Posts Tagged ‘youth’

Voting Void

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Voting Void – will young people vote in the 2014 National Elections?

South Africa’s Born Free’s (the people born after 1994 in South Africa) will be voting in their first national elections in 2014 – or will they? These young citizens have been characterized as many things – hopeful, optimistic about their future, and better racially integrated than previous generations. However, politically active is not a feature of this group of South Africans. The research conducted by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University (with partners from around the country) shows that young people in South Africa are disaffected, disengaged and disempowered. Their lack of engagement in the political arena should be of significant worry to all South Africans in terms of the state of our country’s democracy. Even more so now, with the national elections (to be held between April and July 2014) looming, their political identity should be of particular concern over the next few months. The question that needs to be asked by political stakeholders including the ANC, opposition parties, the media and civil society is how to better engage young people in political activity, including the ritual practices of political democracies, the habitus, such as voting (one of the foundations of democratic political participation), but also the alternative acts of political engagement.

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Youth identity, the media and public sphere in South Africa

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Over the last year members of the Mellon Media & Citizenship project have been involved in various ways in a SANPAD funded project investigating the relationship between youth identity, the media and the public sphere in South Africa. This ground-breaking research provides some interesting findings about the way in which young people use the media, their relationship with politics and political activity, and the way that the media shape their political and civic identities.

Using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, the aim of the study was to investigate the way in which the media shape youth identity, both political and civic, and whether the media reflect the voices of the youth. An extensive survey with close to 1000 young people in  South Africa, as well as a content analysis of South African media, focus groups with young people across a range of settings, and document analysis were all carried out by researchers across South Africa who contributed to the report.

Perhaps the most significant results are the fact that while most young people consume news media and use the news media in their daily lives, they do not find the content relevant to them or their situations. Trust across the media was significantly high, but trust in politics and political institutions was significantly low. There is an interesting (perhaps contradictory) relationship between the use of media, and trust in the media, but a sense from young people that it does not actually talk to their lives and their contexts.

What is clear from the results is the fact that young people feel they are not being heard or spoken to by either the news media or political stakeholders. Both the media and political stakeholders (including policy makers, civil society, NGO’s, political organisations and policy advocates) should use this research as  a means to better understand how they can engage with young South Africans in a more meaningful and participatory way.

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Young citizens World Cafe

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Last year during the National Schools Festival (which runs immediately after the National Arts Festival) we ran a World Cafe for school goers. What a fantastic opportunity to engage with young people from all over the country about their ideas of citizenship, their responsibilities and how they feel about the future. We were fortunate to have Fortune Gamanya to facilitate the sessions, which allowed the young people to interact with each other, bounce ideas off each other and to share their very fresh and exciting ideas about the future of South Africa.

Here is a snapshot of what took place and what some of the outcomes were:

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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)

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