Wednesday, December 4, 2013

SPI reflections on 2013

Words: SPI Course Coordinator Linda Snam Editing: SPI Director Francis Mdlongwa

2013 has been an exciting year for the SPI. We started off in February with the arrival of PDMM students and, in no time, the year is soon coming to a close. We had an eclectic mix of students that kept us company throughout the year, and during every vacation period we would feel the quiet that we feel right now with everyone heading back home.

We knew who the perennial late-comers were and those who always came to class on time and, as colleagues, we at times would joke about how, each year, each PMM group of students is so different from the other.

We wish all the members of the Class of 2013 real success in their careers in the media industry and we would like them to keep in touch with the SPI, regularly updating us on their successes and challenges in the real world of work.

We also look forward to welcoming the new 2014 PDMM students, who will be joining us shortly (how time flies!) in their quest to learn new knowledge, understandings and skills on how to become better media managers and leaders.

Below we capture some observations from a few of our current 2013 students on what the PDMM meant to them:

Zimbabwean student Robin Tatenda Chaibva says the highlight of the PDMM for her was the way in which the course encouraged students to reflect on the kinds of leaders they would like to be. Robin has a Bachelor of Science degree and she created a fashion, beauty and lifestyle blog called “Concrete Jungle” before she started the PDMM course. Her blog has been ranked in the top five of the Zimbabwe Fashion Week fashion awards.

MTN scholarship winner Mike Moodie says he decided to do the PDMM because he wanted to learn about the business side of media. So far, he says, the PDMM has given him a good understanding of the industry. Moodie completed his mid-year participant observation at the Media24 publication Men’s Health and has described his experience as “the best”.

PDMM student Babalwa Nyembezi spoke about her time as a participant observer at Primedia in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She has been invited to return there to work for them again. “Who knows what can happen when you do this course?” she said. Babalwa was awarded the prestigious scholarship from Primedia to study the PDMM.

We welcome applications from anyone who already has a degree – any degree really – who is interested in studying media management at the SPI next year. The applications are still open until the end of January next year. For more details on how to apply, please go to our website at http: // Also, don’t hesitate to contact me, Linda Snam ( should you have any questions/issues regarding the application processes, procedures, requirements, etc.

During the year that is closing, we also educated and trained more than 160 people from the African media industry through a range of our media management short courses. We have repeatedly trained on-site as well at the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) in Johannesburg and at the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation in Victoria, the capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

We will conclude the year with an on-site training course in digital media management at the Zambia Institute of Mass Communication in Lusaka. The experience that the course delegates take out of these courses is tremendous, they keep telling us in their feedback. They also benefit from a rare networking opportunity with and sharing work experiences with course attendees who come from different African countries and varied media institutions.

We are grateful to OSISA for its generous scholarships support for 20 PDMM students from across Southern Africa over the past five years, to MTN for supporting 20 students for the PDMM and 130 course short participants from the South African media in five years, and to Primedia for sponsoring five scholarships for PDMM students in the past two years.

We are also grateful to Media 24 for lending its support to the South African community print sector by sponsoring 12 participants to attend a short course customised for this key sector at the SPI this year.

All of these sponsors have made a huge and positive difference to the lives of so many media people, and the SPI thanks each and every one of these sponsors for their generous support and keen awareness of their corporate social responsibility and corporate social investment.

The research arm of the Institute launched a new media book at this year’s annual Highway Africa Conference. This event was well attended, with some of the book’s contributors talking about the chapters they wrote for the book.

All in all, a very exciting and yet still challenging year. We now look to the joys and the unknowns of 2014!

 Linda Snam is the SPI Course Coordinator, Marketing and Communications Officer. She can be reached at; telephone 046-603-8949; telefax 046-603-7257.  Editing by SPI Director Francis Mdlongwa (

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rhodes journalism graduate pays it forward

By Annetjie van Wynegaard

Rhodes University journalism alumnus Kgaugelo Pule returned to the institution this semester to participate in a five-day short course, known as the Essentials of Broadcast Management (EOBM), that is run by Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership. The course was held from 21 to 25 October. Pule is Head of News at Unisa Radio, where she oversees and trains the news team and division. She teaches and trains 12 students on how to compile news scripts, edit audio using various editing software and write articles for two students’ online platforms. Pule says her biggest achievement has been teaching non-journalism students radio production for Unisa Radio’s human story feature – go to for a sneak preview.

We caught up with her for a Q&A on her life, journalism future, and advice to current students.

Q: What was it like to come back to Rhodes University and be in the classroom again?

A: It really felt surreal to be back at Rhodes again. It was great touching base with a few of my friends and lecturers.

Q: How did you find the Essentials of Broadcast Management course? How has it informed your area of expertise at Unisa?

A: The course was good and I thoroughly enjoyed the presentations. It has helped me tremendously because at Unisa I and my two other colleagues started the online campus radio station in 2010 with little knowledge about how well established radio stations run. So starting one from the ground was challenging as Unisa has never had a campus radio station. So we had to build in structures and policies and get students to know about their station and how they can tune in via their mobile devices.

Q: Tell us about your journey after Rhodes. How did you get to where you are today?

