Posts Tagged ‘citizenship’

The Art of Listening

We often think of listening as a trivial act, something we do when someone speaks, almost as an automatic reaction. But how many of us really listen, really take the time to try and understand what we are listening to and who we are listening to? Listening does not have to mean agreeing, and in fact many theorists have argued that listening can and should be part of a deliberative process where one is open to disagreement and, as Aristotle argues, “includes people whose interests, needs and opinions conflict” (in Bickford – The Dissonance of Democracy, 1996: 30). Listening should be a process of being open to hearing another person’s views and whether you agree with them or not, you are still open to listening. In this video, Alfredo Carrasquillo of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon provides his perspective on listening, consensus and common ground.

While I sometimes think that this kind of listening is idealistic, the reality is that very often we tend to hear what we want. Perhaps particularly in the political arena or when opinions differ. What is of more concern to me and has been the subject of much debate amongst the Mellon Media & Citizenship Project researchers is how questions and answers about listening can be used to improve journalism in South Africa. Recent events within the mining industry, and particularly the reporting on the Marikana incident, have shown that too many journalists in South Africa are not listening enough. They don’t listen to the right people, they don’t listen with an ear for compassion, or even listen to the wrong people with a critical enough ear. In partnership with our project, Prof Jane Duncan (Highway Africa Chair of Media and Information Society) recently conducted a study on coverage of the Marikana incident on the 16th August 2012 and found that journalists failed to listen to or even consider the voices of the miners themselves. She notes that “If one does just a cursory overview of the reports that have come out since last Thursday, the dominant sources are the police, government, Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) and NUM (the National Union of Mineworkers). Unless the stories have been, for instance, about the family’s responses to the massacre, there have been very few attempts to approach workers to ask them what they saw” (quoted in an article by Mandy de Waal). Too often journalists fall on official sources without considering the voices of the people who are integral to the stories being covered.

My own research into the way in which the media in South Africa report on education and the youth shows the same kind of disregard for the voice of those who are integral to the stories – in this case the youth themselves. Only 9% of 420 stories from a range of different newspapers (Daily Dispatch, Mail & Guardian, and Grocott’s Mail) had the voice of a youth as part of the story. Journalists source traditional, official voices from university or school management such as principals (22%), government officials such as spokespeople from the Department of Education (16%), and members of the public who very often who write in the newspaper opinion pages but who are not youth themselves (17%).

If journalists are not listening, then we as the readers/audiences are not hearing the voices, and the marginalized, who are usually the voiceless continue to believe that their voices don’t matter. If however, we are working towards a democracy where listening is part of deliberation and even disagreement, then the voices of the marginalized (as something different to the’ official’) is essential. And the media will play an integral part in sharing those voices, but only if they too can listen with respect, and with the acknowledgement that in order to foster engagement we have to listen to all the voices. Bickford, in all her eloquent writing, sums up the complexity, but equally the importance of listening:
Listening to another person cannot mean abnegating oneself; we cannot hear but as ourselves, against the background of who we are…listening involves the willingness, in other words, to play a particular role in the forming of figure-ground, which role and which action are central to perception. This interdependence, in which speaker and listener are different-but-equal participants, seems particularly apt for describing listening as a practice of citizenship. It makes listening, and not simply speaking, a matter of agency. (The Dissonance of Democracy, 1996:24)

Researching media and citizenship amongst South African youth

What is my role as a South African citizen?

Can I make a difference?

Am I able to effect change?

The above questions implicitly confront every citizen on a daily basis and the answers to these questions will affect the qualities of individual citizenship. However, these questions are difficult to answer and when they explicitly confront the citizen he or she may well find it difficult to formulate an answer.

The ‘Media and Citizenship’ initiative of the Mellon Foundation Humanities Focus Area at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies has embarked on on joint project with the ‘Study of Youth Identity, Media Use and Consumption and the Public Sphere in South Africa’ funded by the South Africa Netherlands Project on Alternatives in Development (SANPAD). This joint project looks at how citizens make meaning of citizenship and scrutinises their use of the media in South Africa’s democratic evolution. The mode of investigation into these issues will take place by means of focus group discussions which will be held in Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Alice, East London and Johannesburg.

The project forms part of a larger national project funded by SANPAD which investigates the ways in which the media help to shape the identities of South African Youth. The Mellon-funded ‘Media and Citizenship’ project looks specifically at the media and its connections to citizenship, and our involvement with the larger SANPAD-funded project attempts to widen the range and extent of the SANPAD research and data set. Approximately 1000 people between the ages of 15 and 36 from the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal have already participated in the survey conducted by the ‘Study of Youth Identity, Media Use and Consumption and the Public Sphere in South Africa’.

