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Picture credit: UNESCO.
MENTAL health is a serious safety issue afflicting journalists around the world especially in the South and yet it is: Less researched, less reported about and less addressed in many newsrooms.
In many societies, mental health is a taboo something not spoken about. Infact – many newsrooms do not have it on the agenda nor budget. In any case Journalism is percieved as a profession for the tough and Journalists must toughen up.
So, day after day, journalists go out there and must report on: complex, traumatic, difficult and distressing issues – like war, natural disasters, political violence, climate change and human suffering, the pandemic… Many times, they are exposed to the very dangers they are covering – death, disease infection, political persecution, jail, harrasmment and intimidation – the list is endless.
They do this while worrying about layoffs, low salaries and the looming demise of a troubled industry. They are often burnt out under the now unforgiving and insatiable demands of the 24/7 news cycle. Journalists are not safe from the physical and psycological impact of their work hazards. In fact according to a Reuters report (2020) many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders – like depressions, anxiety, fatigue, insomina.
Research is not sufficient and is needed on the: Nature and scope of Mental health in global newsrooms – especially local contexts from the South; Individual challenges and copying mechanisms; how newsrooms are addressing the challenge and perhaps on the impacts of structural and existential challenges and shifts the industry is experiencing.
Multi-stakeholder research, collaboration and dialog – Including but not limited to Industry, civil soceity, academia/Journalism education, and others is vitalto help us understand and more importantly address the mental health issue as it is a serious safety problem.
In the belly of the beast – editors of leading media establishments in Southern Africa discuss the devastation of Covid 19 on the media industry and the implication on it’s viability
On the 13th of April I got the priviledge of facilitating a seminar on the important topic of media viability. This webinar was one of three webinars organized by the Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) on behalf of UNESCO as precursors to the 2021 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) celebrations in Windhoek on May 03. The webinar(s) were aimed to help SAEF to shape what is to go into another ground-breaking Windhoek +30 Declaration.
The webinar on: “The viability of media (in times of covid 19 and dominance of oligopolies) and their role in the production and sharing of information” was joined by a panel of 8 chapter chairpersons of SAEF and leading journalist associations from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. As industry experts with long experience in journalism practice, their insights around the topic were timely, valuable and insightful.
There was a general acknowledgement in the discussions of the perilous status of the core media ecology before the onset of Covid 19. Already, before the pandemic, the media industry in Southern Africa and indeed globally had been struggling with existential challenges including but not limited to: steadily dwindling income from advertising (as traditional economic models were increasingly becoming obsolete), declining buying audiences, listeners and viewers, dominance of media oligopolies and tech companies such as Facebook and Google that squeezed out many small, private, public interest media outlets and lack of trust and credibility in the traditional media. All this amidst rapid and consequential shifts in digital and online communication/platforms i.e. social media use, citizen journalism etc.
Within this context, the Covid 19 pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time for the industry and profession – no wonder some commentators have referred to this moment as ‘a media extinction event’ or ‘ a Darwinian moment’ – reflecting the nature and scope of the devastating impact of Covid on the media and its viability. The webinar discussions helped unpack, with examples from the different countries, some of these existential discourses, highlighting not just the challenges but also opportunities. We wound up the discussion with a call to action and way forward.
SUMMARY OF CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Covid 19 heightened the already debilitating existential challenges faced by legacy media. From the discussion, it was clear no country-media was left untouched by this devastation and the issue of media viability was a great concern. From the discussions, the biggest challenge to media viability were of an economic nature. At a media outlet level – all panelists reported gross loss of income, closure of several newsrooms – some temporarily and others permanently and several media outlets had to adapt lean and mean structural changes to remain afloat. During the eye of the pandemic (i.e. lock down) several of the media houses assumed a survivalist mode. At a professional/individual level – panelists painted a troubling picture, including: massive laid offs, salary cuts (some up to 100%), canceled annual leaves and so on. Freelancers and photojournalists, often working without contracts and adhoc were the hardest hit and the dire consequences of these developments and their detriment to audiences/citizenship/democracy were aired out. The wellbeing of journalists and their mental health as fundamental to media viability was also discussed as well as the changing roles of journalism education institutions. Several of the panelists shared innovative ways in which the media in their countries (e.g. Southern Africa) and regionally (SAEF) responded to the devastation of Covid including for instance the establishment of relief funds to assist struggling journalists. This kind of help was however dependent on transparency and clear criteria for distribution.