A: After Rhodes I went to Media24 and worked as a multimedia content producer, and then Unisa called me to start up the radio station, together with the student news agency. This journey has been roughly three-and-a-half years. During this time at Unisa I’ve gone to wear many hats – first, as internal communication officer, and then as the campus news head where I focused on training students who were studying communication science. My journey at the station has sadly ended as I’m now heading up the social media strategy at Unisa, but will very much be part of the radio station. I intend on doing my MA about the station, God willing!

Q: What are your hopes and dreams for the future? Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

A: Well, as I’ve mentioned, I’d like to complete my MA and perhaps go into brand leadership or online reputation (management). I’m still young and on a journey, so wherever God opens (career paths) I’ll go.

Q: Why have you chosen this particular career path?

A: I specialised in radio in my third year, then went on to do new media as part of my fourth year, so I wanted to do anything related to radio and new media.

Q: What advice can you give to students who are studying journalism right now? Any tips of the trade you’d like to share?

A: Hmmm... Do as many internships as possible during vacation work. Those opened up many opportunities for me.

Q: In your opinion, what can journalism schools do to prepare students better for the industry?

A: Prepare them to be multi-skilled and creative so that they can wear many hats wherever they go.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Primedia Scholarships for African Media Leaders at Rhodes University

Primedia, South Africa’s leading media group, invites applications for postgraduate scholarships from South Africans who wish to study media management at Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership in 2014. Successful applicants, who should be from previously disadvantaged groups such as Blacks, Coloureds and Indians, will register for the SPI’s one-year, fulltime Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management (PDMM), the only university-level media management course in Africa. The candidates must already possess an undergraduate degree from a recognised university in order to pursue postgraduate study. The Primedia scholarships cover:

• The full cost of tuition • Accommodation and meals in one of Rhodes University’s postgraduate residences • Course materials and books • A monthly subsistence allowance • Medical insurance • Travel costs between Rhodes and a candidate’s home; and • Mid-year media management internship costs.

The PDMM is a one-year, fulltime programme designed to provide people who work or aspire to work in the media industry with critical skills and knowledge they need to perform more effectively and strategically in their organisations and to fast-track their careers to management positions.

The PDMM is equivalent to an honours degree -- it is pegged at Level 8 on the National Qualifications Framework set by South Africa’s qualifications-setting agency SAQA -- and combines rigorous theoretical and practical grounding.

The diploma is composed of eight compulsory modules covering media economics and financial management; media markets, audiences and advertising; managing media content; managing circulation and distribution; media management and leadership; media management contexts, policy and institutions; new media and convergence; and human resources management.

For the Primedia scholars, they will additionally be expected to focus on management of electronic media and digital media management and most likely do their internship at companies of Primedia.

Application details and procedures: Only candidates from previously disadvantaged groups in South Africa are eligible to apply for these scholarships. Candidates should already have an undergraduate degree from a recognised university. The application deadline for these scholarships is 8 November 2013.

Students wishing to apply for these scholarships need to: • Complete the Rhodes University’s standard Honours Application form (available at under the section ‘Postgraduate Studies’) which must be submitted directly to the Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University and a copy emailed to Linda Snam ( at the Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI). • Submit a detailed Curriculum Vitae, including contact details. This is sent to the SPI only. • Submit certified academic transcripts for all tertiary qualifications (these are sent to both the SPI and Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University); and • Submit to the SPI a 1,000-word letter of motivation, which explains why the student is interested in doing the PDMM, how the PDMM will assist the student’s career and why the student believes she/he qualifies for the Primedia scholarship.

Preference will be given to students wanting to further their careers in broadcasting and who have experience in broadcasting and/or new media.

Only short-listed candidates will be contacted after the applications close at noon on 8 November 2013. Copies of the candidates’ application must have reached Linda Snam by this time.

Monday, October 28, 2013

SPI alumnus moves to the top to drive community media change

By Peter du Toit

Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) alumnus Bongi Bozo has seen her career in grassroots media development expand from local to regional level and to the national level in three short but very busy years.

After graduating from the SPI with a Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management (PDMM) in 2010, Bozo started out as an outreach assistant working for Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies’ Indaba Ziyafika Project.

Her job entailed helping high school learners produce a magazine show on the local community broadcaster Radio Grahamstown. She was also involved with the project’s citizen journalism initiative.

This is where it all began. “I discovered my passion for grassroots media,” Bozo said. A year later she was appointed coordinator of the Eastern Cape Communication Forum and worked with grassroots media across the province.

Her work included running capacity building workshops, providing onsite advisory services and organising and running training courses for media managers.

Bozo’s latest move is to the big smoke where she will take over as project coordinator/ manager for the Association of Independent Publishers of South Africa (AIP). There she will work closely with AIP Director Louise Vale.

Looking forward to the Johannesburg-based job, Bozo says: “I was born, bread and buttered in the Eastern Cape and I will always be attached to the province, but this position will allow me to make my two cents worth’s contribution nationally.

“As someone whose life purpose is to contribute towards change, I believe I will be well positioned in the AIP to go the extra mile and explore avenues I may not have been able to explore provincially.”

