Posts Tagged ‘media’

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

The South African Menell Media Fellows

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.

Prof James Joseph

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”.

eNews journalist Nikiwe Bikitsha

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.

Participants of the Menell Media Fellows colloquium

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.

Social Media and Global Citizens

Areta Sobieraj is interviewed by Vanessa Malila regarding her work for Oxfam Italy in promoting the notion of the global citizen in schools around the world. During her trip to a project in Grahamstown, South Africa, Areta visited the School of Journalism and Media Studies to discuss her project and the potential and challenges of using social media as a tool for promoting global citizenship.
This is a short clip of the interview and the transcript follows below.

Areta Sobieraj, education officer at Oxfam Italy, addresses the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa.

Vanessa: What is a global citizen?
Aletta: That is a very good question. I think the three of us sitting here would probably be able to give our own responses and if you continue to ask people then it will always be different so there isn’t a given response. But I think in terms of global citizenship education, I would say that a global citizen is someone who is very much aware of the world and very much aware of the fact that they are a citizen and the role that they have as a citizen. I think it’s somebody who respects and values diversity, I think it’s someone who is able to understand also how the world works, having knowledge about all sorts of aspects within society. A global citizen would be somebody who is not only aware of but becomes outraged at incidences of social injustice and so feels part of the solution, feels responsible, participates actively, so is willing to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place. We have a very simplified learning process which is ‘learn – think – act’. It’s very much that when you have the knowledge and are exposed to certain situations you then bring your own critical thinking and analysis – which are of course aspects which have to be fostered – but because there are so many socio-affective, so the emotions come in, the knowledge is there, the ability to read one’s own community, one’s own local as well as global community I think, then you feel that you should do something and that you can do something.

Vanessa: How do individuals who come from a place like South Africa adopt this ideal of becoming a global citizen?
Aletta: I think it’s something, it’s not only unusual or uncommon in South Africa, but I have to say. But I think that what is very important is that the feeling of not having the power to change things is very common to young people generally. Of course it would be even more so, I imagine it could be even more so in certain situations in South Africa where really their voices aren’t heard, perhaps they don’t feel – they’ve never had the possibility to have this kind of exposure. The change they can make and the change that everyone can make is local change.

Vanessa: Has the media been a hindrance or an enabler of this notion of the global citizen?
Aletta: on one side this idea that the world has opened up and so you have students on one side of the world and students on the other who are exposed to completely different lifestyles as well as being able to see cultures which perhaps they weren’t exposed to so easily before. So in one way this is part of being aware of the world. So yes, it’s important. What has happened in Italy for example, I’m going to speak from a personal level, the media has also limited especially when it comes to TV more than anything else, has limited just how much young people can learn I think, because of the types of programmes that are on TV, this all comes down to who is controlling the TV. But having said that you then have social media which contrasts and in fact more young people in Italy are spending their time on social media then they are watching the TV. And this comes back to the idea of being able to have direct contact with other people, so exchanging ideas, getting to know what is going on. And I think that social media such as social networks they are linking people together and I think this is also important that young people feel that they not alone. So, I would say there are definitely two sides to the answer.
I think from what I have seen, I am currently working on a project here in Grahamstown which uses social media to talk about in this case it’s a human rights project, so it’s the right to culture. So we have been carrying out different debates, discussions, activities on the right to culture and then using a social network and there are five classes here in South Africa – five classes in Italy, so whatever they have come up with they put on this social media website and they are able to see each other’s responses, ask each other, you know comment on what is happening, and if they have any questions they want to ask. So something like this is quite rare, it doesn’t happen very often, and I’m doing it in township schools here, so I see the kids that don’t have this kind of exposure regularly and of course it’s very frustrating, it’s frustrating because you can see just how much they would be able to thrive from these kinds of experiences, or being able at least to have the chance to be connected. I know there are good projects going on especially in the township schools and so this is kind of a ray of hope, so it would be something definitely which would, and probably will become slowly part of the way schools work because it’s a very immediate way of having this exposure.

Part 2 – Community Media, Social Media or Traditional Media?

In the second part of the discussion concerning avenues for participation, lecturers from the School of Journalism and Media Studies looked at issues around educating future journalists and the role of the media in encouraging political and civic action by citizens. Prof Anthea Garman (Writing & Editing lecturer) chaired the discussion which included: Jeanne Du Toit (Radio lecturer), Jude Mathurine (New media lecturer) and Rod Amner (Writing & Editing lecturer). Below is a short excerpt of the discussion (you can listen to it or read the transcription).

