By Enoch Sithole
Former Unesco director of the division of freedom of expression and media development, Prof Guy Berger, has urged African journalism educators to connect with each other and relevant stakeholders in order to increase their social capital.
Prof Berger was delivering the keynote address at the round table meeting of the African Journalism Educators’ Network (Ajen) meeting in Kigali on August 28.
“The fewer your connections, the less rich your teaching will be,” he said. The connections should be with working journalists, NGOs, environmental activists, children’s rights organisations, etc. he added: “You might know that I led the Highway Africa conference at Rhodes University for 12 years, or so. And it became very clear there that networking African journalists and deepening the links to the journalism educators and trainers was exciting, but also enriching for both sides. When I look around today, I see a few barriers to connections and particularly connections to the working world of journalists. One barrier I see is where journalism educators feel inferior to the actual people doing journalism and the other barrier is when journalism educators feel superior.”
He said journalism educators were different from professional journalists but were not second-class citizens. “You need a sense of pride in being this professional journalism educator and trainer. And that’s the way you can affirm your value to the total development of a new African set of journalisms,” he affirmed.
The superiority barrier is where journalists and educators feel superior to one another, he said. “These are the intellectuals amongst us who regard ourselves as a bit of an elite as a catch above those who just go and do stuff without even thinking about it … or those who are captured by the bosses or by sources or wherever,” he argued.
He said there was a danger that if journalism teachers, or trainers, felt superior to the practitioners and are not supporting them, “then you can also play into the hands of authoritarians who will welcome any criticism of media, not because the media deserves to be criticised, but when the media is inconvenient to those who want certain information hidden. A superiority complex can serve as barriers to you connecting with one of the most important constituencies that you should be connected to.
“You will get the respect you deserve from the practitioners when you treat them with respect for their efforts, even when they fall short. So, if you want sustainable connections to those in the industry, you have to build a connection as equals and convince them that you two are equal. You’re just doing a different job,” he argued.
Prof Berger, who was instrumental in getting the World Journalism Education conference held in South Africa in 2010, urged Ajen to seek an association with the organisation. The holding of the conference on the continent was the first time that many international journalism educators had the opportunity to come to the continent and meet people from all over the continent, he said.
The organisation’s conference is held every four years, and there was no meaningful African participation, yet it was a formidable networking platform, said Prof Berger.
His full remarks are available at https://commspolicy.africa/?page_id=134.