Journalism academics from Sweden and South Africa are hard at work researching and developing a new concept of sustainable journalism.

A report on the subject was launched last month during a virtual discussion attended by various role-players and keen participants.

Facilitated by Unesco’s director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Prof Guy Berger, the discussion was hosted by the Embassy of Sweden in Pretoria, which was represented by Ambassador Håkan Juholt. Juholt told the event that “there is no life worth living without democracy and journalism”.

The ambassador lamented the fact that the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, which was released on April 25, revealed that journalism was completely restricted in 73 nations and constrained in 59 others. Also, added Juholt, “democracy around the world is now in decline. Democratic processes are being undermined. More people in our world live in countries with authoritarian regimes or tendencies”. He said Sweden wanted to be a leading “global force that stands up for the advancement of democracy”.

Prof Berger introduced the discussions by suggesting that there were two questions that would form part of the day’s agenda: “One, is the future for life on this planet. And two, is the future for journalism. I’ll repeat, is there a future for life on the planet? And is there a future for journalism?” He also posed the question that if journalism could be saved, how could it be made sustainable and be brought back to play “an optimum role in helping to save the planet”.

He said unlike the term development journalism, which was conceptualised in post-independence Africa and was later dubbed sunshine journalism, the sustainable journalism concept led to questions as to whether “the adjective ‘sustainable’ here goes to the core of the fundamental purpose and normative role about the heart of journalism as it evolves”. He added: “If sustainability is something that should be intrinsic to journalism, no matter the beat, no matter the method, no matter the orientation, or whether it’s just an add on? Well, we are going to be discussing what to make of this term. And we are going to be trying to think about whether we could use the term ‘sustainable journalism’ to assess what counts as journalism, as opposed to other kinds of communication, and whether we can use sustainable journalism as part of the aspiration of what it means to do journalism.”

Other questions to be posed about the concept, said Prof Berger, included what it meant to teach and to research sustainable journalism. Also, what did the new concept meant for news media institutions? asked Prof Berger.

Introducing the concept of sustainable journalism, Jönköping University’s professor of media and communication studies, Prof Ulrika Olausson, said a few years ago, herself and colleague, Prof Peter Berglez started thinking about journalism in relation to the 17 goals of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “And the question we asked ourselves was, ‘what role does and should journalism play in the overall sustainable development of society?’”

Prof Olausson said the answer was evident that journalism played a significant role since it greatly contributed to the understanding and to the handling of sustainability challenges of various kinds. “So, we continued to elaborate on this idea of sustainable journalism as a kind of an ideal mode of journalism,” she added.

During their thinking process they were faced with the question as to whether there was a need for yet another form of journalism. Prof Olausson said there were already different journalism concepts and practices, such as constructive journalism, peace journalism, entrepreneurial journalism, and “so forth”, but there was a need for yet another form of journalism, “to explicitly connect journalism, where the sustainability opens up for the inclusion of various sustainability-relevant issues, such as climate change, poverty, democratic participation, etc.”.

Prof Olausson said sustainable journalism pointed to the future. What media practitioners do today, how they describe the world, have future consequences, she argued. Sustainable journalism shaped both tomorrow’s journalism and tomorrow’s natural and social world, said Prof Olausson. “So, in short, sustainable journalism, to us, points out a direction that the journalistic practice is driven and guided by the strive for sustainability. In many contexts, the expression ‘sustainable journalism’ is interpreted in terms of the current economic crisis of journalism itself.” The concept also discussed the fact that much of journalism today is economic, thus economic sustainability of journalism was also interpreted in the new concept, said Prof Olausson.

Research was also conducted on how the concept would apply in Sub-Saharan Africa. This was undertaken by the head of the Department of Journalism of the University of the Witwatersrand, Prof Franz Kruger, head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Prof Anthea Garman and Rhodes University researcher, Theodora Dame Adjin-Tettey,

Prof Kruger told the event that the concept invited those involved in journalism to integrate various facets of sustainable development. Sustainable journalism, said Kruger, would ensure that the profession served a social purpose. He added that for the concept to fly, it needed to be pitched at systemic levels of policy formulation and the economic spheres. He urged governments to create an environment for sustainable journalism.

Adjin-Tettey said the concept faced two main challenges in Africa: journalism was “highly politicised” on the continent, creating a scenario where stories were covered from a political point of view. The media on the continent faced serious financial challenges, she said, arguing that these challenges would work against the implementation of the sustainable journalism concept.

Prof Garman said the concept in Sub-Saharan Africa would be constrained by the fact that journalists had an outward focus of the world, they didn’t report on themselves unless there was a crisis. For the concept concept to get traction, add Prof Garman, its champions needed to work with networks such as journalism organisations, particularly those that span countries such as Unesco.

Fojo Media Institute’s veteran journalist and academic, Lars Tallert, said sustainable journalism expanded the potential function of journalism. the concept would ensure that journalism was an integral part of the implementation of the UN’s 2030 development goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

A challenge was thrown to journalism scholars from all over the world to contributed towards the further development of the concept.

Find the discussion here:

Find the report here: file:///C:/Users/User/Downloads/CHARM-TowardsSustainableJournalism-PolicyBrief2021.pdf