Why is she so passionate about grassroots media? Bozo says these newspapers and broadcasters reach out to ordinary citizens who are never given a voice in the mainstream media. They ensure the voices of people “who do not sit at the tables where decisions are made” are represented.

This passion for change drives the grassroots reporters, editors and owners and Bozo wants to support them in their work.

Bozo attributes much of her personal success to lessons learned during her postgraduate year with the SPI.

She says the PDMM enabled her to develop a holistic understanding of the media sector and prepared her to advise managers and to assess media organisations to identify areas that need attention.

“I think most of my work towards strengthening the grassroots media sector is all credit to SPI. I have basically taken most of the knowledge gained from my postgraduate studies and channelled it to grassroots media.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Could Banda be the first Malawian leader to make an independent press a reality?

By Madalitso Hlobisa Ziba, a PDMM student and OSISA scholarship recipient

The advent of multi-party politics in 1994 symbolised the dawn of a new hope for many Malawians. Prior to this, the founder and former head of state, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, had ruled Malawi for nearly three decades. His was a dictatorial regime under the one and only political party allowed in the country, the Malawi Congress Party (MCP). During his reign, press freedom was unheard of. Journalists had to self-monitor their articles for fear of being arrested and, with the Prohibited Publications Act in place, the MCP maintained tight control of the press. The Act allowed the government to ban any publication that it considered critical of Malawi and President Banda in particular.

As per the expectations of many Malawians when Malawi’s former president, Dr Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front (UDF) got into power in 1994 after defeating Dr Banda, the government of Malawi adopted a new constitution a year later. The legal document provided for an independent press alongside other fundamental human rights. The media in Malawi envisioned a better future in as far as an independent press was concerned. The same was true when Malawi’s incumbent President, Joyce Banda, ascended to presidency after the sudden demise of Dr Bingu wa Mutharika. Many Malawians and journalists in particular were looking forward to a new beginning, hoping she could offer something different and better on the media front, especially in the area of press freedom. Now after more than a year in office, can the president assure journalists of an independent press? This article looks at how the three heads of state which Malawi has had since 1994 have violated press freedom in a democratic era and explores the reality of having a president totally in favour of an independent press.

Section 36 of the Constitution of Malawi (1994) provides for an independent press. It states: “The press shall have the right to report and publish freely within Malawi and abroad and be accorded the fullest possible facilities for access to public information.” Additionally, the Media Law Handbook for Southern Africa (pp. 166) points out that the reporting and publishing rights also extend to the international community that reports on Malawi.

Towards the end of Muluzi’s first term, the state-owned Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) which owns both television and radio, remained under government control. Its programming was dominated by reporting of activities of senior government officials, and opposition parties were denied access. MBC reporters were disciplined or fired for reporting on opposition parties and press conferences were heavily edited to avoid airing sensitive political material. Only a few allies of the government were given licenses to open up private radio stations which, unlike the MBC, had limited listenership. Other radio stations were restricted to broadcasting religious content only and a few development-oriented community radio stations were allowed some space too. Furthermore, the government reportedly harassed journalists using libel and other laws. The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi guarantees freedom of the press but laws such as the 1967 Protected Flag, Emblems, Names Act and the 1947 Printed Publications Act restrict the practicality of the provision (Freedom of the press, 2013). In Malawi libel is considered both a criminal and civil offence. When found guilty under the former, an individual serves a maximum of two years imprisonment. However, many libel cases are processed as civil matters or settled out of court (Freedom of the press, 2013).

In early 1998, soldiers raided offices of The Daily Times after the newspaper published a story which said that military officers were contracting HIV at a much higher rate compared to the civilian population. As if that was not enough, in the same year the government withdrew advertising from the paper and its sister weekly the Malawi News, claiming that it had become very critical of Muluzi. This drove the newspaper into bankruptcy owing to the fact that many newspapers in Malawi rely on government advertising for survival.

Come 2004, Malawi’s newspapers at least enjoyed some freedom to write editorial comments despite the government’s continued stance to control journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders (2004), the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) ordered community radio stations to stop carrying news programs, arguing that doing so was a violation of Section 51 of the communications law. The ban targeted Radio Maria, Radio Islam, Trans World Radio, Calvary Family Church Radio and the Malawi Institute of Journalism’s radio, all of which interview people belonging to different political parties including the opposition.

Upon completing his second term and after a failed attempt to campaign for a third term, Muluzi handpicked Dr Bingu wa Mutharika as his successor. Mutharika eventually got elected as Malawi’s president in 2004 but after a little while he quit the UDF and formed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) which became so popular with the masses owing to his sound economic policies. He was thus re-elected into office in 2010. Unlike previously, Mutharika had a hard time delivering during his second term in office. Many believe that a large representation of the DPP in parliament resulted into an autocratic leadership that was not friendly to dissenting views. Mutharika criticised the media, especially newspapers, for continuously reporting him in negative light and in 2010 the DPP specifically ordered all its civil servants to stop buying and advertising in The Nation newspaper (Daily Times/Malawi Today, 2012).

