" ITREALMS: HA-2010 explores Africa’s voice in new media space

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

HA-2010 explores Africa’s voice in new media space

A gathering of continental Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) media practitioners under the Highway Africa conference was recently held at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. REMMY NWEKE, who was there reports that the occasion probed the coverage of Africa in the global new media.

This year’s edition of the annual Highway Africa conference ended recently in the city of Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa with the theme: African Voices in the Global Media Space.

Apart from setting the city of Grahamstown agog, for the first time in recent times, at least in the past seven years, the usually weeklong gathering of African journalists with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as the unifying factor was lumped into a three-day event, between July 5 and 7, 2010 at the Eden Grove Complex, Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

Highway Africa prides itself as the largest convention of media practitioners, mostly practicing journalists from Africa who write and report on ICT on the continent at Rhodes University Grahamstown campus, South Africa.

Giving an overview of the conference, the Executive Director, Highway Africa, Mr. Chris Kabwato, noted that it is a partnership between the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), with the support of several partners, development agencies and sponsors including the MTN Group.

According to him, for 14 good years, Highway Africa conference has been at the centre of Africa’s debates on journalism and new media, just as it has become the largest annual gathering of African journalists in the world, with the last six years, evolving into a multi-pronged programme with research - mapping the terrain of the challenges of the interface of technology, journalism and the media; education and training - responding to the identified gaps this project makes a practical intervention by re-skilling, upskilling, educating and training journalists; news agency - a niche news agency with a network of correspondents across the continent it offers weekly news digest on ICT developments in Africa; conference - the flagship of the programme and forum for critical reflection on journalism, media and technology and a celebration of Africa.

Kabwato explained that the term ‘global village’ has become a truism, because globalisation is now an accepted reality of modern society. What is now being debated, he said, are the rules of engagement in the globalised world, especially now that trade, migration, sovereignty, identity, and many other issues, form the bottom line of these debates; described as ‘fights’ of the new world which could make or mar a society that chose to remain backward.

In the media arena, Kabwator pointed out that the unprecedented expansion of global media networks paralleled by the explosion of the internet, centred on the World Wide Web (www), as a major media platform, that African media entrepreneurs and other parties have sought to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by technology, economics, markets and other factors.

Hence, Highway Africa conference 2010, was carefully organized to hold in July when the world was still giving literally120 per cent attention on South Africa and Africa due to the FIFA-organised World Cup, which saw to both a celebration and an interrogation of African journalism and media and how these are opening up and expanding spaces for engagement.

He highlighted that the interrogations were centre on ‘What is the state of African media in comparison with the media of other regions? What broadcasting networks exist and what is their impact? What is the state of the African blogosphere? Who speaks? On what? And what distinctive technologies or applications has Africa developed that contribute to diverse and pluralistic voices being heard?’

Other questions HA-2010 addressed, consist of ‘What media initiatives exist in the diaspora and what is their impact? What media operates in exile due to political repression and how do they communicate with their audiences? What digital policies, strategies and infrastructure are in place that will be ‘game-changers’ for African media? What training programmes should tertiary institutions and media organisations develop to adequately equip the 21st century media professional?’

As said by him, using plenary sessions, keynote addresses, training workshops, book launches, networking dinners and debates, HA 2010 celebrates and interrogates African voices in the various spaces they operate in.

Another aspect of this year’s HA 2010 was the co-hosting at the same time, the World Journalism Education Congress, therefore bringing practitioners in close contact with the educators, who may have forgotten the need to incorporate ICT in the curriculum for mass communicators.

Head, School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa, Prof. Guy Berger, while commending his colleagues in the classroom for finding the time to share information and knowledge at the World Journalism Education Congress, urged other African countries institutions to emulate Rhodes by coming up with a similar conference to make the message of new media a common discuss.

Prior to the commencement of HA 2010, precisely at the welcome gala dinner hosted by Telkom South Africa on Sunday, July 4, the Highway Africa New Media Awards for this year was also hosted at the session with a disclosure at the Nelson Mandela’s hall by Mr. Kabwato that the awards have been renamed this year to become Telkom Highway Africa New Media Awards.

“Telkom, a founding partner of the Highway Africa conference, has become the full and permanent co-host of Africa’s foremost awards in new media, which will now be known as the Telkom-Highway Africa New Media Awards,” he said, underscoring that the awards was supported by Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

Finalists for 2010 include nominees in the six categories, namely in the individual or student; Not-for-Profit; and corporate, according to the coordinator, Ms. Moagisi Letlhaku.

She further disclosed that a Lagos-based Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-focused blog, ITRealms Online, www.itrealms.blogspot.com, emerged the first runner up at the inaugural Telkom-Highway Africa New Media awards in the individual cum student category for the deployment of new media technologies in dissemination of information on the continent.

