New journalism centre for SU

[Image] An artist’s impression of the new
Mediafrica center.
(Image: Stellenbosch University)

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Wilma den Hartigh

Stellenbosch University (SU) has launched its new journalism centre, Mediafrica. The new centre will become the base for developing well-trained, professional media workers who can competently tell Africa’s story, and report objectively on important issues affecting the continent.

SU is home to one of the top 12 journalism schools in Africa, according to a 2007 Unesco survey.

Prof Lizette Rabe, head of the SU Journalism Department, said in a statement that Mediafrica will train a generation of journalists who will guard democracy through their ethical reporting and investigative work in a range of media genres.

“An informed society is an empowered society,” said Rabe. “Journalism is one of the keys to empowerment. We need quality journalism to advance human development in Africa. Mediafrica will help us to realise these goals.”

The new Mediafrica building, which is currently under construction, will be a modern, double-storey structure behind the Journalism Department’s existing premises on the central campus.

Students will take their studies in a multifunctional lecture hall on the ground floor, and will be able to relax and interact with each other in a separate area. The upper floor will house a multimedia newsroom and video editing facilities.

Mediafrica will also enable the SU journalism department to handle an increased interest in journalism studies. Rabe said that limited space and new developments in technology prompted them to consider a new building.

“Our department was designed for 20 postgraduate students, and we have grown to about 75 students. We also needed an integrated multimedia newsroom.”

She said journalism has always had a certain allure, although many have a misconception about the career.

“We have always had many more applications than the positions we have, and deem ourselves lucky in that respect – that the crème de la crème study with us,” she said.

The department has a comprehensive selection process, which ensures that only the most dedicated students win a place. “We do not want to grow bigger than we currently are – we see ourselves as a ‘boutique style’ journalism school and we remain exclusively postgraduate. That is part of our journalism education philosophy,” Rabe said.

Serving society

Through Mediafrica, the journalism department will contribute to the SU Hope Project, which was established with a view to aligning the university’s core activities with certain development themes from the international Millennium Development Goals. With this endeavour the institution hopes to serve society better.

SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Russel Botman said in a statement that a strong media and well-trained journalism professionals play a crucial role in eradicating poverty, attaining peace and security, promoting human dignity and health, entrenching democracy and human rights, and ensuring sustainable development in Africa.

Freedom of the press

Rabe said that, relative to Africa, South Africa has great media freedom. However, relative to the West, South Africa has certain limitations.

“With the current noises, media freedom is under serious threat and the public, private and business sectors must all pull together to avoid the threats becoming reality. If so, we will not be a democracy anymore,” she said.

African journalists who strive for a free and independent media face regular harassment at the hands of state authorities. Zimbabwean journalist John Masuku, executive director of the independent radio station Voice of the People, which broadcasts out of Harare, has personally experienced this persecution.

Masuku is working on his master’s at SU on the role of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation in dealing with national issues. He spoke openly about the role of the media in building a democracy.

“We are the watchdogs of our fragile, polarised system of government. After many years of one party rule, Zimbabwe is characterised by a lack of freedom of expression and association.”

He said that the media can help to improve this situation by monitoring and reporting objectively on developments. “We must also expose all forms of corruption, and help the nation heal. We must make inputs into constitutional and media reform.”

Gabriel Baglo, executive director of the Federation of African Journalists, said in the 2009 African Press Freedom Report that press freedom in Africa is still under threat, despite 20 years of democratisation. This report is issued by the International Federation of Journalists.

Independent journalism continues to be a dangerous profession on the continent, even in peaceful zones, said Baglo, adding that governments and politicians, and economic and religious groups often see journalists and the media as impostors who should not involve themselves in reporting critical issues.

Postgraduate study

SU’s journalism department offers three postgraduate programmes. The BPhil degree in Journalism, a one-year honours course, is aimed at students who already have a university qualification. The MPhil and DPhil programmes focus on research, with a priority on issues relevant to Africa and that will make a difference to both to journalism and society.

Through the new multimedia training and research centre, the SU Department of Journalism hopes to continue strengthening the link between press freedom, human rights and democracy.