Who were the winners and loosers?
Also, a clear picture emerged of winners and loosers. Print media i.e. Nnewspapers and magazines were clear losers as the print economic model of sustainability (i.e. advertisements and sales-heavy) became unsustainable especially during lock-down. Small, community and private media were also among the losers for same reasons.
About the winners – the loss of paying customers among legacy media reflected in the high migration of audiences to broadcasting media and the proliferation of online media consumption especially of Print versions of legacy media and multinational tech-companies like google and Facebook – which became primary sources of information. On a positive note, the migration to online versions of legacy media meant that people still found these media credible and trustworthy especially at critical times such as during the pandemic. Despite that, our panelists pointed out that, the heavy migration to online channels did not bring with it revenues as people enjoyed free credible information. It is left to these organizations to harness these new audiences, listeners/readers into paying customers and also find innovative ways to sustain these users in the long term (Post-Covid). And as for the international tech-companies like Facebook and Google that consumes majority of adverts – panelists called for multi-actor dialogue and concrete ways to balance the economic dividends-issue.
Other than the economic variable to media viability, the discussants highlighted other factors such as the political aspect calling attention to legislation and sometimes draconian bills aimed at impeding Freedom of expression and journalists’ fourth estate roles; We also discussed technological issues which include infrastructural-outreach and the digital divide. Media content and information as a public good is also another factor to consider for a viable media – importance of credible, transparent and trustworthy media cannot be underestimated. Lastly, community issues that affect participation of citizens’ engagement in media discourses play an equally important role in media viability.
We wrapped up with a call to action for media viability on short and long term – targeting the broader media ecosystems: Governments, media houses, journalists, corporates, citizens, etc.The viability of the media would require combined efforts including: Economic: identifying creative and innovative models that build on the third revenue stream (as ads and sales are rather ineffective). Political dimensions – proper policies to guide the way forward and those that do not impede on freedom of expression. Technological – the digital migration also highlights challenges of infrastructure deficits and the digital divide that affects majority of rural African populations – these need to be sorted for long term media viability. Content-wise – a credible, trustworthy media that stands on the foundations of verifiable, transparent, public interest, independent and pluralistic principles will stand the test of viability and finally Societal co-creation of media content that incorporates principles of participation and engagement and media literacy were seen as important for media viability. NOTE: Research is needed to assess the true magnitude and nature of the covid pandemic devastation.
Ugandan Police brutality heightens as 2021 election draws closer – journalists as targets and what this means for democracy
"We have been beating journalists to restrain them from going whe
re there is danger. Police beat journalists to help them...for their safety. When a police officer tells you to stop, you must stop for your own safety. I will not apologize for police actions" - Martin Okoth Ochola, Inspector General of Ugandan Police.
This week, on the 14th of January 2021, Ugandans will go to the polls to elect a president and other leaders. As a media and polical observer, two things stand-out this election season. The first, the obvious is, we are experiencing an unprecedented global pandemic whose impact and influences on electoral politics and media coverage is worth noting. The second is the impunity and blatant escalation of abuse of journalists covering elections and especially those covering the opposition candidates.
Arguments that the incumbent President (35 years in power and counting) has weaponized covid-19 to curb dissent and the proliferation of opposition politics is evident for any critical followers of the campaign trails. Police brutal and heavy-handed implementation of Covid 19 standard operation procedures (SOPs) for elections has been unevenly targeted at mainly 2 of the most popular presidential candidates: Kyagulanyi and Amuriat, their followers and any journalists covering their events. The unbalanced harassment and torture of opposition – yes, journalists are percieved as opposition – is blatant when juxtaposed with the incumbents calm, jubilant and closely packed political rallies and journalist freedoms that openly go againsts SOPs.
This electoral season has also seen an escalation in the torture and harrassment of journalists. Several journalists covering opposition candidates rallies have either been murdered, beaten into coma, threatened, blocked from covering events, stalked, their equipment either confiscated or damaged, arrested and jailed, sued. The chilling effect of all this is its impact on democracy. For one, the fear of harrassment leads to the more dangerous information black-out exactly when the fragile nation needs timely, factual and relevant information for them to make vital and informed decisions. Secondly, this harrassment has resulted into an information draught on matters that matter. The resultant skewed media coverage heavily focusing on police violence and less on a differentiated policy coverage of key campagn issues is a de-service to democracy. As such we do not know much about ALL the candidates and what they stand for as the violence against citizens and journalists has overshadowed media coverage. Ponder on this – what recourse do citizens have when denied any avenues to express their grievances? The analaysis on the single female candidate is a matter of another post.
