Monday, 29 October 2007

Voices of Africa

One of the latest buzzwords in media and journalism circles is 'citizen journalism', describing the increasingly blurred lines between consumers and producers of media - leading to another buzzword, 'prosumers'. This increased interactivity is said to be changing the definition of journalism as we know it. This is certainly true of media-saturated societies like the US and Europe (the shooting at Virginia Tech in the US was seen as a typical example of 'CitJ'). But much of this debate, as with so many other debates in journalism and media studies, has been taking place in splendid oblivion to circumstances in Africa (and other parts of the global South), where access to new media technologies, especially the internet, are not as prevalent. However, the growth of cellphone use in Africa has been 'explosive' (in fact, a summit in Rwanda today and tomorrow will seek ways to replicate this boom for the internet). A Dutch foundation called Africa Interactive Media Foundation has embarked on a project to harness this cellphone boom to stimulate citizen journalism on the continent. Called 'Voices of Africa', the project aims to promote citizen journalism in Africa. In partnership with a Dutch citizen journalism website called, the project provides high-tech mobile phones to African journalists, who then upload stories to the Skoeps server. It is a small beginning, and one should remain realistic about the limitations of new media technologies in Africa, but if these journalists are given free rein, the project can go some way in providing African journalists with the tools to tell their own stories to a larger audience - a welcome departure from parachute journalism.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Sympathy journalism - or something more?

Is The Guardian's new project in the Ugandan village of Katine another case of stereotyping Africans as powerless victims dependent upon the generosity of Northern benefactors? Some of the newspaper's readers have already lashed out against the Guardian’s description of Katine as caught in the ‘Middle Ages’, and for its partnership with a bank that might have ulterior motives. But the Guardian is also partnering with the respected NGO Panos, amongst others, and has appointed an independent assessor to keep a watchful eye over the project. One could – and should – keep asking critical questions of projects like these, to ensure the beneficiaries are treated as partners instead of mere recipients of goodwill, that they have the opportunity to ‘speak back’ and that the objectives of the project are developed through broad-based consultation. Coverage should also focus on the structural causes of poverty, and the global North’s complicity in these causes (like the weapons trade, or unfair trade conditions, or what Naomi Klein calls ‘disaster capitalism’) instead of only the micro-picture. But whatever criticisms one might have of the imperfections of the Guardian’s campaign, it does seem to set itself apart from what one could call the simplistic ‘sympathy journalism’ so often find in media in the global North. It is clear that real effort has gone into this project, perhaps most strikingly evident from the continuous, three-year-long coverage that the village of Katine will enjoy. This is rather different from the event-based journalism that puts Africa on the news agenda only when there is a war, famine or an election.

Let's keep an eye on it.
(Picture from The Guardian's Katine webpage)

'I think we're pretty damn lazy'

British TV coverage of the 'wider world' has deteriorated over the last two years, a report
by International Broadcasting Trust has revealed this week. The UK newspaper The Guardian reported on the report in its excellent weekly media supplement. It quoted Channel 4's head of documentaries, Angus McQueen: 'I think we're pretty damn lazy'.
(The photo is from the IBT website)

New online journal launched

A new online journal for media in Africa has just been launched: Global Media Journal: Africa Edition is one of 13 editions throughout the world and is edited by Gabriel Botma. (Full disclosure - I'm on the advisory board).
The journal welcomes contributions from academics, media professionals and graduate students on themes including global media concentration, globalization of media, global consumer culture, the role of media in democratic governance and global justice, propaganda, media reception and representation, commercialization, new media technologies, media regulations, regional media, alternative media, and other timely issues in the field of communication.