The purpose of the joint venture between the two projects is to explore some of the issues which were brought to the fore in the SANPAD-funded survey in more depth by creating spaces in which South African citizens of various social, cultural, and economic backgrounds can have their say about the issues which affect them and the greater South African society. The focus group discussions also look at the way individuals navigate and make use of the media in order to become involved in not only community but also national issues. Furthermore the discussions will look at the way in which people acquire information and how they make use of that information in order to connect with other people. The discussions will also attempt to determine how the acquired information assists citizens to become active in their community.

The information gathered in these various locations across the Eastern Cape and Johannesburg will hopefully provide a deeper understanding how the complex dynamics involved in the way in which citizens process information.

In the last few weeks the ‘Media and Citizenship’ group have discussed the importance of ‘listening’ as well as the creation of ‘listening spaces’ with specific reference to the work done by Tanja Dreher. In a sense the focus group discussions become a created space where listening can take place not only between the different participants who are engaged, active and responsive in the process, but it is also a space where the interviewers will be in a position to listen to the information provided by the participants and to interpret and report the views expressed.

  • Focus group discussions have already been conducted in Grahamstown and are at present being conducted in Alice and East London. The Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg focus groups still have to be held.

Listening across difference

How do we listen and how do we hear voices that sound different to our own? This question, raised by Tanja Dreher*in an article, Listening across difference: Media and multiculturalism beyond the politics of voice, elevates the skill of listening off the platitude level of the greeting card to the arena of radical politics.

Dreher questions the one-sided emphasis on “voice” in advocacy campaigns to bring marginalised groups into the realm of democratic discussion. Having a voice, she argues, may not be enough to challenge and counter “hierarchies of language” and “linguistic conventions”. These hierarchies and conventions tend to drown the voices of different politics, identities and desires. She proposes that a “particular kind of listening” is needed to “undo these entrenched hierarchies of voice.” This “kind of listening” requires an analysis of the way in which those who are privileged to be part of the mainstream conversation – the “discursively privileged” – hear and respond to “others”.

In the article Dreher challenges the media to face the hard and complex work of real transformation beyond the provision of spaces for diverse voices. The media, as part of the “discursively privileged”, has power beyond the recognition, representation and validation of different voices. Dreher offers the example of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Australia that is required by a Charter to “provide airtime for diverse languages and cultures as well as education, entertaining and informing all Australians”. Dreher talks about NGO responses to counter racism against Arab and Muslim Australians in the “war on terror” aftermath of 9/11 through workshops with the media and marginalised communities that emphasize strategies for “speaking up and talking back”. While these achievements are important, Dreher warns that, for example, for Muslim women, being heard on “their own terms” remains a challenge.

“My insistence on attention to listening is not meant to imply that speaking is unimportant, or that the politics of voice ineffective or undesirable. The intention is rather to address the relative lack of attention to listening to better understand the possibilities for speaking and listening.”

Robert Mattes provides evidence from the Afrobarometer surveys that, in South Africa, despite a “reformed public broadcaster”, increased access to local and international news and more independently-owned media, there is little “positive impact” in terms of media use on the extent to which citizens believe they can make elected officials listen and have their voices heard between elections. Steven Friedman’s analysis of the South African media – that it “informs only some citizens of only some realities” – also highlights the need for a reconsideration of not only the way in which different voices are represented and recognised but also the way in which the media recognise and listen across difference. The effect of Friedman’s argument is, in Dreher’s words, that “mainstream audiences are again protected from the challenges of listening across difference”.

The complex and radical challenge is the difference between strategies of inclusion and strategies of transformation. Says Dreher:
“A transformative politics of multicultural media, in contrast (to strategies of inclusion), would seek to shift the unequal relationships of attention and influence between mainstream and alternative public spheres and the news values and media conventions which shape who and what is heard.”

More attention to listening and practices of listening offers possibilities for “innovative research and advocacy work”, says Dreher. Scholarly work in this field could point to who gets attention, whose voices are valued, who has discursive privilege, who refuses to listen. It could also shift the onus for change from “the other” or “ethnic communities” on to “the institutions and conventions which enable and constrain receptivity and response.”

Mamphela Ramphele highlights the relevance of listening in the South African context**:
“Helping young people develop communication skills to enable them to assert their rights as citizens is key to consolidating our democracy. An essential part of such skills is listening.”

*Tanja Dreher teaches Journalism at the University of Wollongong in Australia
**Challenges of Citizenship is Chapter 8 in Laying ghosts to rest – dilemmas of the transformation in South Africa by Mamphela Ramphele published in 2008 by Tafelberg

Journalism in a New Democracy: the ethics of listening

Prof Wasserman, Deputy Head of School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes, presented his Inaugural Lecture last week entitled: “Journalism in a New Democracy: the ethics of listening”.
The roles and responsibilities of journalists and the media in post-apartheid South Africa came under the spotlight. Wasserman shared his view that a willingness to listen and to become self-reflective, presents an effective way forward for journalists who aspire to deepen the freedoms of democracy.

