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Journalists, editors and academics from near and far descended on Grahamstown today in anticipation of Highway Africa. The debate begins once again at the 17th edition of the conference that brings together members of the media from throughout Africa and beyond. Elna Schütz spoke to the delegates as they got settled.

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By Mignon van Zyl

On Monday, Times Live reported that a new ‘happy pill’, Zembrin, made from a Namaqualand plant, could be used to relieve tension and anxiety. In less than 10 hours after publication on the website the story had over 32 shares, 19 tweets, seven likes, and two favourites. By mid-afternoon it was the ‘most clicked’ story on Twitter.

The debate about the use of social media in journalism has been running since about the time Facebook was launched in 2004. Is it or is it not okay to rely on social media to report on social issues?  Safety, Health & Environmental Officer at Rhodes University, Nikki Kohly, says that although social media have great potential to raise awareness on environmental issues, “it is quite easy to fool oneself into thinking that just because you have hit a button on a computer or smartphone, that you have ‘done your bit’ to save the world.”

In an article about how social media could be used in the renewable energy world, Al Maiorino (2011) writes from a different perspective, “The problem is that while most people comprehend what renewable energy means in theory, they know very little about the process involved in its production.” Maiorino states that the gap between the ‘unknown’ and the public can be bridged through social media tools not only because they provide a two-way flow of communication, but also because “social media allows (and even often requires) you to use simple language that will be accessible to a larger audience.”

The theme for the 2013 Highway Africa Conference, being held from 1-2 September in Grahamstown, is Speaking Truth to Power? Media, Politics and accountability. Part of the conference will deal with how social media can be used to report on social issues. Whether these media can be used as a tool for transformation in the environmental realm is still unknown, but it is clear that the potential is relatively large.

Sources:

Nikki Kohly: Safety, Health and Environmental Officer: n.kohly@ru.ac.za

http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/05/19/social-media-in-the-renewable-energy-world/ Accessed on: 19 August 2013, 10:30 am.

Herman WassermanBy Professor Herman Wasserman
Deputy Head of School and Chair of Highway Africa Steering Committee

The theme of the Highway Africa conference this year is Speaking truth to power? Media, Politics & Accountability.

Trust and credibility are at the center of the relationship between media and society. If the media loses its ability to speak to people in a language they understand, about experiences they recognise and through stories that they believe to be true, the media loses the reason for its existence.

In recent years we have seen how issues of trust and credibility have come under intense scrutiny, not only in South Africa, but internationally.

The Leveson inquiry in the UK has been a stark reminder of how the media can prey on the very public it claims to serve. The phone hacking scandal there violated the rights not only of celebrities, but of ordinary people like the murdered teenager Millie Dowler and her family. The public was outraged because the media failed to ‘comfort the afflicted’.

Here at home we have experienced increased intolerance to the media’s criticism of the powerful, and threats to establish a Media Tribunal and the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill have prompted civil society to remind us all that one of the key roles of the media is also to ‘afflict the comfortable’.

But the media can only claim the moral right to keep the powerful to account when it also turns that critical gaze upon itself. That is why in recent years the review of the South African Press Council and the work of the Press Freedom Commission, as well as that of the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team – as yet uncompleted – has been so important.

We hope that the presentations, workshops and discussions during the conference will remind us of CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour’s words: “Trust and credibility are the commodities we trade in”.

On behalf of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, and the Highway Africa Steering Committee, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Grahamstown and the 17th Highway Africa conference.

Sipho MasekoBy Sipho Maseko
Group Chief Executive Officer,
Telkom

Seventeen years ago Telkom sponsored the very first HighwayAfrica Conference. That we have stayed on to this day is testament to the spirit at the heart of my telecommunications group – we value our country and the continent and the role that journalism and the media can play in fostering development and democracy. The theme of the 2013 Highway Africa Conference is most opportune. A corporate citizen like Telkom cannot thrive in an environment of uncertainty – politically, economically and socially. The role of the media in holding us in power – in business, in government and in society, in general – accountable is important. Equally critical is the need for the media to provide platforms for all citizens and voices to be heard.

Telkom has played a huge role over the past century and more in the communications revolution that has redefined business, society – and government. In the process it has built up, and remains the custodian, of the incomparable national asset of the country-wide fixed-line network. Going forward, I believe our responsibility will be even bigger if you believe that the key to overcoming our challenges as a country and as a continent is information. It then becomes clear that Telkom has a central role to play.

It is in this quest to enable communication that we share something in common. Telkom as a company is focused on how our people can be able to unlock their potential in business, education and everyday life, using world-class telecommunications infrastructure, products and services.

I hope you will all have the opportunity to visit the Telkom stand and interact with our staff to know more about us and for us to meet you.

Finally, I would like to state that we do not see our partnership with Rhodes University around this conference as sponsorship but rather an essential investment in the media so that we can strengthen that very important constituency (journalists) in our society.

I wish you a very fruitful 2013 Highway Africa Conference.Telkom_Colour

Honourable Minister Edna Molewa,Honourable Minister Edna Molewa
Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs
Government of the Republic of South Africa

I wish to welcome you all to the 17th edition of the Highway Africa Conference – the largest annual gathering of media professionals in Africa. Your chosen theme reflects your concern to see media workers and those in the field of communication, understand, interrogate and write about the challenges that confront our continent and the world at large.
The African media has an immense role to play in the continent’s development agenda. The media should provide a forum for discussion on sustainable development and educate our people on what little things they could do in their own environments that could make a difference.
It is for this reason that we have partnered with Rhodes University around the Highway Africa Conference. We see this conference as a key platform for us to sensitise key gate-keepers, you the journalists and editors, so that you may in turn educate our nation and our people across the continent about the effects of climate change and the mitigating factors we can adopt to save our
environment.
I strongly believe that it is through the collective efforts of all key stakeholders – government, business, civil society and media – that we can overcome the climate change challenges with our environment, water, economies and health.
In that light, South Africa is devising innovative green technologies and strategies such as the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Zero Emission Electric Vehicle Programme. I invite you to visit the display of Africa’s very first 100% pure electric vehicles, located in the Eden Grove Complex.
At the heart of the programme is the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable economy. Such an economy can create large numbers of green jobs across many sectors, and become an engine of development.
I wish to take this opportunity to wish the Highway Africa Conference
a happy 17th birthday. That this conference should have survived, and thrived, this long is due to the commitment of various partners – Rhodes University, leading South African companies and donors and foundations.
Once again, I take this opportunity to welcome you to the Republic of South Africa. I hope you will be met with the spirit of Ubuntu and enjoy our hospitality as a nation.
I also wish you fruitful deliberations over the next few days.