Presenting the awardees with their sourvenirs, the Vice Chancellor of Rhodes University, Grahamastown, Dr. Saleem Badat, at a joint conference opening dinner, urged the proponent of ITRealms Online published in partnership with Champion Newspapers Limited, to sustain the pace and contribution of African voice in cyber space.

They also named www.itrealms.blogspot.com the first runner up in the individual or student category by the judges, who equally described it as an extensive blog that updates on Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) developments with about 50 stories monthly.

The organisers recognized the fact that ITRealms Online integrated Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds, Picassa album and Twitter feeds.

However, a South African-based ZA Tech Show, a weekly technology podcast hosted by Simon Dingle and regular panelists emerged top in this category. While Kalahari People’s Network – www.kalaharipeoples.net and African Woman and Child Feature Service – www.awcfs.org emerged as first runner up and star winner in Not-for-Profit category, in that order.

As well, in the corporate category, Zoopy.com – www.zoopy.com and Dispatch Online Blogs - http://blogs.dispatch.co.za were announced as top prize winner and first runner up respectively.

For the organizers, the Kalahari People’s Network is a website providing a virtual space for networking and exchange of information among contemporary Kalahari communities and individuals throughout Southern Africa. Even as the African Woman and Child Feature Service builds capacity to report on gender issues and addresses the needs of a marginalized community.

In addition, the Eastern Cape, South Africa-based Dispatch Online Blog is a multimedia breaking news platform of the Daily Dispatch and environs, whereas Zoopy.com is an online and mobile social media community, where users upload, share and interact with videos, photos and audio.

The 2010 Telkom-Highway Africa awards cum opening ceremony were graced by the African Union Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Mrs Pansy Tlakula, retired Ghanaian president, Mr. John Kufuor and Mayor Vumile Lwana of Makana Municipality, Eastern Cape, South Africa, Head, School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, Prof. Guy Berger, among other dignitaries across the continent and beyond.

However, addressing participants at the main conference session, retired Ghanaian president, Mr. John Kuffour, tasked African media to involve self-check mechanism and ensure they push more of the good news about Africa out to the world instead of the bad news, which usually are described as good news in the media slang.

Some of the key speakers were advocate Pansy Tlakula; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Professor Alfred Opubor; Dr. Diana Senghor; Mathatha Tsedu; Nozipho January-Bardill; Amadou Ba; Professor Mindy McAdams; Cheriff Sy; Robert Kabushenga and Professor Adam Clayton Powell to name a few.

Welcoming participants to this year’s Highway Africa, Kufuor said it is a unique event that offers journalists and the media a platform to reflect on how ICT is impacting on their works and the future of the media, and more importantly an opportunity for journalists and other media professionals to examine critically how they report Africa.

“Its people, its governments and its institutions in both conventional and new media. Your role as journalists is a critical one – you carry the burden of truly informing and educating our people for the advancement of our continent. Your task is to ensure the sustenance of good governance, peace and stability in Africa. It is a role you should guard jealously,” he declared.

The former Ghana leader said that Africa is undergoing a fundamental transformation with more elections and democratic governments coming into office, even as the economic growth rates are steadily improving in spite of the many challenges of the global financial crisis.

“Positive stories of democratisation and modest economic growth in some countries on the continent must spread and lead to a prosperous Africa; a well educated population, an industrialised continent ready to take full advantage of advances in technology and science,” he said, stressing that the stories of Africa’s success should find as much space in the continental media organisation as the stories of her difficulties.

Some of the key sessions comprised of “African Media and the Global Media Development Agenda: How is African media framing Africa’s role on the global stage in relation to the emerging economic order, China, Climate Change, 2010 FIFA World Cup” to name a few.

Additionally, participants examined “Mobile is the Future, The Future is Here” as well as “ICT Trends and Innovations in Africa – what is and what is not happening on the continent; New Forms of Journalism – ICT and its impact on story-telling; and Emerging Media Business Models.”

Some other networking events included the Absa Africa night dinner; MTN Africa united night and soccer viewing at MTN fan zone, in addition to the SA Tourism “Taste South Africa Night” come Wednesday July 7 as part of the closing ceremony.

Above all, there were training session centred on business models for community media and small media; SABC digital skills training workshop: new media skills in search and mapping; Highway Africa workshops on using twitter in journalism & business; teaching online journalism; using Google tools in the newsroom: using ICT in disasters; ICTs for climate change and upstart-MDDA media literacy exchange programme with book launch at various stages.

The joint conference ended with a keynote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Freedom of Expression. He later signed the Freedom of Expression campaign.

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