Many argue that the move was aimed at silencing his critics. In November of the same year, Mutharika signed into law Section 46 of the penal code. The law, which was an amended version, empowered the Minister of Information to ban any publication that disseminated information which was deemed not to be of ‘public interest’ (Freedom House, 2012). The chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Malawi Chapter), Anthony Kasunda, tried to plead with the government asking it to revoke the law but he was not successful.

The government also banned The Weekend Times due to “its failure to register with the National Archives”. However, after a court intervention the paper resumed its publication. Many journalists practised self-censorship for fear of government’s threats. DPP party zealots who thronged the airports also created an uncomfortable environment for journalists. They could not freely ask Mutharika some sensitive questions for fear of being booed and harassed by the party supporters.

Upon becoming Malawi’s leader early 2012, President Joyce Banda demonstrated her commitment to promoting human rights as she led members of parliament in repealing some unpopular laws. One such law was what was being referred to as the draconian medial ban law implemented during Mutharika’s regime. Members of parliament massively voted against the law and the media hailed them for this development. However, recently journalists have expressed concern over the President’s tendency of using ‘press rallies’ (Nyasa Times, 2013). Every time she comes back from abroad, journalists have to interview her right in the presence of her party supporters who hurl insults at them whenever they feel like the journalists are asking ‘difficult’ questions.

Earlier on, the president appointed MBC’s Director General and this, as some quarters argued, compromises the independence of the appointee in executing his duties. They say the appointee will be forced to dance to the tune of the ruling People’s Party (PP). In addition, they say it will be very hard for MBC’s board members to independently monitor the performance of the Director General owing to the fact that he was chosen by the head of state. One private lawyer, Justin Dzonzi, argued that the powers of the president are limited to appointing the board of directors. “… her decision may be legally challenged by the affected party by way of judicial review process. If the court finds that the President didn't have the power to fire the former director and hire the current director, it may be quashed accordingly," he said (Gondwe, 2012).

In mid-January 2013, consumer rights activist John Kapito led Malawians in taking to the streets to protest against rising cost of living standards as a result of the devaluation of Malawi’s currency. While many applauded the PP government and Joyce Banda in particular for ensuring peaceful demonstrations, a lecturer at The University of Malawi (Chancellor College), Dr Jessie Kabwila Kapasula, argued otherwise. She said the government tried all tactics to stop the demonstrations through propaganda on MBC and other privately-owned media (Nyasa Times, 2013). A 15-minute episode dubbed ‘zionetsero’, literally meaning demonstrations, aired on MBC airwaves. The play poked fun at Kapito (the organiser of the demonstrations) calling on him to use his energy to climb Mulanje Mountain (one of Malawi’s mountains) as opposed to influencing the youths to participate in protests. The production ended without mentioning characters and the sponsor (Malawi Voice, 2013).

In 1994 Muluzi raised the expectations of Malawians who believed that unlike his predecessor he could be instrumental in promoting press freedom because of the enabling democratic environment that he was operating in but unfortunately he did not leave an impressive mark.

Mutharika started off well but the last part of his reign was characterised by dictatorial tendencies which threatened freedom of the press.

Could Banda be the first Malawian leader to make an independent press a reality? Time will tell.

Internet sources 1. Daily Times/Malawi Today. 2012. Government threatens civil servants who read and buy 'The Nation'. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 18 March 2013]. 2. Freedom House. 1998. Malawi: Freedom in the World. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 18 March 2013]. 3. Freedom House. 2012. Malawi: Freedom in the World. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 March 2013]. 4. Freedom House. 2013. Malawi: Freedom in the World. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 March 2013]. 5. Gondwe, G. 2012. Malawi: Lawyer faults Banda on MBC appointment. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 22 March 2013]. 6. Malawi Voice. 2013. Anti-January 17 Demonstrations Comedy on MBC TV: Portrays organisers as thieves. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 March 2013]. 7. Media Law Handbook for Southern Africa: Freedom of the Press. Date not specified. 1:166. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 March, 2013]. 8. Nyasa Times. 2013. Malawi academic Kabwila says wrong to hail President Banda for peaceful demos. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 22 March 2013]. 9. Nyasa Times. 2013. Malawi journalists unhappy with presidential ‘press rallies’. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 22 March 2013]. 10. Reporters Without Borders. 2004. Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2004 – Malawi. [Online] Available: [Accessed 19 September 2013] 11. Republic of Malawi (Constitution) Act. 1994. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 21 March 2013].

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Primedia Scholarships for African Media Leaders at Rhodes University

Primedia, South Africa’s leading media group, invites applications for postgraduate scholarships from South Africans who wish to study media management at Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership in 2014. Successful applicants, who should be from previously disadvantaged groups such as Blacks, Coloureds and Indians, will register for the SPI’s one-year, fulltime Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management (PDMM), the only university-level media management course in Africa. The candidates must already possess an undergraduate degree from a recognised university in order to pursue postgraduate study. The Primedia scholarships cover:

• The full cost of tuition • Accommodation and meals in one of Rhodes University’s postgraduate residences • Course materials and books • A monthly subsistence allowance • Medical insurance • Travel costs between Rhodes and a candidate’s home; and • Mid-year media management internship costs.

