At the beginning of the year, we were asked to write a journalistic philosophy that we were going to use as a guideline in the radio productions that we were to cover during the course of the year. After having produced different genres of radio productions, some of the points I mentioned in my public philosophy have been altered and some have been enhanced as different situations have required different approaches that would ensure that the production is completed to the best of my abilities and also to get the message across.
In the philosophy, I had mentioned that Grahamstown is a small city geographically, which has dimensions of different classes of people within the same space. My aim was to give the marginalised, ‘powerless’ people the opportunity to be heard as I felt that journalism could serve to be instrumental in helping people. In the forth term, our JDD-CMP group was assigned to cover stories in Ward 4 which covers the Manley Flats area which is a rural area on the outskirts of Grahamstown. Using the idea of public deliberation by Haas (2007), we set out to get the community to talk about the issues that they go through on a daily basis. The idea was not for us to find the stories and report them in a mainstream-monitiorial form, but rather, to allow the public to tell their stories and for us to provide the platform for discussion. We took a facilitative role approach, which Christians (2009: 126) highlights that it ‘promotes inclusiveness, pluralism and collective purpose... help to develop a shared moral framework for community and society’. Therefore, taking up the idea of public journalism helped enhance my purpose of helping the marginalised and allowing them to fit into the idea of democracy.
Glasser (1992: 176) thinks of objectivity as an ideology that is enforced on journalist to orient them into the running of the newsroom. The experience during the JDD-CMP course also enhanced the idea of objectivity that I had said: ‘I view objectivity as a euphemistic term that is used in our journalistic field so that we follow certain criteria. A journalist is bound to produce subjective content as there comes a time where your own knowledge is the only thing that you can rely on’. After listening to the problems that the people had in Ward 4, the initial role of facilitating shifted a bit to a more radical role because of the intensity of the conditions that the people were living in. The project became a subjective matter in that I felt as though I could do something to help the people solve their problems as I had a powerful instrument of change to my advantage which was the media. The radical role as described by Christians (2009: 126) aims at exposing power abuse so that there could be change in society. The people in ward 4 had mentioned that the ward councillor had been made aware of their water crisis and has promised them that he would help change their situations but has failed to do so after years of being informed with the problem. As a journalist, I took up a partisan approach to the story as the matter at hand needed to be advocated so that change could take place.
Given my experience through the stories that I covered during the year, being exposed to different forms of journalisms, my approach has been altered slightly from what I initially wrote in my philosophy. Dealing with people from different backgrounds who have diverse needs has made me realize that as a journalist, one has to acquire every kind of skill and have a basic understanding of all forms of journalisms that exists. Situations require certain reactions from the journalism profession.
Opportunities in South African Radio
Radio in South Africa is still one of the most popular forms of media and people are still loyal to. It reaches and appeals to different people based on class and race. The media landscape in South African broadcasting is divided into three-tiers namely: commercial, public and community radio tiers.
Commercial radio is aimed at attracting advertising to audiences, e.g. MetroFM and 702. Public radio is aimed at building democracy and serving the interests of the nation, e.g. SAFM which is under the SABC. Community radio is also aimed at building democracy but its emphasis is more on building strong relationships in particular communities. Community radio also emphasises the participation of the community in the production of the content.
Within the radio landscape, I see myself working in public radio such as SAFM which is a station that predominately cover current affairs news, issues that people are faced up with on a daily basis. The reason behind this is because I believe that our country is in need for democratic deepening where people could be able to share their stories on a national stage so that change and development could be forced to take place. Civil society has been marginalised by the concentration and power dominance of the political society. The state-society relationship no longer exists thus proving to be unfavourable to the concept of democracy. As it is now, democracy is just a concept that looks good on the constitution but has failed to live up to its name in practice.
At the moment, the issues and stories that are covered at SAFM appeal to the middle class and upper class as they understand the language and the issues are realistic to them. What the station has failed to produce is content that appeals to the lower class which is largely illiterate thus their vocabulary is limited. Therefore, packages should vary and alternate within the 11 official languages in the country. By so doing, more and more people are able to relate and join in the discussions that affect their lives. People do not participate in certain issues that affect society because they feel isolated and marginalised because of the class and social stratifications that exist in our country. If anything, public radio should embrace diversity by getting people to deliberate on these issues for development to be practical and for the state-society relationship to exist.
In recent times, the SABC has been forced to depend on the government for financial support as they have not been able to sustain themselves in that regard. This financial dependence has meant that politics have dominated the content produced and thus have shifted the focus of nation building and has become a ‘government building’ media house. Pushing development journalism which aims at telling stories from the grassroots up and thus establishing collaboration with the state has failed in recent times because of the dominance of the state on content. The SABC has been accused of pushing the political agendas of the dominant party and thus content being bias. The mutual trust and partnership that public radio was initially meant to be built on has failed to live up to its purpose.
By producing stories that would ensure a larger listenership would be beneficial to the public in that, it would make them feel part of the greater purpose of democracy. Current affairs issues covering stories from all dynamics of class stratification would thus help people understand the kind of challenges and difficulties that others in society are faced up with. If more people listen to SAFM, civil society would get involved in issues that affect them and thus the power that the political society has can to be renegotiated and regulated. The audience have the power to change their relationship with the state. By assuming a facilitative role of producing content that deals with their issues, journalism can empower the public to take responsibility in our democracy.
The masses in South Africa are the poor but they are not empowered to challenge the state. If my approach is aimed at including the lower class in reviving democracy through participation, journalism could serve to be a catalyst that connects the people to the state. By establishing that relationship will then allow democracy to be instrumental not only in status but in practice and development will be viable.
1. Christians, C. et al. 2009. ‘Roles of news media in democracy’ in Normative theories of the media: journalism in democratic societies. University of Illinois Press: Urban
2. Hass, T. 2007. ‘The emergence of public journalism’ and ‘A public philosophy for public journalism’ in The pursuit of public journalism: theory, practice and criticism. Routledge: New York.