What is Africa and how do we report this thing?” asked Guy Berger, Head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, at the WJEC plenary 1 discussion held this morning in Eden Grove Red. Fackson Banda, senior Unesco official, presented a preliminary answer that Berger described as “scraping the surface” when he introduced Unesco’s syllabus for reporting Africa.
Banda outlined four main areas, identified at a preparatory meeting held in Grahamstown last year, as key launch points for the syllabus. The impetus derived from a need to interrogate the “foundations” of African journalism education and analyse “the complexities of national educational policies and their implications”. It also arose out of an experiment with new teaching and learning methods as well as the need to understand the “impact of African journalism education on journalistic practices and socio-political change.”
An online consultation network was set up, through Unesco, to invite further contributions, but it “was not as successful as we thought it would be,” said Banda. However, “the depth of the responses was sufficient” to show “the need for an indigenised syllabus on reporting Africa.” It also reaffirmed the consultation’s emphasis on “understanding the political history of Africa as a means of locating the practice of journalism in the African context,” and accentuated “peace journalism as a means to respond to the troubled history of conflicts in Africa.”
The crucial objectives of the four-course syllabus on reporting in Africa were to “root students in the African historical context of journalistic production”; to encourage self-reflective, ethical decision making; to develop an understanding of African development contexts and priorities and to “experiment with culturally and linguistically innovative media forms” which promote democratic journalistic practice. Banda argued that the course on developmental journalism would “revive” a topic “much maligned… particularly by Western scholarship.” He described the syllabus’ “state of play” as “a work in progress” and, invited as many journalism educators as possible to contribute.
Guo Ke, Dean of the Public Opinion Research Centre of Shanghai International Studies University, presented a declaration of the WJEC’s Principles of Journalism Education, which aimed at increasing the field’s value to students. While the principles acknowledged the interdisciplinary nature of journalism education, they asserted its existence, in its own right, “with a distinctive body of knowledge and theory.”
Ke underscored that “journalism educators need to maintain strong links to media industries,” and that they should “critically reflect on industry practices and offer advice to the industry based upon this reflection.” He also emphasized the technological aspects of journalism education and commented that insofar as internet is “changing the landscape of journalism education,” it is now a “global endeavour” where students “should learn that despite political and cultural differences, they share important values and professional goals with peers in other nations.”
Ke described the “most important goal” as being collaboration with colleagues worldwide so that “we can help journalism education become more effective” in reaching its potential.