By Glenda Daniels
Running in its third year, this is a free online course, which in 2020, will be running for seven weeks instead of six, to include materials on media freedom issues in the Covid-19 era. The course runs from 15 June – 3 August, 2020.
The world is in a Covid-19 health crisis and information disorder and “fake news” is rife. The media’s role, and good policy infrastructure, in these times is more critical than ever to tackle these information challenges. The sustainability of media is also under threat says Guy Berger, director of Freedom of Expression at UNESCO, one of the supporters of the programme, who adds that: “There will be a 7th week added to the course, addressing these issues and responses to it.”
With the help of international funders, including the Bertha Foundation, the Namibian Media Trust, Free Press Unlimited and FESmedia Africa, the entire seven week course, including being able to download all course materials is free (although to obtain a certificate does involve a USD 49.00 fee). The organisers are hoping that women, in particular, will consider taking the course even though research shows that they have lower rates of accessing the Internet than men.
The course co-ordinators would normally have started the course in October but felt it important to respond to the Corona virus Covid-19 pandemic and start earlier while many are still under lockdown in their homes and unable to work, and attend university.
This MOOC course, available on the global edX platform, aims to empower activists, students, regulators, journalists, lawyers, and everyone interested in ensuring a free, pluralistic and independent African media. When societies achieve this kind of media, they can benefit from journalism playing a critical role in democracy and development. This is the policy context whereby journalists inform citizens, defend freedom of expression for everyone, and enable access to information that some people would prefer to keep covered up.
The course honours the legacy of South African media freedom and freedom of expression activist #Jeanette Minnie, who passed away in November 2016. Minnie devoted her professional life to ensuring robust civil society engagement with African media policy. She was a media activist who developed massive experience in understanding the challenges and who knew how to make changes for the better.
One of the course co-ordinators and instructors, Prof. Justine Limpitlaw (Wits LINK Centre), said: “Last year  the course had 1673 enrolments from 106 countries, including 39 African countries. And the feedback was gratifying to course co-ordinators.” Over 90% of the students who responded to the post-course survey found the structure “logical and easy to navigate”, and felt that the course materials and concepts were “clearly explained”, “added to their understanding” and “equipped them with practical skills they could apply in their current and future work”.
This theme of the course having been of practical benefit in people’s work is echoed in the comments section of the course evaluation.
“The modules were packed with useful and incredibly concise information, with transcripts one can download for keeps. I love the case studies that spoke to each module and how diverse they work (focusing on different African countries). Kudos to the people who set the questions – it was clear they are incredible teachers.”
Part of the team who designed the course, Paula Fray CEO of frayintermedia said the course remained critical: “The content remains relevant for any media worker or civil society activist who cares about the critical role the media plays in a democracy.”
Fray said the course content did not only review the basics of media policy but also included how to build organisational capacity to advocate for better media policy in any African context.
Participants learn how to:
- identify the core elements of freedom of expression, media freedom, and access to information in a fast-changing world
- pinpoint the policy and practical components required by a democratic media ecosystem
- analyse laws and regulations that build media pluralism and diversity
- assess mechanisms of self-regulation, co-regulation, statutory regulation and regulatory independence in democratic media ecosystems
- explore the practical and policy dimensions in relation to online media, online expression, and online information access,
- build strategies for effective civil society engagement with policy and practice in support of democratic Africa media ecosystems. Participants can take this interactive course, including its discussion forums, assignments and assessments, free of charge
- respond to clamp downs on the press and journalists from governments under the guise of responding to Covid-19.
The course instructors are Prof. Justine Limpitlaw (Wits LINK Centre), Paula Fray (frayintermedia), Zoe Titus (Namibia Media Trust), Prof Sarah Chiumbu (University of Johannesburg), and Koketso Moeti (Amandla.mobi). The course content was developed by the instructors and WitsX with support from the course’s international Advisory Committee and frayintermedia.
Limpitlaw explains that anyone, anywhere in the world can access and participate.
“We were delighted with the massive response to last year’s offering: students from all over Africa (and elsewhere) were engaged in learning about media freedom issues and what can be done, through six different African case studies of successful media freedom campaigns undertaken by civil society, to change media regulatory environments on the continent.”
The centre is hoping for even more enrolments this year in 2020. Enrol quickly to get your place.
Participants can enrol right away at https://bit.ly/3eb1mST
- Glenda Daniels is associate prof media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.