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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.
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 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
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.
On behalf of our Vice-Chancellor, Dr Saleem Badat, and the entire
Rhodes University community, I warmly welcome you all to the 17th
edition of the Rhodes University’s Highway Africa Conference.
Our University is privileged, once again, to host this important gathering
of media practitioners and scholars, journalists, and academics from across
the length and breadth of our continent and beyond. We are very proud of
the immense contribution of Highway Africa in creating a space and forum
for critical reflection and engagement on what it means to be a media
practitioner and scholar in the African continent. What started off as an adhoc
conference featuring just 65 delegates in 1996 has grown into a highly
prestigious conference and the most pre-eminent platform for journalists,
media practitioners and professionals, policy-makers and others to exchange
views and reflect on the challenges facing their profession and practice in
the African continent and beyond.
Over the years, the themes of this flagship conference of our university,
have sought to address contemporary and critical issues of the day such as
quality of journalism, the rise of citizen journalism, media and climate change
and Internet and democracy.
The 2013 theme, “Speaking truth to power? Media, politics and
accountability”, comes at an opportune time for the African continent. On
the one hand is the promising story of an Africa rising from shackles of
underdevelopment, colonialism and political subjugation and, on the other, a
persistent and depressing one of political instability and lack of transparency,
responsiveness and accountability on the part of those entrusted by their
electorate with political leadership. The story of rampant corruption, crass
materialism and self-enrichment by the political elite and the politically
connected reverberates across our continent.
Over the course of the next two days our speakers and delegates
will discuss how the media are implicated in the critical debates of how
we can build a culture of accountability in all sectors of our society. This
engagement speaks to one of the goals of Rhodes University which is
to produce graduates who are engaged, critical and democratic citizens
and ethical leaders committed to the service of humanity; graduates who
care about social justice, human right, human dignity and environmental
justice and who are prepared to be agents of social change and societal
The remarkable longevity of our conference is in no small measure
attributable to the unswerving loyalty and support of corporate South
Africa. Telkom, Barclays Africa and MTN have traversed this long journey
with us for many years. Our sincere appreciation goes to them. We are also
grateful for the support of Minister Edna Molewa, MP, and her staff in the
Department of Environmental Affairs.
The African Editors Forum (TAEF), Southern Africa Editors Forum
(SAEF) and the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF), through
their association with this conference, have given it prestige and dignity. We
thank these organisations for their association with our conference and for
the significant value they add to it.
The conference programme would not be this rich without the
support of various embassies, foundations, associations, trusts, civil society
organisations and colleagues from different departments of Rhodes
Finally, we wish thank all our speakers, trainers and delegates without
whom this conference would have remained in the realm of dreams and
We wish you all fruitful and enriching deliberations at the 2013
Highway Africa Conference.