The PDMM is a one-year, fulltime programme designed to provide people who work or aspire to work in the media industry with critical skills and knowledge they need to perform more effectively and strategically in their organisations and to fast-track their careers to management positions.

The PDMM is equivalent to an honours degree -- it is pegged at Level 8 on the National Qualifications Framework set by South Africa’s qualifications-setting agency SAQA -- and combines rigorous theoretical and practical grounding.

The diploma is composed of eight compulsory modules covering media economics and financial management; media markets, audiences and advertising; managing media content; managing circulation and distribution; media management and leadership; media management contexts, policy and institutions; new media and convergence; and human resources management.

For the Primedia scholars, they will additionally be expected to focus on management of electronic media and digital media management and most likely do their internship at companies of Primedia.

Application details and procedures: Only candidates from previously disadvantaged groups in South Africa are eligible to apply for these scholarships. Candidates should already have an undergraduate degree from a recognised university. The application deadline for these scholarships is 31 October 2013.

Students wishing to apply for these scholarships need to: • Complete the Rhodes University’s standard Honours Application form (available at under the section ‘Postgraduate Studies’) which must be submitted directly to the Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University and a copy emailed to Linda Snam ( at the Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI). • Submit a detailed Curriculum Vitae, including contact details. This is sent to the SPI only. • Submit certified academic transcripts for all tertiary qualifications (these are sent to both the SPI and Registrar’s Division at Rhodes University); and • Submit to the SPI a 1,000-word letter of motivation, which explains why the student is interested in doing the PDMM, how the PDMM will assist the student’s career and why the student believes she/he qualifies for the Primedia scholarship.

Preference will be given to students wanting to further their careers in broadcasting and who have experience in broadcasting and/or new media.

Only short-listed candidates will be contacted after the applications close at noon on 8 November 2013. Copies of the candidates’ application must have reached Linda Snam by this time.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mozambican media leaders successfully complete strategy course

By Peter du Toit

The Sol Plaatje Institute was delighted with the results of its first course for emerging media leaders in Maputo when all 13 of the course participants successful completed the post-course assessment and qualified for the course certificate.

The Emerging Media Leaders’ Course (EMLC) is offered by the Institute as part of a partnership with the International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX), which is responsible for a substantial media strengthening programme in Mozambique that is supported by the United States Agency for International Development.

The course, which has a strong focus on strategic planning, covered marketing, human resource management, financial management and leadership. All participants were required to complete a substantial assessment task in which they related the lessons learned to their individual work environments.

Having finalized the assessment of the participants’ assignments, course facilitator Carlos Henriques said: "I am delighted to have worked with such a solid group of young media professionals. They have shown a high level of engagement during practical training and the final work they produced was of good quality.”

He said all of the participants had demonstrated at an academic level that they had the potential to contribute to the “growth, development and sustainability of their organisations” but they needed the opportunity to “actively participate in the strategic management of their organizations and be able to be pragmatically effective in leading and managing specific operational areas with results”.

He said the course seemed to have benefitted participants by giving them a set of “highly effective tools and techniques that they can use to develop and implement wining strategies that work and produce results".

IREX-Mozambique Chief of Party Arild Drivdal was not surprised that all of the participants had qualified for the Certificate in Media Management for Emerging Media Leaders.

He said: “Participants in the Emerging Media Leaders’ training exhibited a very high level of motivation and commitment to the learning process. They worked hard, systematically and practically without rest.

“Several of the participants started implementing the lessons learnt in their organizations immediately after the course. The participants showed great determination and dedication in their work and were clearly motivated by the opportunity to learn new skills and see them applied in practice. For many, the course was somewhat of a transformative experience, from a business management point of view.”

SPI Deputy Director Peter du Toit, who was responsible for writing up the course, said it was gratifying that the participants had taken the process seriously. He said the SPI would offer four similar courses between now and the end of next year and an additional advanced course.

“This was a great way to start the process,” Du Toit said.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Welcome to Beijing, Lincoln!

By Annetjie van Wynegaard

This Friday Rhodes University and SPI alumnus Lincoln van der Westhuizen will fly to China to start the next two years as a Master’s student in business journalism at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Lincoln has received an all-inclusive scholarship from the Chinese government and this will be his first time in Asia.

Lincoln holds a BA degree in radio journalism and Afrikaans, as well as a postgraduate diploma in media management (PDMM) from the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) at Rhodes University. He heard about the scholarship through the PDMM course at SPI. Director of SPI, Francis Mdlongwa, had sent out an email that Rhodes University is trying to establish a relationship with Tsinghua University with information about the scholarship. He applied for the scholarship, got accepted in June this year, and accepted the offer shortly after.

Lincoln had received a Primedia scholarship for his PDMM year, and since January until the end of July he has been working for Primedia at KFM 94.5 in Cape Town as an online sports journalist. He didn’t take a gap year after school or travelled after university, because he first wanted to have a degree and experience behind his name. He had planned to travel after he obtained his degree, and with this Chinese scholarship, everything has fallen into place for him.

