‘New-media training – for professionals and every member of society – lies at the heart of the next media renaissance’ – UP Vice-Chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe

Posted on September 27, 2021

The effect of rapidly advancing technologies in this age of multiple disruptions has powerful potential when looking at its impact on the media industry.  By enabling a pluralistic, diverse media on multiple platforms that reaches the majority of people, individuals can receive unprecedented amounts of information necessary to know their rights and to exercise them. As we well know, however, it also enables the spread of misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and lies that can wreak havoc on a world already in crisis. This has become an issue that threatens democracy.

It is asking a lot to implore the general public to use fact-checking resources, or to stop sharing fake news, as not all of it is recognisable as such. Much of it comes across as genuine, particularly when it resonates with sentiments and feelings in our disaster-ridden societies. This is coupled with the fact that everything that passes for information is now at most people’s fingertips – with varying degrees of access and affordability of digital platforms, of course.

What we need instead is a vision for a new media; a re-invented institution that doesn’t just fight fake news, but which is vital to the survival, regeneration and rebirth of new societies. A renaissance of media, if you like, that enables democratic renewal.

For some time, I have held discussions with SA media expert Michael Markowitz on this vision. The conversations have culminated in a first step – the launch of the Media Leadership Think Tank at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), the University of Pretoria’s (UP) business school. Mr Markowitz has been appointed to head up this space and site for debates, which will be one of the incubators for a programme which will produce media leaders, managers and professionals who are skilled at creating a new complementary sustainable media, and a media landscape characterised by hybrid media, reinvigorated by digital and purely online media across multiple platforms. Wherever relevant, UP’s faculties, centres and institutes will incorporate aspects of media literacy education in order to contribute to this vision. We will also be approaching other universities across South Africa, Africa and the world on this transformative journey; just as we will be approaching media houses, corporations, governments, civil society, foundations and trusts to join hands together to make a difference.

This concept of a re-imagined new media landscape is something which I have been reflecting on for a few years now, in thinking about what can and must be done with urgency and intentionality. It brought me to land in the space of what universities can do further and differently in the space of education and training of media professionals primarily, and society more broadly, to achieve this vision. This re-imagining needs to be followed by the repositioning and strengthening of media as institutions that are central to everything that happens in a society, and that have the trust and confidence of everyone.

On a practical level, it means we must develop new forms of media education, and training should take an approach which seeks to engender a common understanding of the role of the media and specialist training on skills. These forms must leverage the best elements of the forms of media education and training which are currently undertaken.

A key element of this new approach is that everyone in the media space, from media leaders and managers to editors, journalists, producers and directors, documentary makers and media technology professionals should share the same knowledge and professional universe. This can only be done if we introduce new innovative and creative media education and training programmes that combine substantive and in-depth knowledge of media as an institution and the media landscape in a changing context, and the mastery of a range of specific and specialised skills. At the same time, a critical, analytical understanding of local and global issues and challenges in their broader social context is needed, one that provides depth that is really informative and empowering.

Our vision is of media education and training which places critical analytical media and society debates at the centre, and then allows participants to follow streams of interest and specialisation in media management, content creation, audience research and technologies of production as well as media policy and regulation.

In such a programme, participants would engage in sustained critical dialogues with both journalism and media studies professionals and academics, subject specialists in the social sciences, economics, business and finance, natural and applied sciences and technology. Equally important would be to incorporate multidisciplinary areas like earth sciences, climate change and environmental studies, data sciences and analytics, development studies, gender, youth and identity studies and new emergent areas. The aim of such critical dialogues will not be to impact expert information, but rather to co-create transdisciplinary knowledge that provides new and deeper insights into issues. 

The media and training dialogue-driven programme will be complemented by the training of all academics in the art of translating their research into languages, modes, forms and formats that the media and general public can easily access. Finally, systemic change means that the public or audience side needs intentional focus as well. Public media education programmes focusing on digital literacy, media and information literacy must be embedded in the education system’s curriculum, as well as in public information campaigns.

A paradox of our times is that we live in a world where there is much more scientific information and knowledge in general than ever before. In addition to using evidence to guide policy-making, it can help us to live healthy and meaningful lives, and also address the myriad local and global challenges that afflict the world. We urgently need sustainable, credible, and ethical democracies which sustain pluralistic, diverse and open media channels that enable people to be genuinely informed, and able to navigate increasing complexity and escalating risks in multiple forms. Through this, they might regain a sense of direction and feel that they are in control of their lives and destiny.  

By Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Pretoria, and professor of media studies and literature. This is an edited version of a speech presented by Prof Kupe at the launch of the Media Leadership Think Tank at the University of Pretoria’s GIBS Business School.

- Author Professor Tawana Kupe

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