Academica, Local Print Media Collaborate in Fostering Sino-South Africa Cooperation

Article by Stephen Seakgwe (Executive Director – BMOA)

On Wednesday, June 19, the School of Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Johannesburg hosted a pivotal workshop focused on the intersection of Sino-South African and broader Sino-African relations, and the crucial role of local print media in these dynamics.

The event, skillfully moderated by Dr. Gideon Chitanga, aimed to illuminate how local journalists can effectively convey these complex relationships to their grassroots audiences, fostering a sense of community and shared future.

Opening Insights

Mr. Pan Qingjiang, Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Johannesburg, commenced the workshop with aa keynote address on “Building a Community with a Shared Future in South Africa.”

He delved into the multifaceted agreements between South Africa and China, emphasizing the vision of a shared future for humanity. Highlighting China’s shift towards a win-win strategy in economic aid, he urged local media to familiarize themselves with initiatives like the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI).

“South Africa is one of the first countries to sign into the BRI and has been growing steadily for the past 15 years,” Mr. Pan noted. He underscored the pivotal role of academia and media in strengthening Sino-South African relations, calling for greater awareness and coverage of developmental projects beneficial to local communities.

Media’s Role in Community Engagement

Dr. Gideon Chitanga, from the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, presented on “China-South Africa and Africa Relations: Community-Local Media, Content, and Sources of News in Building a Community with a Shared Future and Telling Our Own Stories.”

He emphasized the importance of local publishers taking an active interest in global events that impact their communities. Highlighting the economic and cultural ties between China and South Africa, Dr. Chitanga urged local media to cover the Chinese diaspora and local businesses, noting the potential for economic growth and job creation. He also stressed the significance of cultural exchange and international opportunities, such as scholarships for advanced studies in China, which can serve as valuable content for local audiences.

Challenges and Opportunities for Local Media

Mr. Austin Moyo, Publisher of Khanyisa News and Jozi Advertiser – Online, addressed the “Challenges Facing Local Community Media in Gauteng.”

He identified high printing and distribution costs, along with the pandemic-induced drop in ad sales, as major hurdles. Despite these challenges, Moyo highlighted the resilience and passion driving community media.

He advocated for leveraging a strong social media presence to supplement print operations and enhance audience engagement while acknowledging the need for training staff on newsroom policies. Moyo called for increased support in the form of technology and subsidies to boost the capacity of local publishers.

Developmental Journalism and Community Impact

Dr. Maud Blose, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Johannesburg, proposed a vision “Towards a Developmental and Balanced Narrative.” She encouraged community publishers to take pride in nurturing young talent, despite challenges in staff retention.

Dr. Blose introduced the concept of Developmental Journalism, where content is driven by ‘change agents’ aiming to create positive change while adhering to the basic principles of Journalism. She urged publishers to regularly assess their communities’ evolving needs and how they access news and information.

Dr. Oswelled Ureke, also from the University of Johannesburg, expanded on this theme by discussing how media can foster a sense of community. He critiqued mainstream media’s often negative portrayal of indigenous African communities, challenging local journalists to counter these stereotypes with more positive and accurate narratives.

“Are you community media or media reporting about the community?” he asked, urging publishers to deeply integrate their reporting with the identities and interests of their communities.

Bridging Local and Global Perspectives

Dr. Cliff Ochieng Mboya, from the Centre for Africa-China Studies, concluded the presentations with insights on “Local Community Newspapers: Writing South Africa-China, and Africa-China Relations at Community Media Level.”

He emphasized the importance of understanding Chinese policies and their local applicability, such as the impacts of BRICS and FOCAC. “If it affects you, it is relevant,” he stated, urging local media to make these global dynamics accessible and relevant to their audiences.

By telling their own stories and highlighting opportunities for growth and development, Dr Mboya says local journalists can significantly contribute to the socio-economic and cultural fabric of their societies.

He also shared some significant events that Pre-date the days of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Mboya said China’s first significant contact with Africa occurred during the Ming Dynasty when the fifth and sixth voyages of the famous Zheng He naval fleet reached the north-east coast of Africa during the first quarter of the fifteenth century.

Concluding Remarks

Researcher at UJ, Hellen Adogo, gave a fitting summary of what was covered in the workshop, unpacking ways publishers can consider their impact if they take their news content to new audiences.

Mr. Eric Phiri, Chairman of the Gauteng Association of Independent Publishers, delivered the vote of thanks, highlighting the need for continued initiatives like this workshop to develop and support community newspapers across the country.

This workshop underscored the vital role local print media play in bridging global and local perspectives, and fostering a shared future through informed and engaged communities.

Government recognizes media’s role in advancing democracy

The South African government has joined calls for the protection of journalists’ rights, particularly during a time when South Africa is preparing for national elections.

According the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO violence against journalists intensifies during election cycles.

“Professional journalism and a free and objective press are cornerstones of democracy and serve to hold society accountable. We acknowledge the essential role journalists play in our democracy fighting for truth. We condemn any form of violence or intimidation against journalists domestically and internationally.

“South Africa remains committed to supporting a free and independent press. The protection of journalists is of utmost importance, as it is a form of protection of our own rights”, said Acting Director-General of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) Nomonde Mnukwa recently.

Following the assassination of two French journalists in Mali in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163, which proclaimed November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. 

The resolution mobilises United Nations member states to intensify efforts to prevent violence against journalists and create a conducive environment for them to perform their work.

“This day provides an opportunity for all who believe in the advancement of democratic values and the preservation of citizen’s constitutional rights to speak out against any form of violence or harassment of journalists,” Mnukwa said.

Last month, South Africa commemorated Black Wednesday, which aims to raise awareness about the rights of journalists and remembers those who lost their lives fighting for the dignity of the profession.

In August, GCIS hosted a panel discussion with more than 100 journalism and communication students at the Tshwane University of Technology on the topic of Cyberbullying of female journalists, to create awareness on the harassment, discrimination and violence they face in the line of duty. 

Furthermore, GCIS is planning to host a webinar on “Violence Against Journalists and the Integrity of Elections,” in the coming week.

“This is to ensure that, leading up to the election period next year, everyone is cognisant that journalists keep society informed, and foster democratic discourse and integrity of electoral processes.  Details of the Webinar will be shared shortly.

“Government also commends the work done by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as well as the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) and various partners on the workshops they have been hosting across the country to prepare media for reporting on the upcoming 2024 national general elections,” GCIS said.