By Siphiwe Mohamed:

-Internews has partnered with the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) at the University of Eswatini (UNESWA), to train students on youth media literacy. 

As part of the programme, a recent Uneswa graduate has won support and cash for his new WhatsApp news platform for students, as did a Lesotho podcaster. 

                                                      Photograph: University of Eswatini official website

The youth media literacy training is part of the Advancing Rights in Southern Africa (ARISA) programme, and aims to  enhance understanding of disinformation and misinformation in media and to enhance knowledge of fact checking and verification tools.

Launched in October 2022, the Youth Media Literacy Program aims to equip young journalists with the skills necessary to identify the different ways in which misinformation and disinformation can present themselves, and how they as responsible creators of media can apply critical thinking to  consistently produce fact-based, accurate content and media stories.

Twelve senior journalism students in Year 3 and Year 4 of the UNESWA Bachelor of Arts degree were introduced to various topics and conducted practical sessions over three days on youth media literacy, disinformation and fake news, ethical journalism and politics, social media and journalism, journalism in the digital age, and fact checking and verification tools. 

A pitching exercise was conducted on the last day in which students presented their story ideas to editors from local media, including Tertiary Hub, UNESWA FM (88.2) and a representative from the Editors’ Forum.

The pitched story ideas were to be further developed for publication in local media outlets, including the UNESWA campus radio station. The facilitators also  distributeda Fact Checking manual. 

The Eswatini workshop was one of several  conducted by Internews over the course of the year in Southern Africa, together with  Lesotho, Botswana and South Africa. The programme ended  with a hackathon in November 2022 in Johannesburg.  All the workshop participants were invited to submit applications and finalists were to pitch ideas to develop innovative media products to specifically address an unmet need in their country. According to ARISA, the pitched media product ideas were required to target young audiences, have market potential and scalability, and seek to improve social value for young people in a specific country or the SADC region.

A former student from UNESWA, Chesterment Maphalala – Class of 2022, was one of the winners of the first prize (with a US$10,000 seed funding award) during the two-day Hackathon. A founder of Tertiary Hub, a Whatsapp-based news platform, he won for presenting one of the best proposals among the four finalists, who all presented ideas for youth-focused media projects. He had also been a guest speaker at the Eswatini workshop. Maphalala expressed excitement at being the first Liswati to win at the hackathon and intends to use the funding to grow the hub into a more secure platform to ensure it provides the best and most accurate information to its readers. 

“Tertiary Hub started off as a Whatsapp group whereby we used to disseminate information about the respective UNESWA campuses and the country. The funds will be very helpful towards its improvement,” he told local media.

A journalism student from Lesotho, Joyce Ramarora who has a podcast, was the second winner and was also awarded the US$10,000 seed funding.

Three current UNESWA journalism students; Gugu Mahlalela (Year 1), Muzi Bhembe (Year 3) and Fezile Mkhatshwa (Year 4) also participated in the competition and the latter two beat off the competition to become part of the four finalists.

Judges of the Hackathon were Tim Zunckel from Internews, Simon Allison from the Continent and Mail & Guardian,  South African National Editors Forum’s Tshamano Makhadi and Founder of Seven56 Botha Swarts.

Following the win, Maphalala is undergoing mentorship with ARISA and the organization plans to work with the JMC Department at UNESWA to support Maphalala in launching his new news site.

ARISA is a five-year USAID funded human rights program being undertaken by a consortium of four partners – Freedom House, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, Pact and Internews. ARISA works in select Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries to improve the recognition, awareness, and enforcement of human rights in the region, including protecting the region’s most vulnerable and marginalized groups. ARISA is in its fourth year of programming.