Posts Tagged ‘media’
Listening across difference
- Published on Saturday, 06 October 2012 08:00
- Marietjie Oelofsen
- 0 Comments
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
The South African Menell Media Fellows
- Published on Friday, 20 April 2012 13:46
- The Editor
- 1 Comment
By Anthea Garman
The South African Menell Media Fellows (a group of about 20 journalists who’ve participated in the programme run at Duke University and funded by the Menell family) held a one-day conference on Sunday in Cape Town to ask the tough question about how journalism in South Africa can face the future with hope and purpose while new legislation threatens freedom of expression and social media is eroding established ways of making (and paying for) news. Anthea Garman (who was one of the first fellows to visit the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke with the SABC’s Angie Kapelianis in 2000) reflects on the day.
There are almost no journalists’ organisations left in this country, a situation which I think is really dire. It means that journalists don’t have forums of solidarity in which to transcend their competitive environments and speak about the issues that concern them all – issues like the Protection of Information Bill, the media appeals tribunal, the Press Freedom Commission, the judicial review of Constitutional Court decisions being called for by Jacob Zuma and the eroding ground on which most mainstream media has operated for years economically. So the day hosted by the Menell Fellows was a really important gathering and the key speakers didn’t disappoint.
James Joseph, a professor of the practice of public policy, director of the Southern African Centre for Leadership and Public Values and a former ambassador to South Africa in the Bill Clinton regime, started off the day with a heartfelt appeal to think urgently about credible and ethical journalism. He was of the opinion that unless journalism stopped “serving elites and attacking elites”, demands for government regulation of journalism could not be avoided. As a fan of civic journalism, Joseph leans heavily on the need for journalists to “produce news citizens need”. Saying that ethics in journalism is “obedience to the unenforceable”, he outlined some points:
• Democracy is a system defined by the people holding the power, but in many countries this has been whittled back to a situation in which the people only have the vote. Journalists have to contribute to the people having a role beyond just voting.
• Characterising political journalism as “reporting yelling diatribes”, he said journalism needed to provide clarity rather than adding to confusion and questioned whether a degree of “civility” wasn’t sorely needed in most public debates.
• He urged journalists to “get at consensus” on important issues and not just to do “bipolar coverage”.
• Journalists should help publics to see elections as “hiring decisions” rather than win-or-lose conflicts.
Joseph asked the journalists if they wanted to do more than report, if they wanted to provide leadership. “Most of the great issues of the day are moral issues,” he said. Leadership required emotional intelligence – self awareness, empathy and social skills; moral intelligence – leaders are custodians of values and not just resources, he said; social intelligence – pluralism is an asset and diversity must be embraced; and spiritual intelligence – journalists should see journalism as something bigger than a job or assignment and respect the humanity of those who lives are examined and whose actions are exposed. Referring to what some commentators have called the “free-floating anxiety” of modern life, Joseph also suggested that journalists should provide hope, which he said “looks at the evidence and sees alternate possibilities”.
In response eNews Africa Editor Chris Maroleng told Joseph how complicated journalism is in South Africa because “those who have seized power regard themselves as having the authority to define journalists as illegitimate because they haven’t been voted into power”. Nic Dawes, editor of the Mail&Guardian, who continues to keep a very watchful eye on the progress of proposed legislation like the Protection of Information Bill (POIB), concurred with Maroleng and said he had been attacked by politicians often with the question “Who voted for the Mail&Guardian?” In his years of political reporting, Dawes said, he has seen Parliament “closing down” and more and more committees operating in secrecy. Dawes, after detailing his understanding of the POIB, said he had two concerns: that good governance relies on openness and transference of information and a law like this would close that down, but also that it would “overlay a layer of fear” across society.
Dawes believes that the core idea of Constitutional democracy is to “harmonise” conscience, civic duty and law, but the ANC’s attitude to the judicial system and to the amendments of many laws are showing that the Constitution is now being seen as an “obstacle”. What had to be made clear and held on to, he said, was the vision of democracy as consisting of a society of “overlapping institutions of accountability for citizen and sovereign to exchange ideas”, and this, he said, “fundamentally licences and legitimises journalism and civic work”. We should not have to trust government, he said, we should be able to “trust a complex architecture of institutions”, for our democracy to flourish. He also made a very strong appeal for those punting freedom of the press and freedom of expression to not divorce “classical rights from social-economic rights”. The Constitution strongly connects “the moral autonomy of humans with right of access to water and housing – these are inseparable”, he said, and to focus only on the former is a “false distinction”. His position is that the campaign against the draconian provisions of the POIB is a “campaign for social justice”.