The business journalism MA course accommodates 10 Chinese students and 10 international students from all over the world. He will be staying in the Zijing international student apartment with other international students. There is an internship component to the MA, and Lincoln also plans on taking extra courses to study Mandarin. He said he will take advantage of the opportunity to travel around Asia.

As for his preparation for the trip, he has decided to go in completely blind. “I haven’t looked at anything; I haven’t eaten Chinese food, read Chinese books.” He has, however, been reading up on social media in China, and he said it’s interesting how they do media without any of the tools we use in South Africa, like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, Flicr, etc. Even Wordpress and Google Docs are banned in China.

Lincoln said his mom’s been sad, because moms are sad, his father’s been stoic, as fathers are, but his family’s been great about his new adventure.

Rhodes University has signed a Memorandum of Intent between the School of Journalism and Media Studies and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. This memorandum is the result of discussions between representatives of the two institutions at the 2012 Highway Africa conference and at the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua, Beijing, in December 2012. It is the intention of the two schools to explore opportunities for co-operation and student and staff exchanges around the areas of teaching, training and research.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SPI pizza lunch was a success

By Annetjie van Wynegaard

Wednesday, 14 August – Despite the fact that hundreds of Rhodes students were marching on the Grahamstown municipality to protest against a nine-day water stoppage, the annual SPI Pizza Lunch still drew a good crowd of interested students.

The Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) hosts this informal event each year to provide Rhodes students with an opportunity to learn about the Institute’s flagship Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management.

This year almost 30 interested students attended the gathering where SPI deputy director Peter du Toit delivered a short presentation and three current PDMM students spoke positivelyabout their experiences of the course so far.

Peter said the PDMM target market includes recent graduates and people working in the media industry who want to advance their careers. He said the participation of professionals on the course was a great benefit to both students and lecturers because they ensured the course stayed on top of current issues.

He said PDMM students completed eight core modules during the year and participated in a compulsory month-long period of participant observation at a media organisation of their choice. This time in the field provides students with a chance to reflect on how lessons learned in the classroom can be applied in the professional world.

PDMM student Babalwa Nyembezi spoke about time doing participant observation at Primedia in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She has been invited to return in September to work for them again. “Who knows what can happen when you do this course?” she said. Babalwa was awarded a scholarship from Primedia to study this year.

Zimbabwean student Robin Tatenda Chaibva said a highlight of the PDMM was the way in which the course encouraged students to reflect on the kinds of leaders they would like to be. Robin holds a Bachelors of Science degree and created a fashion, beauty and lifestyle blog called Concrete Jungle before she started the PDMM course. Her blog placed in the top five of the Zimbabwe Fashion Week fashion awards.

Robin said that she was benefitting greatly from the PDMM scholarship she received from the Open Society for Southern Africa (OSISA). “It’s been a very good opportunity,” she said.

MTN scholarship winner Mike Moodie said he had decided to do the PDMM course because he wanted to learn about the business side of media. So far, he said, the PDMM course has given him a good understanding of the industry. Moodie completed his participant observation at the Media24 publication Men’s Health and described his experience as “the best”.

Moodie said the PDMM programme provided students with a good chance to meet people from outside South Africa and a good experience to learn from each other.

After a brief question and answer session the meeting ended, and students and teachers gathered for more informal discussions about the courses.

The Sol Plaatje Institute also offers a range of short courses to media professionals. For more information visit their website at or contact Linda Snam at

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SPI runs third in-house management course for SABC

JOHANNESBURG – Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership has just completed a successful in-house course in broadcast management for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in Johannesburg – the third course specifically run for South Africa’s public broadcaster in the past two years.

The July 8-12 course in the Essentials of Broadcast Management (EOBM) included delegates from the SABC’s regional stations. Howard Thomas, one of the SPI’s trainers on the EOBM, said: “These staff members are always appreciative of this type of training as it brings them together to exchange experiences with people who are closer to the head office and who have crucial knowledge of the operations and audiences of regional stations.

“With broadcasting expanding at an exponential rate, there is a developing shortage of skilled staff in all areas. The SABC is fully aware that as much as people need specialised skills and training, this training is of little effect without the context, the big picture.

“The EOBM does precisely this. In just a week, delegates get a clear picture of the context, the environment and the landscape of the media and how broadcasting fits into all this. Through the various modules of the EOBM course, delegates are given the crucial pieces that complete the jig-saw puzzle.”

Professor Noel Pearse taught modules on leadership and management and human resource management; Dr Mashilo Boloka focused on the emerging regulatory environment for the broadcast sector; Thomas lectured on advertising and marketing, as well as programme management; and Jolyon Nuttall took the SABC staffers through strategic planning and managing the budget. Professor Franz Krüger examined the role of editorial independence and media ethics in shaping credible content for a media company. Most delegates praised the EOBM course, saying it had given them key insights which they would use to improve the management and operations of their work places.

One delegate commented: “This course will enable me to do my job better because I now understand what is happening in the broadcast sector much better.”

Another said: “I now have a deeper knowledge on managing people, the marketing segments, behaviourial changes and egos and in how to deal with the performance of individual staff.”