Exactly 1 month ago today the 10th of December 2020, The Media Council instituted a dubious regulation demanding that all journalists covering elections must be re-registerd, for accreditation – merely a few days to election day. The argument was to protect them and fight fake news. But why now? Shouldnt such a regulation go through due legal process first, and in good time? What happens to Citizen journalists? Shouldnt a Ugandan Journalist body or Union be the ones to do this job? Now that the Uganda Journalists Association is defunct, who gatekeeps on journalists behalf? In short, it was a very problematic move. I am glad that the media fraternity have contested this sneak-attack and as of today, I have learnt that, this regulation has been revoked and instead Registered journalists must present identification from their media houses to the Districts of municipalities they cover for approval. How problematic this decision is, is yet to be assessed.
Find related strories across Africa here.
This article originally appeared in the NORDMEDIA NETWORK as part of the Media Literacy webinar series on the 5.10.2020. It also appeared in the Newsletter on Media and Learning. My gratitute for allowing me to share our exciting research with the network. More details from this research can be obtained here in English, Norwegian, Dari, Arabic and Tigrinya.
Even though experts had warned about the increased levels of human rights violations under lockdown, especially within households, it was nevertheless horrific to read in the Daily Monitor article that:
‘2,300 school girls conceive, 128 married off during lockdown’.
And these were just reports from 5 of the 134 districts of Uganda. Not only are the numbers mind boggling, given the short timeframes of the Covid-lockdown, it also seems like the lockdown signified and okayed the breakdown of both the legal and social fabric of our society – in this case with regards to the violation of the vulnerable, especially women and children.
From a leadership point of view, it seems like we have learnt nothing from previous pandemics. It is a well documented fact that crises often provide a fertile ground for criminal activity to flourish, including within homes. Experiences from the 2014-16 Ebola health crisis in Western African countries are a good example. During that pandemic, local communities witnessed a drastic rise in the abuse of children and minors – crimes included: defilement, teenage pregnancies and early marriage. In Sierra Leone, for instance, teenage pregnancies are recorded to have doubled to 14,000 from prior to the outbreak. And this information is on our finger tips, just a click away.
Lessons from Ebola, HIV/Aids and other crises in Africa should have prepared us with the understanding that in times like these, women and girls especially from poor or rural communities are most vulnerable. We also know that several of the factors and cultural practices (for instance cultures that encourage child marriages) worsen during emergency situations like the kavuyo we are seeing during Covid. In such situations, families and community structures and infrastructures breakdown considerably while the focus is usually directed at the meta-level on the more existential issues of survival, again leaving criminals unimpeded.
During such times many factors contribute to the rise in such violations. Economic factors are first on the list of contributing factors. As we have learnt, during previous and current pandemics, a majority of families lose their main source of income – forcing parents to marry off their young daughters (enabling cultural factors) with hopes to reduce mouths to feed and perhaps gain some resources.
Closure of schools due to the lockdown not only leaves the vulnerable young people in danger and in fear of violence, it takes away their escape spaces and access to counselling opportunities. As we know, in our mostly patriarchal societies, the weight of care disproportionately rests on women and girls, not only making them most susceptible to infection, but also makes them easily accessible targets of abuse.
The short term consequences manifest in the dropout from school, child-birth complications (Fistula) and others as mentioned in the Monitor article. Long term consequences may range from lifelong psychological trauma, difficulty in returning to school, a lost generation of female development partners, leaders and decision makers.
It is quite understandable that as the pandemic rages and governments, often strapped for funds and organisational skill, relegate grassroots, marginal communities and groups as well as their issues. But we have to remember that the consequence of such relegation not only promotes a breakdown of social networks and structures that may be difficult to repair, the long term consequences are something we should be concerned about and also act upon urgently.
BOOK TITLE: UNDERSTANDING HEALTH CRISES AND THEIR INPRINT ON JOURNALISM AND MEDIA DISCOURSES IN AFRICA
When the COVID-19 broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the close of 2019, no
oneimagined its rapid global spread and devastating impact – especially on the African media ecology. By the end of June, there were over 10 million confirmed global cases and over 500,000 confirmed deaths in 215 countries (WHO Situation Report July 2020). Declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation on 30 January 2020, countries around the world embarked on public health measures to curb the spread. Lock-downs of different proportions and motives have been instituted in most countries and with numerous consequences.
