Despite the numerous media training initiatives in the region, the overall quality of media publications and productions in the SADC region remains weak. Part of the reason for this is that media training initiatives are fragmented; there is duplication; each institution is reinventing the wheel; there are no regionally accepted standards; there is little sharing of homegrown materials and limited specialization. On the other hand, previous experience of establishing networks suggests that any effort to co-ordinate autonomous institutions may not yield the desired results. What is required is a channel for collaboration that is demand driven and grows incrementally, preferably housed in an existing institution, but enjoying maximum support and ownership from the training institutions themselves. This paper sets out some options for achieving such synergy between media trainers and training institutions in the region.
In May 2001, SADC trainers met in Windhoek prior to the Editors Forum and World Press Freedom Day seminar. This was at the initiative of the Namibia Polytechnic which is itself establishing a media training division, and which sought to benefit from the experience of SADC partners in the field. The trainers agreed to hold a strategy meeting in the weekend prior to Highway Africa in September 2001 to agree on ways in which SADC trainers can co-operate in future, and an appropriate structure for doing so.
A steering committee comprising representatives of the NSJ, Rhodes University, the National Community Radio Forum (NCRF), the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), and the researchers undertaking a study on media training needs in the SADC region met on 3 July 2001 to prepare for the strategy meeting. The steering committee drew up this draft concept paper to be circulated as a discussion paper for the strategy meeting.
There are several different types of training in the region. These include
q Tertiary level training.
q In service/mid- career/ continuous learning training.
q Entry- level training.
q NGO- driven training.
q Donor- driven training.
q Distance education training.
These can broadly be divided into training whose core business is entry level media practitioners; and those whose core business is working media practitioners.
Although fragmentation of existing training efforts is a key issue, co-ordination is not a popular or workable concept among independent, sometimes competitive institutions. Collaboration is different in that it grows from the bottom up; builds on areas of mutual interest; is gradual and more likely to achieve synergy. The NSJ has experienced difficulties in getting training institutions to avail information on forthcoming training opportunities for publication in its newsletter. The first phase of the SADC Media Training Needs Assessment found that the most comprehensive information on media training in Southern Africa came from the Washington-based ICFJ website but this had several gaps. This suggests that with dedicated staff and follow-up far more useful information could be generated and shared in the region.
q Sharing study materials that have been developed/published in the region.
q Having ready access to information on the different courses on offer.
q Exchanging information on methodology.
q Exchanging human resources and expertise including a data-base of freelance trainers; exchange of lecturers etc.
q Student co-productions and collaboration.
q On-line courses that others in the region can be part of.
q Setting of standards to which training institutions can aspire; accrediting those that meet the standards.
q Credit transfers for continuous learning that can be acquired and contribute to a higher education qualification.
q Quality assurance.
q Training the trainers.
q Developing relevant new training materials.
What these primarily call for, at least in the first instance, is an easily accessible web-based data-base of information on materials and human resources that participating institutions can draw on. This could grow to include electronic discussion groups that are moderated and focused; an electronic bulletin board where questions can be posed etc.
A long-term benefit of the collaborative effort could be greater specialization and the development of centres of excellence around particular types of media training in SADC.
There is a danger in trying to build a cyber-community where a physical community does not exist: hence the need for those who are part of this collaborative effort to exist as a real community of people.
The Windhoek meeting, organized by a national training institution that perceived a need for, and a tangible value to, collaborating with partners in the region; coupled with the findings of the SADC Media Training Needs Assessment, have provided the impetus for such a community. Highway Africa provides a meeting ground; an opportunity and moment to be seized.
The following is suggested: to improve the quality of work of media practitioners through collaboration between media trainers.
It is further proposed that this vision be underpinned by a number of values to which participating institutions must subscribe including:
q Freedom of expression.
q Media freedom - pluralism, diversity, tolerance
q The importance of a probing, critical media with the highest ethical and professional standards to democracy and to safeguarding human rights.
q The right of all citizens, including in urban and rural areas, to access information.
q The importance both of media entrepreneurs and community media.
q The importance of a public service system (as well as commercial
q Commitment to the development of media policy / legislation
q Tertiary institutions.
q In service trainers- NGOs
q Community media.
q In house training departments of media institutions
q Commercial media training institutions.
There are two possible options. One is for an existing regional media institution, such as the NSJ or MISA to dedicate time and resources to building a data-base such as the one described above and to venture from that into such areas as quality assurance. This is non-cumbersome but has the potential disadvantage of lacking buy-in from the media training institutions themselves. The challenge will be to ensure that the data-base and liaison constitute a start-up phase that will develop 'buy in', and with good leadership be able to navigate the sensitivities around 'top-down' vs. 'bottom-up', and 'co-ordination vs. collaboration'.
A second alternative is to have a membership organisation, in which training institutions pay a subscription fee, and constitute a board. The secretariat or operational arm is then based in an existing institution, administered and managed by that institution. This has the advantage that members own and direct the activities of the structure, without creating a new institution to be responsible for day-to-day activities.
The third option, of creating an entirely new institution, is not recommended in this time of resource scarcity.
There are currently two regional media institutions MISA, which has a strong advocacy and lobbying role, and the NSJ, (for which MISA is one of the trustees) with a dedicated regional training role and mandate. It is recommended that these two institutions caucus among themselves as to which one may be best suited to house and drive the initiative, and put a joint proposal to the September strategy meeting.
This paper has put forward options for a collaborative effort among media trainers in the region, in the interests of achieving the highest possible professional standards for the media. The approach suggested is incremental and based on demonstrating tangible benefits. Several factors have come together to make such collaboration a real possibility. It is hoped that media trainers will grasp the nettle in Grahamstown this September.