In the past two years, the SPI has run a successful EOBM for the SABC, as well as another management course, the Essentials of Digital Media Management. Both were held on location at the SABC’s headquarters in Johannesburg.

Monday, July 22, 2013

High hopes for Harare: SPI graduate launches a new free sheet in Zim

Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management alumnus Harry Davies feels the addictive pull of print as the first issue of his paper, the Harare News, rolls hot off the presses.

Postgraduate Diploma in Media Management 2012 alumnus Harry Davies has wasted no time putting the skills and knowledge he gained from the Sol Plaatje Institute’s year-long course to work. Harry is the business manager of the Harare News which launched in Zimbabwe on 1 July this year. The free sheet has a print run of 10 000 copies and can be read online at []. SPI Deputy Director Peter du Toit (PDT) asked Harry (HD) about the launch of the new title.

PDT: Can you tell us what motivated you and the others involved to start the publication?

HD: I have always wanted to work in the media and always wanted to live in Zimbabwe. After graduating from Rhodes University in 2007 with an Honours in literature I lived in Ireland and London for a spell, and then in South Korea for two-and-a-half years. Seeing the way people use technology and interact with the news and each other in these developed nations made me see how far Zimbabwe and indeed Africa still have to go in many areas. I was always seeing new and innovative concepts and services in marketing and communication and the manner in which Africa is leapfrogging technology means that there is a lot of scope for some of the finished products I saw in Asia over here already. I came to the end of my contract as the curriculum coordinator at a government language institute in Korea and started to scour for training opportunities that would invigorate my thinking about how to start a media business. I looked at options in India and America, but kept returning to the SPI website where the allure of the PDMM curriculum beckoned. I was reluctant to return to Rhodes (diversity is best) but ultimately the offering seemed unparalleled. There was a massive absence in Harare of community news other than H-Metro which is a tabloid riddled with mythical creatures and gossip. It was also surprising to me how much good stuff is going on in this city every day. This place is blossoming, culturally, socially and economically. Unfortunately this is not reflected in the big dailies and weeklies which are caught up with political mudslinging. We saw the need for something positive, community-focused and representative. A newspaper with issues that the average reader is actually able to influence. We are hoping to cultivate a bit of grassroots activism around issues that affect us as a community.

PDT: Who is your target audience?

HD: We are trying to be hyper-local so anyone in Harare really. Our coverage is mass-market.

PDT: Where and how are you distributing the paper?

HD: We are starting with 10 000 copies for the CBD and northern reaches of Harare. As we build capacity and brand awareness we will grow into the southern parts early next year with an additional 20,000 copies. It is being delivered to supermarkets and shopping centres for mass distribution. We have about 150 read-only copies in waiting areas across the northern part of the city -- coffee shops, doctors’ rooms, etc. In being a true community paper, the paper is in most schools and the hospitals too. I have a big map of the city in the office divided into zones. Everyone on the team gets a section to deliver to and monitor.

PDT: What has been the response from the advertising community?

HD: Our first issue was very well received, though the improvement in sales from selling a concept to selling based on our first issue has been slim and hard fought for. A lot of businesses are in a cash-flow crisis at the moment, and the biggest companies have reigned in their marketing ahead of elections. We work for the promise of the future.

PDT: How would you describe the editorial vision for the paper?

HD: Community- driven, hyper-local, accurate, responsive, positive, enabling.

PDT: How do you think this vision supports your commercial objectives?

HD: We are unique in the market and hugely interactive. We cover issues not picked up on by other publications and thus have an appeal to an untapped suite of advertisers. Our social mandate is earning us a response from donors too as we negotiate financial support for various aspects of our business (e.g. sponsorship of female journalists, bulk subscriptions to cover distribution costs, etc.)

PDT: To my knowledge the free-sheet model has not worked in Zimbabwe until now. What made you decide to use this model?

HD: This is true: a free paper folded as recently as the end of last year which was running on a very similar model to ours. We are different to our predecessors because: we have a strong digital strategy (they had none). we are aiming to cover the whole city (they were focused on small sections). the economy is on the mend in several sectors (and will hopefully improve across the board). we have a short term plan to use our core skills and expertise to create alternative revenue streams through partnerships with other companies and people. Other practical reasons include: A desire for some media to reach people for whom newspapers are a luxury. A desire to reach people disenchanted with the news. a simpler licensing and accreditation process for our business and journalists. A means of addressing the challenge of competing with free digital media. The ability to guarantee 10 000 copies are being read.

PDT: The launch of the paper so close to an election could leave people thinking you have political motives. Is this the case? If not, how would you respond to this suggestion?

HD: I would have to say... read the paper. Everything in Zimbabwe is highly politicised, especially at the moment, so ultimately issues around the environment, sport, education, etc. can end up being hauled into the political arena. I would be surprised, however, if anyone found the content we have published so far to have some sort of agenda.

PDT: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced so far and what do you anticipate will be the biggest challenges in the future?

HD: Getting the right people in place and working effectively, managing money, and selling advertising have been the toughest challenges so far. In the future... these will probably endure as our big issues.

PDT: How do you think the PDMM has contributed to preparing you to go into this venture? What particular lessons have you learned from the course that stand out now that you have taken the entrepreneurial leap?