Media and public (health and crisis) communication has been at the core of the fight against COVID-19 underscoring its role in providing quick, accurate and preventive information to combat fear, restore calm and order and save lives by causing adherence to recommended behaviour change in critical times of crisis. But the implication goes far beyond the need for timely information. Reporters without Border (Tracker 19) and UNESCO recently highlighted the new dangers journalists and media face during COVID-19 including: misinformation, draconian bills/legislation, harassment/intimidation, arrests and jail, withheld advertising, murder of journalists, among others.
While, Media discourses around health crises may reflect a global scope, such discourses in Africa constitute unique features, struggles, histories and challenges and ultimately strategies specific to the continent and also country specific. This collection of empirical research explores not just the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic but also takes a broad approach to understanding discourses around health and crisis communication on the continent of Africa. The interest is to harness reflected continental media discourses surrounding political, social, economic, technological, religious, gendered and cultural and systemic developments around health crises including but not limited to HIV/AIDS communication, Malaria, Ebola virus pandemic, COVID-19.
Within this context, this book aims to offer novel insights into media discourses around health and crisis communication on the African continent through rigorous and critical empirical and theoretical engagement. The chapters’ expected focus is on 4 interrelated themes: a) Impact on Journalism Professional Practice, b) Media content/discourse, c) Audience studies and d) Diasporic discourses, pandemic and health communication.
Themes include but are not limited to: Continue reading
Why is it that journalism classrooms are beaming with female students but as they step out of the classroom and into the newsroom or boardrooms, their numbers begin to drastically dwindle? This dwindle usually correlates with age, longevity in the practice and vertical ascension onto the higher echelons of the profession. Do they leave of their own volition or are they pushed out?
As a former journalist (with a bounty of toxic experiences) and now, a journalism scholar I am ever curious to hear women and men’s understanding of this dillema. Are the mechanisms of disenfranchisement stable especially with the digital turn within the media ecology or are they changing? Are women making large strides towards equality, acceptance and respect or is it the same old story?
That Journalism has been considered a male profession is well documented. The point of departure here is the argument that the profession as well as the societies they serve are richer with an equal representation not only with content matters but also in the employment practices and patterns.
It is understood that journalism plays a crucial role in informing, representing and mirroring soceity. The role of media and journalism as the ‘fourth estate’ is heavily anchored in its mandate as a powerful social change agent, for its watch-dog functionality and being the voice for the voiceless. The argument followsthat, in any society, both women and men contribute to their societal development and by the same token, both should be equally represented in all mechanisms of its operation. And here-in lies a nuance, women and men are often affected differently by any given discourse – making diveristy of voice both necesary and detrimental.
Thus, for pertinent societal issues to be articulated accurately, there is need for a balanced representation not just on matters of the content but also among the framers and agenda-setters. For instance, the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) that audits, every 5 years, the gender situation in the media industry, has time and time again proven that stories covered by female journalists are more gender balanced and challenge unequal statusquo as they make sure to include female sources and perspectives as opposed to their male counterparts.
So, back to the leaking pipeline dilema. Both from experience and research: sexism, gender stereotyping, mysogyny, minority status, poor support structures, resistance to change, lack of safety, hegemony of patriarchy, sexual harrassment, hegemonic femininity, symbolic annihilation and the triple roles of women are just a few of the culprits that individually or collectively explain the leaking pipeline.
In other words, when PUSHED into a corner often due to the convergences of the above challenges – with no support structures, no visible or accessible role models or change in sight – many women then choose to JUMP – leaving in their wake, continuities and a vicious circle that is detrimental to the profession and humanity.
Related articles and resources
Two of my MA exchange students are guest bloggers in this post. (Tiko Georgia) and Ani (Armenia) share their experiences of Covid-19. Tiko’s blog takes us through her tumultuous journey when Covid-19 had just broken out. Hers illustrates among other things, the fear, uncertainty and disruptive nature of crises of global propotions – but ultimately reminding us that at the end of the day, all will be well. We will come out of the darkness.
