As a student journalist, I began the year by writing up my personal journalistic philosophy. This was informed by Theodore Glasser’s argument about objectivity being a value that leaves him asking the question, does objectivity make ones reporting responsible? (Glasser, 1992). His response as well as my own is simply that objectivity allows journalist to live under the guise of reporting the facts which they themselves had no hand in creating and are removed from the work which they publish to the public (Glasser, 1992). I stated explicitly in my philosophy that I believe the “very construction of the story, from the people the journalist chooses to interview, the questions they ask and what lead they go with makes the story bias.” Objectivity is a very mainstream media ideal and makes the journalist focus far too much on the official sources and usually leave the marginalised voices, or those being reported on, disempowered. My philosophy was also informed by the context in which I find myself working as a journalist, that being Grahamstown. This town is burdened with inequalities that resulted from colonialism and apartheid and change seems to tarry. Against this backdrop, I set out to I set out to, in my reporting, value the word of the expert as much as that of the ordinary citizen. I also made it my objective to allow people to “be the masters of their own stories”. I think that after a year of actually gathering news stories, features and being afforded the opportunity to do a course on journalism, democracy and development, I now have a greater vocabulary with which to articulate what I set out to do as a journalist as well as an understanding of what I can do with journalism. This now means there are standards I will now add to my personal philosophy.
As I have mentioned above, objectivity seems to leave people at the grassroots disempowered and this very problem was part of the reason for the rise of public journalism. Tani Haas (2007) in his “public philosophy for public journalism” explains that this form of journalism rose as a response to the obvious gap between the state and the citizens and the media and its audiences. He goes on to speak about the need for journalists to play the role of facilitator in bridging this gap between the citizens and the state and helping to create a deepening democracy by facilitating deliberations among people and identifying spaces where citizens can deliberate (2007). This facilitative role of a journalist and its fruits then serves to lessen the gap between the media and the citizens (Haas, 2007). The experience of actually going out and facilitating these conversations in a town hall meeting opened my eyes to the many stories we miss as journalists as we sit in our news rooms and decide on agendas, or speak to our usual sources for tip offs. People at the grassroots, and in this case, those living in abject conditions in Grahamstown, have many concerns and were so willing to speak and voice these concerns. Many expressed that they were unable to reach their ward counsellors, a sign that they are not being afforded the opportunity to talk with the representatives of government, verifying the need for public journalism. The journalistic role of facilitator is something that I will now add to my journalistic philosophy. This means I endeavour to allow people to inform the news agenda by seeking to engage them in conversations with each other and me, as a journalist, facilitating these conversations. The word “inform” is significant here as Haas (2007) points out that journalists should maintain the last word on what will be the agenda. Furthermore, public journalism has it that solutions to problems can and should, as far as is possible, come from the public (Haas, 2007). This means that I hope that in these deliberative spaces, I can facilitate conversations that lead to the ideas for solutions. In my journalistic philosophy I stated that I want to embark on stories that can show people what their neighbours are achieving or doing. This would be a form of showing people the possible solutions to their problems (Banda, 2007). This is closely related to what Fackson Banda (2007) in his “appraisal of the applicability of development journalism in the context of public service broadcasting” where he says that journalist should become participants in the community. This could translate to journalists not only finding ways in which to help the community solve a particular problem, being in my position as a media practitioner, I have access to resources whether to government officials or other stakeholders able to help with matters such as children needing transportation to get to school. I will therefore try to assist where I can if solutions cannot be found in the community.
With this said, I think that we cannot forget all of the mainstream roles of a journalist, such as that of informer and educator. These remain crucial. I quickly learned this when we took on the environmental journalism beat. As part of my duty as a responsible journalist, I think that I see the importance and determine to stay abreast of current affairs in terms of topics that affect the country and citizens in Grahmstown and wherever I find myself practicing as a journalist. Starting from the very basics, in order to understand global warming and climate change, with a deadline looming was an indication for me that my lack of knowledge in this field can translate to me misinforming the public or becoming reliant on the “expert opinion”. I acknowledge that with such specialised topics on does need the expert voice, but if I do not keep myself informed about such thing, I immediately place myself and readers at a disadvantage and by having to revert back to the notion of fact reporting which is as has been stated, a problematic concept. I believe that it has been important for me to add and articulate these additions to my personal philosophy so that I as a journalist may be aware of my own ideology and biases and limitations. A greater reason for the need of articulating my philosophy, including these additions, is so that I can hold myself and be held accountable for what I produce in my fourth year studies of radio journalism and in the future. Given all this, I think that I would like to more and more identify myself as and become a development journalist. Banda (2007) states that public journalism and development journalism are both closely related and there are several overlaps between the two. I choose to identify particularly with development journalism based on a certain outline in Banda’s article of the role of development journalism. Besides allowing citizens to be part of setting the new agenda, he puts forward that citizens should be afforded the opportunity to contribute to producing media (Banda, 2007). I think that this is a way of allowing people to deliberate continuously and being a radio student, I think radio is a great medium on which this can be done.