The rest of the day consisted of panels involving the Menell Fellows present, other journalists and an appearance by Allister Sparks, who’s working on his sixth book. In a panel focusing on mentoring new journalists eNews’ Nikiwe Bikitsha said the one piece of advice she would freely disseminate would be “learn all you can all the time”. She called for newsrooms to “boost research capacity” and extolled the virtues of “reading original documents” and not just relying on experts to interpret them. She also argued that media houses should abandon the attitude of hiring or promoting “one black at a time, one woman at a time” and “invest far more aggressively” in the future. Marion Edmunds who’s worked in multiple newsrooms, said that to work in South Africa journalists have to be comfortable with the idea that “truth is owned by more than one person and that it is not always the place of journalism to determine the dominant idea of the truth”. Gasant Abarder, Argus editor has started brown bag sessions in his paper to get conversations flowing about how they do their journalism. He’s finding that “talking more” helps to build institutional history. Sparks bemoaned the loss to journalism of 50-year-old reporters. The golden age of his career, he said, was when he stopped being an editor and became a reporter again.
I found myself on the last panel of the day and was asked to address the challenges journalism faces and the changes it must make, so I summed up the day for myself like this:
• We need quality journalism – new, fresh, challenging. Tell me something I don’t already know, give me a corruption story that is not just like the one I read yesterday.
• We need ethical journalism – not the big stick-type of moralising, but a thoughtful journalism that thinks about purpose and point.
• We need public-minded journalism – how to use what we do to build the people James Joseph talked of, who can hold the democratic power and use it.
• We need civic-minded journalism – to see ourselves as part of society with a social role (as Nic Dawes said, knit that campaign of freedom of expression into one of social justice).
• We need solidarity of journalists – private media and public media, social media and community media – we need to talk about what affects us all and see ourselves as a whole entity.
• We need to be brave – speak up, speak out, do the right thing, regardless of the hostile environment that seeks to undermine journalism – and journalists – by the silencing tactic of calling it illegitimate.
And a final note: who is the “we” I’m thinking of here, particularly as unlike all the Menell fellows who are journalists every day, I’m an educator in an academic environment? Well this would be all of us who have a stake in South African journalism and its future.
Media And Citizenship – Between marginalisation and participation
- Published on Thursday, 16 February 2012 11:47
- The Editor
- 1 Comment
All research starts in personal biography and experience, in fact it’s one of the benefits of the academic world that this environment gives one the permission to turn the most perplexing questions of one’s life into legitimate research. And one of the issues that perplexes me most about my own life – at this point in our post-apartheid, post-colonial democracy – is the condition of my citizenship, the status of my belonging and what I’m bonded to or not bonded to. I remind myself often of the words in the preamble to the Constitution: “We, the people of South Africa … believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it” [my italics]. These are extraordinary, encompassing, generous words, and I often think “What were the drafters of the Constitution thinking? Were they drunk on post-apartheid freedom in that moment?” But maybe the move from the word “believe” in the preamble to the following paragraphs that deal with “citizens” (and therefore rely on the legal provisions of who and what a citizen can be) underlines the shift from an expansive idealism (as the apartheid shackles were thrown off) to a tying down and making functional for a bureaucratic reality (and increasingly so as we leave behind that giddy moment). We are, after all, talking about the difference between a sense of “belonging” and a right to assert myself as a voter and a client of the state.
If you want to study these conditions in order to understand them better, belonging seems to sit in the fields of psychology and anthropology and citizenship perhaps more with politics and sociology. But if you’re located in media and journalism studies (and especially if you’re located in education and are working with young South Africans) you know that these two conditions have an important, if strange, relationship because they crop up in and through our public conversations captured by journalists and other media workers. I’m very interested in how we talk about who we are, how dismissive we are of those who’ve “abandoned” us in this experiment of nation-building, how we allow racialised public talk (and sometimes extremely vicious forms of public dissing) to destabilise our journey towards creating new forms of belonging and bondedness, how we construe our very different relationships to our state (and its encumbent government with its liberation legacy), and how we do and don’t do this through the media we make in this country.
So if these issues preoccupy you too (whatever their shape or form) this is the space and an invitation to join our conversations.
By: Anthea Garman