Covid–19 Pandemic: My Unexpected Ticket Home
By Tiko Zurabishvili, Student, MA Global Journalism (Georgia)
Studying in Norway was an adventure from the beginning to the very abrupt end. After spending 2 months in cozy and rainy Kristiansand, I flew to Riga –the capital of Latvia known for its architectural marvels, where workshops for budding journalists took place. It was supposed to be a short trip, and I packed rather lightly. Lidya, my dear friend and a groupmate from Ethiopia, accompanied me to the bus stop, from where I would ride to the airport. “I’ll see you in a week,” –I told her. None of us had the slightest idea that I wouldn’t be returning to Norway.The week I spent in Latvia was exhilarating: I was in a good company of young colleagues, the weather was sunny, and all bars and restaurants open.However, I was slightly distressed by the current news updating the worldwide cases of Covid–19 in a superspeed manner. “It can’t be too serious;peoplejustlove drama. We need to be slightly more careful than usual, that’s all,”–I naively said to myself. A day before my departure from Riga,I received an email from my Norwegian coordinator.
The situation was intense, and educational facilities were closing down. NLA University College, where I am enrolled this semester, was urging international students to go back to their home countries if possible. I wasin a dilemma that needed an immediate solution. Instinctively checking my flight online, I found out that Denmark had recently been closed. Guess what? I was supposed to return to Kristiansand through Copenhagen. All in all, I had to switch my tickets to Tbilisi, Georgia –the way home.Never before had I been so uncertain about my future. I was flying to a place where I was born and raised, where a loving family and a bunch of loyal friends awaited me. It had to give me some comfort, some sense of security… However, I was overwhelmed. “What if I contracted the virus at the airport or on a plane? Would I infect my loved ones? And what about my studies? How will I finish this semester?” –the questions in my mind seemed to have no end.Back home, I spent thefirst 2 weeks in self–isolation. People I missed were so close, yet I wasn’t able to see them for their own safety. It felt surreal.
Fortunately, I was able to continue my studies online, which greatly helped me draw my attention away from my anxieties.
Although I didn’t have much expectations regarding distance learning, it turned out to be surprisingly productive.Now,over a month since my return, I’m no longer isolated, but still spend most of my time home. Apart from studying, I take time to improve my writing and video editing skills. In addition, I started painting again –something I thought was left in my very early childhood. While still uncertain about what’s next, I feel less nervous. After all, we’re all in this together –the whole world. The current reality might not be convenient, but the pandemic cannot last forever. We need to adapt to temporary changes for the sake oftheeventual restoration of our normal, social, affable lives.
In her blog “Life in Quarantime’, Ani uses beautiful pictures to contemplate the good and the bad experiences of life under quarantine. Be careful about the dangers of wishful thinking – especially as a student. Her refreshing blog does more – it is as uplifting as it is a reminder to all of us the importance of friendship, love, patience and the power of quite reflection especially during such crisis (lockdown) times as this one.
Thanks for sharing.
Reporting while female – What Bedoya’s World Press Freedom (Guillermo) Prize means for plurality of voices in the media
“Pay attention…We are sending a message to the press in Colombia.” The millitants while they raped her.
Jineth Bedoya Lima a female Colombian journalist is the 10th female and 24th laureate of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Day Prize for 2020 – and we dont take this lightly. Her resume epitomizes the constant struggle and threat lurking in (especially to female) journalists every-day work life.
You see, Ms Lima (1974) who covers armed conflict and sexual violence against women has first hand experience of this threat. She has been a victim of millitary abduction, torture and rape on two separate occassions while she worked with El Espectador and La Modelo newspapers respectively. The first was on one fateful day in 2000, while covering an arms trafficking case for the El Espectador daily newspaper, she was abducted, tortured and sexually assaulted… and dumped by the trash to be found by a taxi…
In court, this case was dragged along for over a decade and it was not until she appealed at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights that one commandor confessed to being one of her three abductors.
Ms Lima’s prize is timely, uplifting and significant in many ways – surfice to mention just two:
First, the safety of journalists especially female journalists off and online is increasingly worrisome. On a day to day basis, (female) journalists face death threats, sexual harassment, intimidation, jail and rape (the later, as in Ms Lima’s case is often used as a political tool). Many of such cases are not reported due to powerful cultural taboos, professional stigmas and well as poor economic stature for many journalists.
Secondly, Impunity for Human Rights crimes against journalists due to non-existant or toothless legislation is also cause for worry. The UNESCO report below indicates not only is there a rise in the murder of journalists in the line of duty, 90% of attackers have not been convicted. The Reporters without Borders and UNESCO also warm of the rising threats to journalists during covid-19.