South African Radio Opportunities
There are three tiers in the radio landscape in South Africa. Commercial radio stations that are commercially driven and are therefore permitted to make a profit (Fourie, 2007) their content is required to reflect the region in which the station finds itself as well to provide local content (Broadcasting Act, 1999). Community Radio station are stations such as Bush fm which has been around for many years, these stations focus on the communities in which they are geographically located or centre on topics such as religion and ethnicity (Olorunnisola, 2002). Radio stations with the mandate of being public service stations present a great space for an endeavour such as development journalism because the station is designed for nation building and can allow for citizens to use the medium to discuss topical issues (Public Service Bill, 2009.) These stations are required to offer programmes that are in the official languages of our country and must focus on educating, informing and producing programmes that cover public affairs (Broadcasting Act, 1999). Although Banda (2007) speaks about some of the inherent problems found in the definition of public broadcasting, he goes on to admit that “one could argue that Public Service Broadcasting seems to offer the best possible medium for development journalism” (Banda, 2007: 164). He explains that this is due to the fact that other stations with a different mandate may be more limited in their scope and depth in terms of reaching people with this form of journalism. I think that Lesedi FM presents itself as an ideal organisation to practice development journalism. They are a public broadcaster under the SABC that broadcasts in Sesotho to an audience between the ages of 16 and 49 living in urban and rural South Africa (South Africa info.com, 2010). South Africa info.com describes this station as one that regularly provides programmes for economic and personal empowerment of their listeners. The station itself on the website Lesedi FM (2010) describes is as endeavouring to “innovate, package, deliver content that inspires and restores the dignity of the South African citizens in all Lesedi FM’s areas of broadcast”. From my experience of listening to this station, participation from citizens comes in the form of a comment line during shows where people can participate briefly on a topic. This needs to opened up a lot more to allow for more conversations to occur and perhaps even make radio a discursive space where citizens can deliberate. By virtue of being a public broadcaster, the station values including people and allowing a variety of voices to be heard (Banda, 2007). I think that the youth that listen to this station or even to other public service stations should be involved in producing content of their own and be afforded the opportunity to discuss current affairs in their own current affairs show that are geared at informing people and allowing them to have their voices heard. As a journalist at this organisation I would like to produce for them content that is informed by my development journalism values. That would mean being allowed to go and meet people in the places where they ordinarily meet (Banda, 2007). Because I have resolved to value the voice of the ordinary person as much as the official one, I think that more content and shows can be produced that allow citizens to not only be informed, but to also engage with officials and state representatives. This could be done with a show that has prominent people, for example, ward councillors, politicians, etc, to come in and through call lines, begin to engage with the citizens. That would also include not only going to third places but having comment lines or even using social networks where citizens can state what they think is of importance to be discussed on the shows. This means that as a journalist, if I worked at this organisation, I would look at these suggestions and pick topics to suite their audiences.
This is my ideal for working at this station but as a journalist working under the SABC, it is possible that I could be faced with the same limitation that faced some journalists at SAfm. As much as nation building is the mandate given to public service providers, it is a mandate that is not inherently clear as one cannot really speak of one actual thing implied in this phrase that a diverse nation such as South Africa may agree on. Even in a smaller sample that would be just Sesotho speaking people who listen to Lesedi FM, many different opinions will be held by audiences as to what a national identity is. This means that the notion of nation building is one that requires much deliberation in itself. At SAFM, this mandate seemed to be forced upon the journalists (Bechan, 1996).. Reporters prefer to contextualise their packages and reflect the true nature of the people and the country, in terms of producing news, while the administrative and management team seek to deliver packages that reflect the ideal “diverse” audiences that are targeted (Bechan, 1996). This may be the same challenge faced at Lesedi fm as the editorial policy of the SABC is the same for all public broadcasters under them.
This is not an easy thing to negotiate as nation building is important, and a role considered by development journalism but Banda (2007) points out that the demons of development journalism are that governments were very heavy handed in stipulating what and how journalists were to contribute to nation building with their work. This can be avoided by virtue of allowing citizens to inform the news agenda. If a different group of people set different agenda’s to one another, that would in itself be providing a wealth of stories that put together would critically make a contribution to what can be understood and what citizens want to have built in to our nation. This would mean that this aspect of the editorial policy is being met, but its specifics are informed by the citizens, which are the people whom we, as journalists, can engage to articulate what they understand about their place in this nation that is still being built.