AJEN roundtable 2022. Photo: Kemiso Wessie

By Enoch Sithole: 
After a fruitful round table meeting at Wits University, members of the African Journalism Educators Network (Ajen) agreed to set up a steering committee and identify projects for future collaboration. 

The meeting was held in Johannesburg on September 13, bringing together around 40 journalism teachers from 25 institutions across the continent. Around half attended the meeting physically and the rest were online. Some 15 countries from across the continent were represented, as well as some from as far afield as Argentina, Bangladesh and France.

In a packed programme, a series of panel discussions discussed ways to improve journalism education on the continent, the pitfalls and opportunities of campus publication, decoloniality and language, research priorities and other issues.

Delivering the keynote address, University of Glasgow’s Dr Hayes Mabweazara, said journalism faced “crises and challenges” which “point to an increasingly complex ecosystem of journalism in which the hegemony of traditional mainstream news media as the sole arbiters of news is under unprecedented threat”.

He said the profession faced a crisis of a normative identity rooted in Anglo-American conceptions of journalism. There was also the issue of the impact of technology on journalism, among which the challenges and threats posed by “peripheral news actors … at the edges of the journalistic field, (who) have ‘openly’ challenged the traditional forms of journalism”. These “interlopers” raise questions on the field should be extended to include them, he said.

Alternative forms of journalisms could be seen as responding to Africa’s socio-political fabric. Drawing on a range of studies, he said new forms included music and art as journalism; jokes and comedy; and the interplay between satire and investigative journalism (as in Nigeria).  Satire performs the watchdog role of journalism by calling the powerful to account through humour and jokes – “the lines between satirical journalism and mainstream journalism keep blurring”, Dr Mabweazara said.

These and other factors had implications for journalism education, he said, including a need for:

  • Critical digital pedagogy/literacy that stretches beyond skills to include understanding of the complexity of the media ecosystems that are in constant flux. 
  • A bold and assertive foregrounding of contextually-rooted communication practices drawn from lived experiences.
  • Engagement with the work of interlopers/peripheral actors and in so doing build towards offering a way to differentiate between interlopers and setting field boundaries.

“In the midst of all the cacophony and complex news media ecosystems, it is not too difficult to see the centrality and continued relevance of strong public service media”, because of questions of social inequalities in access to information, the pervasive nature of disinformation on social media and various other forms of dark participation, he added.

The round table also heard that digital technology was among the most researched subjects on the continent, having dominated discussions at the East African Communication Association (Eacom) and the South African Communication Association (Sacomm). 

Catia Mangue from Mozambique’s Media Lab told the gathering that there were only four universities teaching journalism in that country. These were in urban areas, which created a scenario where journalism in rural areas was poorly practiced. The journalism education curriculum was very theoretical, she said, with no African concepts being taught. Rather, Brazilian, Portuguese and English models were used even though they  did not “follow the reality of Mozambique”, said Mangue.

University of Eswatini’s Siphiwe Mahomed told the gathering that training in public relations attracted most students than journalism in her institution. There was a challenge in Eswatini to restore the credibility of journalism.

Mauritius National University’s Christina Chan Meetoo told the roundtable that her institution was working to strengthen the usage of Creole as an indigenous language as French and English have dominated the country’s media.

In Kenya, said Prof Nancy Booker from Nairobi’s Aga Khan University, news organisations were concerned about the job readiness of journalism graduates. They were expected to “hit the road running”, which made it necessary for journalism education to be harmonized with newsroom work.  

In this regard, suggestions were made for a meeting of journalism educators and industry leaders to be organized to discuss ways to support the profession.

It was agreed that Ajen should remain an informal network for the present, but the meeting elected a steering committee of five members, representing Southern East and West Africa.  They are Prof Franz Krüger from the Wits Centre for Journalism, Dr Sisanda Nkoala from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Dr Modestus Fosu from the Ghana Institute of Journalism and Dr Basil Hamusokwe from the University of Zambia.

Among suggestions for joint projects were a continental survey to determine where journalism graduates go after completing their studies, and the development of African textbooks for journalism schools.