By Lwazi Maseko: Media organisations and publications based in southern Africa showed how their platforms are representing different demographics at the Sustainable Journalism in Practice conference, held in Nairobi from 23 to 25 March.
The conference brought together stakeholders to discuss new ways of doing journalism that are constructive, sustainable and grounded in an African context and based on the core values of independent, public-interest journalism. Journalism plays an essential role in informing the public and framing the issues or challenges that society faces, but how do these publications best represent these different demographics?
Jamlab Africa, South Africa
The main goal of Jamlab is to strengthen innovation in African journalism and media and grow the diversity of the continent’s voices in the public space.
Jamlab runs three programmes: the accelerator programme, the knowledge-sharing programme, and the community of practice programme. The knowledge-sharing programme documents innovations that are taking place across the continent, done through the online magazine which offers grants to journalists in Africa who write about innovation in their respective countries. The accelerator programme works with early-stage media startups. Community of practice engages with journalists and media makers to get a sense of what is happening in their newsrooms.
Jamlab hosts monthly webinars, meetups and the annual Jamfest to discuss these innovations. Through the knowledge-sharing programme, Jamlab has supported sustainable journalism across the continent. Jamlab has supported 29 teams across the continent. Sixteen of these startups are women-led, and six of these young businesses have gone on to receive external funding. One of the startups that Jamlab has supported is Quote This Woman+, a South African online organisation that aims to contribute to gender transformation of the media landscape using female voices and narratives that better correlate to South Africa’s demographic. The organisation is building a database of credible female experts in traditionally male-dominated fields to appear on panels, and news and create new narratives with the aim of broadening the news agenda.
The Voice, Botswana
The Voice is a print and online newspaper based in Botswana founded by Beata Kasale and Don Laurence Moore. The Voice was founded in Francistown in 1993 as The Francistowner Extra; in 1999 it opened offices in the national capital, Gaborone. Botswana has a population of 2.5 million, with over 50% of the population being women.
The Voice Newspaper was started by the youth, with the aim of giving a voice to the voiceless, as media houses only catered to male voices and opinions. The publication aimed to give a voice to people who were not heard. The newspaper received criticism for covering the news that was not considered to be ‘news’ as it featured the views of women and children. The newspaper hired women for fair and balanced reporting, and to close the gender gap in newsrooms.
As the newspaper aimed for their content to be representative of the community they worked in, journalists from The Voice decided to hear what the concerns of community members were. For example, during the HIV era, the newspaper partnered with the government to de-stigmatise the illness. In Botswana, one in three people had HIV. The newspaper approached people living with HIV to ask about their experiences, however during that time, the virus was taboo and it was not spoken of in mainstream media.
The newspaper received both backlash and support as it broke barriers and shattered stigmas. Through reporting on the experiences of people with HIV, shelters and facilities were built or created to support people with the illness. ARVs were not readily available to people with HIV, however, through a campaign that was run by the newspaper for a decade, the country received free medication.
“Representation in the media is good business,” said Emang Bokhutlo, editor-in-chief of The Voice, explaining that journalism is a service industry and the newspaper wanted to do journalism that was impactful. Bokhutlo emphasised the importance of journalism for impact and giving people the opportunity to tell their own stories from their own voices.
The Magamba Network, Zimbabwe
The network was established in 2007 with the aim of inspiring young people to be part of the change in their country Zimbabwe. The network decided to approach political and socio-economic challenges using fun, creative tools that speak to young people in a language they understand: from hip-hop and satire to social media and innovation.
Magamba has two programmes – Arts4Change is a youth-led, youth-focused programme that combines creative activism, popular culture and digital media as a means of triggering dialogue around accountability to inspire a youth-led grassroots accountability movement and support advocacy around critical governance issues. Digital X is a cutting-edge programme using digital media, urban culture and civic tech to defend civic space and increase young people’s participation in national political processes.
Magamba hosts a variety of activities such as the Shoko Festival, an annual art music festival, and Moto Republik, a creative hub that houses new media startups, The FeedZW is Magamba’s video-based initiative for young Zimbabwean storytellers and works with a network of citizen journalists that produce video content that focuses on social, economic and political justice issues for young people at the grassroots level and the Hustle Fund provides new media startups with microgrants.
Magamba TV uses political satire and is a parody of Zimbabwe’s National Broadcaster. The network uses humour to make political issues more palatable for young people. “If the issues are serious, young people tend to gravitate away from them,” said Munyaradzi Dodo, Digital X programme lead at Magamba.
Magamba has been a pioneer in Zimbabwean youth culture. The network launched the first-ever satire show in the country, Zambezi News, which has gone on to inspire a whole new generation of young satirists and online content creators who use humour to deal with Zimbabwe’s complex political situation. The network has opened up space for free expression online by supporting and incubating a myriad of young bloggers and new media startups that speak truth to power.
Africa-China Reporting Project, South Africa
The Africa-China Reporting Project was established in 2009, coincidentally the same year that China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trading partner. This meant that it presented some opportunities and challenges in terms of media reporting in Africa, and that is not to rely on dominating Western narratives and to unpack, assemble and empower voices in Africa to be able to tell Africa’s development within global players and the impact within local communities and society.
The project aims to improve the quality of reporting on African and Africa-China relations and also aims to support this reporting that comes from local, on-the-ground perspectives; to look at how communities are affected and not particularly a high-level analysis of the issues, but local ground-level perspectives on how African communities are engaging with global players.
The project does this through facilitation and capacity-building opportunities for journalists, media professionals and researchers which are coordinated through the provision of reporting grants, skills training workshops, reporting resources and networking. The project has grown to amplify African perspectives to enhance its development and to support the representation of young people and women in Africa.
The project has awarded over 300 reporting grants to journalists, media professionals and researchers in Africa and other parts of the world, and has trained over 200 journalists and media professionals through workshops in South Africa, China, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Côte d’Ivoire and Tunisia. The project has facilitated media impact and engagement through English, French, Mandarin, and Arabic.