“There is the saying that journalism is ‘history in a hurry’. Journalism is often in a hurry to speak but slower to listen. The role of journalism and media studies scholarship should therefore be to encourage a certain slowness and self-reflection.”

“For journalism in a new democracy such as South Africa to serve more than an elite, for it to enable citizens to actively practice their citizenship through media, for it to treat all South Africans with dignity, it would have to learn to listen across the different lines that continue to keep South Africans apart – journalists would have to learn to listen to the stories of those on the other side of the railway line, the breadline, the picket line, the barbed wire fence.”

Wasserman explained that news was a contested discursive space, and his experiences led him to question what could be expected of journalists in a post-apartheid era, and, in turn, what could be expected of journalism and media studies scholarship?

“For someone like me who has grown up in 1980s Afrikaans suburbia, this link between journalism and democracy has never been quite as self-evident. The journalism I grew up with was technically sophisticated and professional in style and approach, but it nevertheless failed to provide me with information about what was really happening in the country at the time. It was just like the line from that well-known song by George and Ira Gershwin: “The more I read the papers/The less I comprehend”.

The transition to democracy in South Africa has not been without its critics, with the argument that an “elite transition” took place.

“This alignment of journalists with authority is nevertheless often defended through an appeal to the professional journalistic tenets of ‘objectivity’, ‘detachment’ and ‘balance’. Because when journalism sides with power, be it military, political or economic, that position is often hidden or presented as neutral. That is because the alignment of journalism with power mostly takes place unintentionally as a result of established journalistic routines and practices, rather than through conscious choice. Journalists may write news, but are themselves also ‘written by’ the discourses and practices of journalism.”

He outlined the concept of racial transformation in terms of media ownership and editorial management, while the media remains governed by a market which divides audiences according to income and social position.

“The commercial media are still governed by the market logic that results in the stratification of audiences according to income and social position. The public and community media sector are meant to provide a counterbalance to the commercial media, but remain under-developed and beset by various challenges.”

South African political scientist, Prof Steven Friedman echoes this with his observation that mainstream media continue to provide a very narrow view of the reality within South Africa today, essentially, a “view from the suburbs.”

“Friedman observes that most of the mainstream media continue to provide a very narrow view of South African reality. Friedman’s comments were made in the context of the current heated debates about press freedom following on the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and Protection of State Information Bill. He questions the claims by the media that they act in the ‘public interest’, when that public is fragmented and unequal, and their interests are as a result widely divergent.”

Speaking from a background of normative theory, he used the recent shootings at the Lonmin mine in Marikana to illustrate the complicated issues surrounding the alignment of journalism with power.
This pairing, he explained is a difficult one to challenge, with the questions of where journalists should stand and where and when they should make a stand being contested ground.
“The footage that the world first saw of the shooting of the miners was filmed literally from behind the backs of firing policemen. This alignment of journalists with positions of authority when covering conflict is not unusual, but it has implications.”

The ethics of caring, frowned upon within the journalistic paradigm of professionalism and detachment, can lead to a substantive increase in the dignity of the marginalised and enable real engagement across the segmentations of race and market.

“For the new democracy to strengthen, citizens must be able to practice their citizenship, by having a say in how they are governed on a day-to-day basis, and by participating in democratic processes in such a way that their participation has real consequences”

Such an ethical system would, says Prof Wasserman, “require a pro-active intervention by journalists into society, to try and change it to what it might become, rather than just mirroring it as it already is.”

“To treat people with dignity primarily means taking their stories seriously. To view people as dignified human beings, regardless of their social standing, means thinking about them not only as statistics with which to keep government accountable, or as voters that may sway the horse-race of party-politics. People should therefore not be viewed as means to the end of adversarial, watchdog-type journalism, but as end in themselves. Listen to them as they talk about their everyday life, about their struggles but also their victories, their pain but also their pleasures. To view human life as sacred means to look for the ways that we are connected, interrelated and interdependent. This approach is in line with the principle of Ubuntu – ‘I am because you are’.”

Based on an article Jeannie Mckeown

Being & Belonging in South Africa – National Arts Festival Programme

The Mellon Humanities Focus Area Media and Citizenship project at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University is going to be very busy over the National Arts Festival.

Here are the fantastic posters for our programme over the National Arts Festival, being held in Grahamstown between 28 June and 12 July.

We are hosting lectures and panel discussions, an interactive exhibition, and a film festival with discussions about the films.

Let us know what you think of the posters and if you’ll be joining us for the National Arts Festival. You can see more details about our programme in the Festival programme, which can be downloaded here http://www.nationalartsfestival.co.za/

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