The psychological consequences of the threats to journalists coupled with impunity for perpetuators poses the danger a) for many (female) reporters – often, traumatized and without proper support structures resort to self-censorship and retreat from the public sphere and from their work thus b) effectively silencing their voices and diversity. Silencing journalists endangers plurality of voice, democracy and society.
Lima’s Prize is not just a celebration of journalists’ courage and tenacity. It also is a loud and clear reminder that women are strong, survivors and vital for the profession and for democracy but more importantly, their safety, along with all journalists must be protected especially during these ‘infodemic’ times.
Promote safety of (female) Journalists:
- Through supportive newsroom practices, cultures and support structures to promote acceptance, support, accurate information (not stereotypes)
- Provide digital safety to (female) journalists
- Helpline for (female) journalists caught up in line of duty and post-traumatic events
- Advocacy – to raise awareness, combat impunity, institution of legislations (with teeth)
- Research and expose abuse of human rights
Happy World Press Freedom Day (May 3) celebrations.
Also, Where does your country lie on the World Press Freedom Index?
Celebrating World Press Freedom day 2020 amidst covid-19 and new threats to journalists and the media
Today is World Press Freedom day. The day we celebrate “the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluate press freedom around the world, defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession”. Exactly one year ago I was at the African Union headquarters in Addis volunteering as a mentor and editor to the global Youth Newsroom that covered the events of the World Press Freedom day. Then, the media coverge lamented the poor state of Press freedom across the world. From arbitrary arrests of journalist, to press censorship, draconian laws, harrassment and intimidations of journalists to the murder of journalists in line of duty. At that time, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were rotting away in prison only to be released after they won the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in Adiss. We disparsed on an optimistic note – with the hope that the situation would improve.
2020 however, has turned out to be a year of unprecedented crisis. Covid-19 has caused havoc of such propotions we are yet to properly make sense of. But one area of impact is journalism and journalist work. It is precisely because of the pandemic that today’s F2F WPF day celebrations have been postponed from May 3 to October 18-20 in the Hague. But the pandemic is to blame for unleashing a more sinister wave of human rights abuses against journalists across the globe.
From censorship (USA, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, India) to deliberate disinformation (China), to banning reporters (Tanzania), to arrests and imprisonment (Iran; Azerbaijan, IraqiKurdistan; Jordan; Zimbabwe ) to violence against reporters (Bangladesh, Ukraine); to imposition of new draconian and dubious bills/laws (like in Algeria), to suspension of printing (Liberia). The growing list goes on and on. And this is not to include the ecomonic repurcussions to an already finacially debilitated industry among other areas.
So today, as we celebrate the strides we have made, lets keep up pressure and vigilance to create conducive environements for journalists to report without ‘FEAR OR FAVOUR’ – a slogan highlighting this year’s UNESCO WPF theme.
Reporters without Boarders (Tracker 19)
The menacing dread and uncertainty surrounding the national enforcement of ‘lockdown’ and social distancing regulation due to Covid-19 is dwindling now. About six weeks ago, the mood was different – gloom, trepidation, concern enveloped our lives as we read and watched the unbelivable rise in Covid-19 casualties – first far away in China, then Italy, Spain and gradually closing in on us. Suddenly, it was no longer danger lurking far, far away. Norway, WE, were on the global danger list.
This reality was driven home when Universities, schools and kindergatens closed (as most institutions) – home not only became the arena for survival (including surviving each other over long time periods in close proximity, hehe!), work, school and child-care tasks shifted and were to be performed at home.
As a University teacher, the virtual turn to online teaching/learning was unsurprising. However, although we engaged in online pedagogies prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, this was only to a lesser extent as F2F pedagogies were still the norm. Quick action in prepping teachers and readying the technical logistics was vital for my case. Lucky for me I had undertaken online teaching courses earlier and am rejuvinating this knowledge through teaching/coordinating it.
So, it then came to pass. With some hiccups, disasters and many triumphs, mostly because of an abundance of patience from my brilliant and enthusiastic students, I have completed one round of online ‘MA Course’ teaching. ZOOM and Canvas has been our friend. I learnt to hold live lectures with various activities and tasks for student engagement – including chat-rooms, breakout rooms, screen shares and synchronous discussions during the lecture. I also learnt to record some lectures for flexibility and asynchronous consumption (but oh, how I loothe the sound of my voice!). Generating and moderating debate/discussion which were given sufficient time as well as quizzes and reflections were also a favourite for many of my students. All this, in a planned paced learning trajectory anchored in and towards the course’s learning outcomes.
