Opinion piece by Dr Clayton Peel
The uptake of reporting and storytelling by readers – including uploading first-on- the-scene video footage of events – is a by- product of postmodern technologies being easily accessible to users outside the field of professional newsgatherers. Concurrently, these emerging technologies have been faulted for increasing the likelihood of distorted information, of publishing the previously unpublishable (mutilated bodies of crash victims, etc.) and other digital malpractices that have given weight to data security fears.
We used to belong to a profession that created content which was taken as a matter of record. You would take it as a firm truth that Yaoundé is the capital city of Cameroon because you read so in a newspaper. And, in the event that any information was inaccurate, it would be corrected as soon as the error was pointed out. But now, the digital media has given us a space that is contested. Owners of online platforms no longer feel compelled to correct misinterpretations and falsehoods. Believe them if you want, or go somewhere else, is the attitude.
In light of World Press Freedom Day, Prof Admire Mare, Deputy Head of the Department of Communication, delivered a public lecture titled ‘Taking stock of the impact of digitisation on the Namibian Media Landscape’. He argued that the media landscape in Namibia has been affected by the on-going economic recession, technological disruption and the COVID-19 pandemic. These interrelated crises have complicated the financial sustainability of media organisations in Namibia and beyond. The Covid-19 pandemic has escalated the crisis in journalism as newsrooms are surviving on shoestring budgets, salary and staff rationalisation, falling sales revenue and decreasing circulation figures.
Prof Mare made a case for recalibrated media business models that go beyond an overreliance on the placement of advertisements on their traditional media platforms. He encouraged media managers and entrepreneurs to experiment with various revenue generation models such as memberships, subscriptions, pay walls, donations and so forth.
He also observed that media consumption patterns have changed. Most young media consumers are opting to consume content online, while traditional media companies are still packaging their content in analogue formats. This mismatch has complicated media consumption patterns and trends in Namibia. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced media organisations to ‘leapfrog’ the analogue era by embracing innovative digital products like live streams, e-papers, WhatsApp friendly media products and podcasts.
His public lecture also emphasised the idea that quality journalism and investigative reporting will not die since they are essential for democratic practices. In addition, Prof Mare stated that technological disruptions will continue to affect journalism in its various manifestations, but journalism will find ways to adapt and reconfigure itself.
Opinion piece by Dr Chudey Pride
NUST ACADEMICS PRESENT PAPERS
Dr Chudey Pride, a Senior Lecturer of NUST in the Department of Communication, and his co-author, Abdulganiyu Omotosho Issa from the University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria, presented their paper titled “Exploring the impact of state-oriented communication technology surveillance and censorship on Journalists’ works, safety, and democratic freedoms in Africa” in the Academic Conference of the World Press Freedom Day on 29 April 2021.
Their research explored the growing incidents of surveillance technologies and censorship of the press, the impact and constraints on journalistic freedom, and journalism and democratic freedoms in Africa
Their paper, presented by Dr Pride, observed that digital communication technologies and platforms have brought significant challenges of censorship and surveillance against journalists in many parts of Africa, with a wide array of interventions and measures to shape the activity of journalists. The research identified ten countries across Africa’s cardinal points that “have entrenched measures and controls of online activities of journalists and citizens including use of censorship which two forms are preventive and punitive censorships. These countries include Cameroun, Benin Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, South Africa, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Rwanda and Nigeria.”
The researchers noted that these control measures point to resurgence of authoritarianism “manifesting in the unfettered control and monitoring of online communication of journalists, individuals, groups, mass media and social media platforms by various governments in Africa.” They expressed concerns that “state-oriented technology surveillance and censorship negate democratic freedoms and values” and noted that Africa, her media and her people, are inching towards totalitarian control of freedom of expression, especially with draconian acts, laws and proclamations by her governments.
During the same event, Prof Admire Mare and Dr Phillip Santos presented a paper, which examined the risks faced by Southern African journalists during COVID-19 and the ways in which news organisations in the region had responded to these risks.
They argued that a complex cocktail of safety threats faced by journalists in their line of duty, by extension, threatens the very fabric of democratic societies and, therefore, must be understood and addressed in a profound way.
Opinion piece by Dr Phillip Santos
YOUTH OPPORTUNITY FORUM
While this solemn occasion of World Press Freedom Day was going on, the European Union also ran a number of activities in commemoration of Europe Day.
NUST hosted the Youth Opportunity Forum, themed Youth Resilience, Innovation and Networking during COVID-19.
NUST Senior Lecturer of the Department of Communication, Dr Phillip Santos, presented on the topic “The Will to Commune”, focusing on how youth drew on digital solutions to negotiate the social atomisation brought about by COVID-19 induced restrictions.
During his presentation, Dr Santos argued that before one can concern oneself with young people as innovators, it is imperative to see them as human beings who need to be socio-psychologically healthy before they can assume any responsibilities as technological innovators.
He outlined some of the ways in which young people had nativised socio-technological spaces to reclaim the experience of community, which the COVID-19 had effectively emasculated. For instance, young people connect and socialise through gaming communities, interact through platforms such as club houses and online workshops, participate in digital activism in pursuit of social justice, share digital experiential diaries and participate in live music shows.