These funds can be used to buy time for reporters to do their journalism differently, allow newsrooms to pay more reporters, and retain seasoned reporters to train young reporters in the public interest. This funding is needed on a large scale to allow African journalism to continue to thrive.

The webinar also took place on the last day of UNESCO’s annual World Conference on World Press Freedom Day, the theme of which was “Journalism Under Siege by Digital”. The next panelist, Rantao, spoke at length about this theme and other unexpected factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic affecting journalism and journalists. “The theme for this year’s conference was very appropriate as journalism in Africa and around the world is beleaguered by difficult economic conditions before and after COVID-19, which have led to smaller newsrooms, lower print runs and lower advertising revenue and indeed the death of some publications,” he said. Rantao also pointed out that female journalists are a particularly sensitive group who remain a target.

“Women journalists, in particular, are besieged by those who harass them in cyberspace. They face an alarming additional risk that stems from discrimination, sexual harassment and cyberbullying, even murder,” he said.

Moving forward, he urged African media to look at themselves and find solutions to problems and challenges that are uniquely African. “We need to do this so that we can own the narrative the way we want, so that we can tell the African story as only we can. And as such, we need to find real solutions so that our media can survive,” he said.

Chandran followed Rantao’s approach with her own, which she called “solutions journalism.” Solutions journalism is a solutions-based approach that aims to correct the news fatigue that plagues readers due to the constant flow of negative information by holding problem-solvers accountable for their promises. Chandran offered solution journalism as a way forward to reclaim journalism in the public interest by giving readers hope instead of a sense of helplessness. Many readers are tired of seeing negative headlines, and that’s where Chandran’s solution journalism comes into play. The shift to this type of journalism is an integral part of reclaiming journalism in the public interest. This will restore the lost thirst for news and information dampened by an influx of negative news.

Closing the discussion, Berger, who was from Uruguay, where the World Press Freedom Day World Conference was ending, praised the resilience and innovation shown by Africans in the face of conflict and hardship. “What we have seen over the past two years is a real roadblock. The first was the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, and how they affected newspaper sales and reduced the radio advertising market. Overall, less information and news of public interest was provided to the public,” he said.

The JMS school devoted the month of May to questioning the state of journalism in Africa. Many discussions are yet to take place throughout the year about how journalists can restore public trust and how we can recover from the blows this industry has suffered.

Source: Communications