With online pedagogies students take an even more central role in their own learning. Social constructivist approaches sustained by a combination of self-learning, experiential learning, peer-reviews, collaborative pedagogies and progressive self-reflection do actually foster active and life-long learning. But while desirable, online pedagogies do take time to construct, implement and sustain. Covid-19 is definately disruptive in the sense that our new normal – in a post-covid world – will include a further shift towards elearning/eteaching pedagogies. The time is rife for institutions of higher learning to put in order the multi-dimensional building blocks for implementing successfull virtual learning (and the role of technologies, multi-stakeholder dialog and research cannot be under-rated).
Monday 9th September is local election day in Norway. In just one week leading to the D-day, I recieved two reminders to the fact. One of these was a text message and the other, a ‘micro-targeted’ letter posted to me as a voter with an ‘immigrant background’.
This letter, signed by the director of the Electoral directorate, partly states:
Loosely translated, the excerp interpretes as: “Participation among voters with immigrant background is increasing. Contribute to setting a new record. The elections in 2015 had an increase in voters with immigrant background – represented by 40% of the voters. Contribute to a larger participation by voting this year”
You see, research into this public (dis)engagement in formal politics tells us that over the last 50 years, voter turn out has steadily declined to ‘crisis’ levels. In fact, a recent book (2019) by Aeron Davis, on Public Communication – a new introduction on crisis times; two main explainations surfice for this citizen disengagement: a) It is the individual’s fault and Cultural factors that are to blame or/and b) public institutions to fault.
In the West, the argument goes, where material wealth is high, ‘individualistic’ citizens have lost the motivation and drive to bother with formal politics. They are either too lazy, too distracted and therefore unqualified to deal with the complexitities of governance and have to leave it to politicians and experts – the hope is that through periodic elections and perhaps Critical journalism, they will be kept in check and accountable. The Alternative argument is that disengagement is faulted on political institutions that have failed to configure participatory governance. Instead leaders are hiding behind the tall walls of ‘citizen-unfriendly’ governance, aloof and distanced from their electorate. So what is it?
There are emerging critcal voices that suggest that Citizens, especially young people, are actually interested in politics but choose not to engage in ‘traditional’ forms of formal politics like voting or joining political parties. This is because they have lost faith in these institutions. Instead, they are engaging through alternative channels mainly fostered through digital and online means – suggesting a need for new paradigms for understanding these shifts in civic engagement.
The lose of faith in formal politics is a matter also afflicting marginalised communities such as ethnic minorities like myself with immigrant background; the poor; less educated; women; religious minorities who according to research, unincentivised, feel that their voices do not matter.
So, this letter that I recieved, encouraging me to exercise my fundamental right to choose who I want as a representative and have a voice on matters that concern my community, was not only surpring but a welcome disruption to notions of civic disengagement and the hegemony of marginality in the politics of participation.
So come, Monday, I am gonna walk tall and bring this freedom to life!
Check out how your country is faring with civic (dis)engagement over the years in this voter turnout database.
Last week, 55 senior researchers and actors from 20 countries from global North and South came together to deliver a most ambitious proposal to the EU COST ACTION Program. If awarded, the project will boost SDG17 through system thinking. It is an inter-disciplinary network initiative bringing together a multi-stakeholder partnership lead by Professor Arnaud Diemer from the University of Clermont Auvergner, France. Sustainable Development Goal 17 on partnerships for goals is arguably the thread that binds all the Goals and if well formed can lead to an amazing thrust in achieving the SDGs. Many thanks to Prof. Valeria Schwanitz from HVL for inviting me into this consortium. Looking forward to serve and learn – to give and to take 🙂
IT had been almost 2 decades since I worked in the busy newsroom of Uganda’s leading daily, the New Vision Corporation. That was way back in 2000, before I went for further studies in Norway and changed my professional life trajectory. So, when, this March, I was asked by my collegeue, also an academic, to join UNESCO organised World Press Freedom Day celebrtions in Addis Ababa as an academic mentor, I was justifiably nervous and apprehensive.
Memories of a heated, noisy and open newsroom, bustling with news producers:editors, reporters, photojournalists, freelancers, visitors and complainants came streaming. The long days and late nights often punctuated with urgent calls in the wee hours of the night to get back to the newsroom to cover breaking news, gave me the shivers.