Anthea: Very often your definition of politics is incredibly narrow. When we think of people’s agency, activity, participation, quite often newspaper will aim that – I’m thinking in particular of Grocott’s Mail, and it was a very interesting experiment around the municipal elections last year. Aimed a whole lot of informational stuff at people. But the fact is, how are people going to be active, and be agents in their communities if they don’t build networks and movements around the issues on the ground. And education for us, is a severe one in the Eastern Cape and in Grahamstown. So I’m thinking what you’re saying as a kind of journalist that proactively doesn’t just use media and in a more sophisticated and conscious way but also uses it to create networks and movements and spaces for activity for taking up agency and holding to account. And there are spheres in which that could be ear-marked and they will be the spheres in which politics has failed spectacularly to deliver on the things in which it would substantially make people’s lives different. So it is a very different attitude to what the journalist does. Jeanne, you wanted to say something.

Jeanne: Ja, there’s two things, listening to what you’re saying now. It strikes me that in the context that we are in here in the Eastern Cape and in Grahamstown there’s kind of added challenges that people don’t necessarily face in all situations. And with us that has to do with the extent to which people’s voices have been marginalised and the extent to which civil society has been broken down because that’s really what this kind of media depends on is that there is a spontaneous up rush of involvement from people talking about the issues and wanting to engage and claiming that space. And I think to a large extent that’s been hollowed out because of poverty, because of all complicated reasons of history. So that’s an added burden that we bear because of being able to facilitate media to work in that particular way here. But the other thing also is that we’re talking about a society that’s in the process of radical change, it’s radical change that happening at all sorts of levels. How do you keep up with making sense of all of that. In a way before you even now what you want to say you’ve got to create the language to say it in because the media’ changing so fast and because we’re doing it in such new ways. It’s a massive paradigm shift and I don’t think it’s surprising that people find it difficult to make sense of how they do that.

Jude: The challenge going forward if one wants to talk about journalism is about the sustainability of present journalism practices. In South Africa the figures for the ABC for the last quarter October to December shows we lost circulation of 90 thousand newspapers. Now consequently, particularly large commercial begin engaging in activities to try to build audiences but maximise mass audiences. That’s always what it’s supposed to do. We have seen initiatives like the Daily Dispatch and even Times Live and others, or we saw a ratcheting up of experimental approaches to new media in particular and the connection between new media and communities ratcheted back as a result of these and other pressures. And the dominant mindset when this starts to happen is cut back on costs and try to build mass audiences. The mass audience mindset to go back to that which you and Rod happened to mention, is different from the network media mindset. And in truth one has to hold a range of mindsets in place because the media in the present environment works in a range of different ways. Present media can for example be interpersonal, can be networked and it can be mass. And what we’re actually not teaching our students and we’re not doing this at all I think in respect to these so-called practices that we’re talking about is to engage our students about what we do about engendering a networked mindset that says that the mass isn’t all there is because the mass was supposed to generate the economies of scale for large media organisation but that a big part of the role is what you do when the mass is broken down into fragments and those fragments mobilise around their own needs.

Anthea: But I think what we’re saying, based on our location, our particular location based in Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape is that we can’t see the one just flowing the information leading necessarily to the other one. Which is what we want, deep in democracy, citizenship participation great activity in repairing the things that have gone wrong. We don’t necessarily see those things just flowing into each other. So I suppose what you’re leaving us with is that challenge that as educators we’ve got to think more carefully about what is, and how can we use that networked mindset. So it’s not just the informational mindest, the mass media mindset, but what is the networked mindset. What is it to reconceive the landscape of media. What is it to think of people as citizens. What is it to broaden the political so that all sorts of spheres of activity and participation can be found. What is it to be the proactive journalist who takes on all that regardless of where you’re located.
Rod: I think one of the questions that arises for me in my head when you say that is that there’s an awful lot of proactivity needed on our side. It’s a bit like the linearlist theory of organisation, you’re using media and facts as a kind of vanguard tool to whip up the masses and play that mobilising role and being proactive. But you know, one has to be careful of taking on the mantle of reconstructing social capital in a city and taking over politics. And I don’t think that the media can do that on its own and maybe it’s problematic that it would even imagine that that’s what it should be doing. I think it’s also about finding, it’s about that term civic mapping, actually finding out how things work. Where is the social capital. Who is out there, what are they doing. There are churches, there are environmental activists out there, there are people who care about education out there, there are people who care about all sorts of things.

Jeanne: So would we meet people where they are?

Rod: How do you meet people where they are? How do you build partnerships with social movements and civil society and with – and make real connections with people about things that matter to them. That’s seems like a fairly fundamental and obvious thing to say but it’s actually not what journalists ordinarily go about doing.

Anthea: I think I’m going to draw this to a close. It’s part of an ongoing series of conversations. Thank-you very much for giving us your thoughts and time. Jude Mathurine from the New Media Laboratory, Jeanne du Toit from the radio section of the School of Journalism and Media Studies, Rod Amner, who teaches writing editing. And I’m Anthea Garman, also in the writing and editing section of the School of Journalism and Media Studies.

Media And Citizenship – Between marginalisation and participation

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

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