New M&G journalism centre

[Image] The new M&G Centre for Investigative
Journalism is set to make waves in South
African investigative reporting.
(Image: stock.xchng)

MEDIA CONTACTS
Stefaans Brümmer
M&G Centre for Investivative Journalism

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The non-profit M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism has opened its doors with a threefold aim – to produce quality investigative journalism stories; to train suitably qualified journalists; and to help improve the environment for such individuals in South Africa, allowing them to do their work freely and efficiently.

The project is the result of a collaborative effort between the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, which is a grant-making organisation committed to promoting the principles of democracy, and M&G Media.

The Open Society Foundation, which funded the initiative to the tune of R1-million (US$138 000) for the first year, was established in 1993 by Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros, now living in the US.

Soros founded the South African foundation to help promote an open society in the country. This, he hoped, would result in democracy, tolerance for opposing opinions, acceptance of and respect for minorities, a strong economy, and an active civil society.

M&G Media owns the Mail&Guardian newspaper as well as the corresponding online portal, which claims to be Africa’s oldest newspaper website.

The company is also responsible for The Teacher magazine, a monthly, and a number of other online publications including blogs Thought Leader, Sports Leader and Tech Leader, as well as Campus Times and entertainment portal The Guide.

The foundation’s executive director Zohra Dawood said that a free media culture is vital to the growth of democracy, and support for initiatives that drive such a culture is a priority for the organisation.

“In supporting the Mail&Guardian over the years, we salute its commitment to investigative journalism in particular,” she said. “We are proud to be a part of an initiative that will continue a fearless tradition of exposing wrongdoing in the public interest.”

Quality investigations

The team is known collectively as amaBhungane – the dung beetles. Members of the scarab superfamily of beetles, these creatures, although small, help to improve agricultural conditions by consuming dung.

Stories produced by the centre’s staff will be distributed through the two M&G publications, the Mail&Guardian and the Mail&Guardian Online.

Already a host of top journalists have come on board. Among them are Adriaan Basson, Stefaans Brümmer and Sam Sole of M&G – all of them multiple award winners. Investigators Jackie Mapiloko of City Press and Ilham Rawoot and the first group of interns support the veteran complement.

According to Mail&Guardian newspaper editor Nic Dawes, good investigative journalism is central to the publication’s ability to embody the constitutional idea of a free press.

“With greatly compromised institutions of state – from parliament to the prosecuting authorities – it increasingly falls to the media to do the crucial work of insisting on accountability, both in government and in the private sector,” he said.

Having a dedicated investigative journalism unit will help alleviate the financial pressure that media houses increasingly struggle with, said Dawes, and at the same time allow M&G Media to enhance the quality of its investigative journalism work.

“From corruption and governance issues to health, the environment and poverty,” he said, “amaBhungane will be working to turn the dross of greed and self-interest into fertiliser for democracy”.

Improving African journalism

The centre is just one of a number of initiatives aimed at improving the quality of all genres of journalism in South Africa and on the continent.

Among them are the partnership between Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape and Unesco, which focuses on improving the standard of reporting through the training of journalism teachers, especially with regard to the efficient use of new media.

Further afield, the science journalism mentoring project spearheaded by the World Federation of Science Journalists with the support of the UK’s Department for International Development, has produced not only a group of well-equipped young science journalists, but has also given rise to new science journalism associations in South Africa and a handful of other African countries, as well as new science publications and TV and radio programmes.

Through internships, the M&G centre aims to produce much the same effect. Budding journalists from any media house in the Southern African region are encouraged to apply for an intern position.