It was a restless job, where one’s ears were always on the ground, where whatever you ate, drank, saw, felt or even dreamt had to have a journalistic interpretation. Nosy, was our middle name. As a journalist working for the leading daily, the ever-present understanding was that: It was easier to get to the top but very hard to stay there – as all the others worked knuckle-hard towards beating (and embarassing) us with: news scoops, interesting angles and better sales.
But that was not the worst of my fears. Back in 2000 when I was a sub-editor on the New Vision, Sports desk, we were at the dawn of the technological disruptions – Infact, on our desk lead by Louis Jadwong, were pioneers in the transition from analog to digital. Several intermediary jobs such as typesetters, proofreaders, etc were on their way out. Media convergence and multimedia platforms were budding to what today is a well established conglomerate (New Vision employs thousands in it’s roughly: 7 newspapers, 5 radio stations, 4 TV stations and several (e) magazines and other services).
Anyway, soon my apprehension to join the Addis Youth Newsroom, was slowly replaced with a strange sense of excitement and adventure – and a promise of a fast-paced, adrenalin pumped existence swept over me. But mostly, I looked forward to working in a multicultural newsroom, with different collaborators such as academics, young practicing journalists, students etc. I also looked forward to learning from and mentoring the young people in this era of technologically infused journalism.
From the offset, I understood from the UNESCO coordinators especially Soraide Rosario, that it was desirable to foster inclusive, transparent and effective processes around the Youth Newsroom. The aim was to open spaces and opportunities for young journalism students and practitioners to experience a ‘global newsroom’. as well as gain access, insights and practice in covering mainstream issues around press freedom while highlighting minority, thematic and national level concerns, nuances and perspectives from around the world.
Participants included; govenrment representatives, journalists, academics, students, advocacy groups, legislators, judiciary members, religious organizations, civil soceity organisations and more. We were all here to celebrate and remind ourselves about the fundamental principles of Freedom of the Press; assess the status of Freedom of the Press around the world; defend press freedom and honour and pay tribute to Journalists who have been killed, arrested and abused for doing their work. Thanks to the Ethiopian government, UNESCO and African Union for the support, about 2000 particiants graced the conference whose theme was: Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”.
So, allocating and editing the young journalists’ stories offered me a broad range of insights: thematicall from: the role of cartoonists play in promoting peace and democracy, to understanding the pros and consequences of critical journalism – also manifested by the story of the jailed winners of the UNESCO Guilermo Award. I also gained insights into some of the dangers of disinformation as well as the double victimhood that female journalists face as well as the worrisom problem of impunity of several actors and governments who continue to abuse journalists’ fundamental human rights – rights ascribed by Article 19 of the universal declarations. Just as an example, on the very day of the WPFD, Ugandan regulator Uganda Communications Commission orderd the suspension of editors of broadcasters for their critical coverage of a budding opposition leader.
The lessons are inexhaustable.
Practically, i was humbled by the brave, pleasant, eager, driven and hard-working young journalists and the fact that I was honoured to work with them. Culturally, i witnessed the importance of being flexible to contextual influences and practices especially pertaining to culture – when working in multicultural contexts. Lucky for me, my colleages were some of the best people, one could work with: relaxed, friendly, professional and inclusive.
A few tips for prospective students and mentors:
For young journalists/students:
- Embrace and exploit the opportunity
- Put the theory into practice
- Be (pro)active and creative in your pursuit of fair, balanced and inclusive stories.
- Ask the tough and critical questions when newsgathering.
- Do your homework/reasearch to support your articles. Verify for accuracy, fairness and balance especially in this era of disinformation.
- Build networks (of friends and future sources).
- Prepare to adapt to and reflect multicultural influences, backgrounds and contexts.
- Enjoy the experience!
For the prospective mentors/editors:
- Prepare for multicultural influences and experiences: Prepare to adapt to and work with different cultures and for multicultural influences and backgrounds both from the teams and content.
- Start early: Endevour to work with the team to start early – especially orientations to the location, platform orientation and job specifications.
- Clear communication: It helps to have an overview, clarity in assigning duties and constant communication not just with teammates but also reporters.
- Enjoy the experience: this is not a knuckle-hard newsroom, so do your best, inspire the youth, help them produce their ‘best works’, pat them on the back with each delivery, attend some of the events, network, be you – but mostly, enjoy the event and contribute to a thriving atmosphere.
Many thanks to UNESCO, UAA and NLA Univerity College and all partners for this positive experience.