HD: It unpacked my dream into digestible pieces and then brought them all together again into a better-understood whole. It gave me a new vocabulary to conceptualize strategy and planning. I met some awesome people who inspired me and motivated me.

PDT: Do you have any advice for current and future members of the PDMM class?

Start Francis' [SPI Director Francis Mdlongwa] business plan assignment EARLY. Keep all your notes and files; they will be good tools in your library down the line. Start trying to develop your personal time management skills ASAP, they are the cornerstone of everything else that you do. Mine are poor and I sometimes drop the ball on simple but crucial tasks as a result. Working on it though!


Monday, July 15, 2013

Technology opens new ways of working for women in media: Gender Links

Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership is launching its latest publication, Media Management in the New Age: How Managers Lead Media in Southern and Eastern Africa. The book examines media management challenges and opportunities in Africa and is a collaborative effort between the SPI and several authors from Southern and Eastern Africa.

Ahead of the launch of the book in September this year, the SPI is conducting a Question and Answer (Q&A) interview with the authors. In this first article, SPI Researcher Johanna Mavhungu asks Sikhonzile Ndlovu, Media Programme Manager at Gender Links, about her contribution to the book.

Johanna (JM): The title of your article is “gender and managing diversity”. What issues relating to this topic are media managers faced with in their newsrooms in the age of rapid technological development?

Sikhonzile (SN): Rapid technological development presents opportunities to media managers more than “issues”. This means that employees do not have to be physically present to fulfil their duties but can work off-site. This is especially convenient for women employees who often have to juggle professional and personal duties. Technological developments also mean that employees are able to conduct research for their articles online, thereby reducing time out in the field. This ensures that different employees can tackle any topic; there are no more barriers to women’s effective participation. Many an editor has often argued in the past that women employees cannot cover certain assignments as this would be risky, for example, in areas of disaster and conflict.

JM: You write about gender roles in the newsroom. What are your thoughts on the current status of women in South Africa’s newsrooms?

SN: South Africa has made reasonable progress in terms of getting women into media leadership [positions]. This is both true for mainstream as well as private and community media. According to the 2009 Glass Ceilings in South African media (study), women constitute 50% of those in management positions in South Africa. [However] having a critical mass of women in the media is not enough if they are not making any decisions. Women like Ferial Haffajee (the current City Press Editor) have proven that women have what it takes to lead in the media.

JM: What management strategies should media managers implement in their newsrooms to ensure a diverse and gender balanced work environment?

SN: Creating an enabling environment for diverse groups to work in is the first step towards ensuring a balanced work environment. This is through putting in place a policy framework that caters for diversity. Gender policies with distinct clauses on sexual harassment or stand-alone sexual harassment policies are part of this. The other strategy is to promote open dialogue and discussion among employees on gender and diversity issues. This helps create a balanced work space.

JM: How can we get more women ascending to executive levels and staying there?

SN: Media houses should make deliberate efforts to support capable women. They should not leave this to chance because there are still gender imbalances in society at large. This would include introducing quotas, balancing interview panels as well keeping databases of capable women candidates. It has often been argued that women should fight just like men to get to executive positions, but the reality is that the odds weigh heavily against women. Once women have ascended to executive levels, media houses should be deliberate about supporting them, taking into account the dual roles that they perform in their professional and private lives. Successful women managers often cite support and mentorship from management as ingredients for their success.

JM: What are some of the critical research areas and debates for the future in managing gender and diversity in newsrooms?

SN: (These would include) questions such as the difference that a critical mass of women bring to media management and leadership.

JM: What contribution do you think your article makes in this debate?

SN: It provides significant insights on key gender and media issues in institutional practice. It also contributes to the body of knowledge on media management strategies, for example, taking up deliberate change approaches.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Seychelles grapples with digital ‘revolution’

By Howard Thomas

VICTORIA, Seychelles – Media managers need to have a holistic understanding of media management to cope with the current profound and rapid changes affecting their industry, says the Chief Executive Officer of the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Antoine Onezime.

Onezime spoke in the Seychelles capital Victoria a week ago as he welcomed Howard Thomas and Trevor Amos, who taught a five-day short course, the Essentials of Broadcast Management (EOBM), in Victoria for SBC staff on behalf of Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership.

This was the second EOBM course run by the Institute in the island nation in the past two years. The SPI is the only university-level institute in Africa which specifically educates and trains media managers and leaders from across the continent.

The relationship between the SPI and the SBC goes back several years back when the broadcaster sent many participants to the Institute’s media management courses all the long way to Grahamstown, home of Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Onezime acknowledged that the latest EOBM course, which was tailor-made for the SBC, took place under a backdrop of sweeping technological changes that were impacting the media industry, requiring a new set of skills and understandings by media managers.

He agreed that the Seychelles was not alone in Africa in grappling with the uncertainty of the digital multi-channel environment and its accompanying mobile telephones and mobile television. The fundamental challenge for media companies such as the SBC, he said, was to acquire relevant and compelling content and the finance to fund it.

Indeed, digital terrestrial transmission (DTT) was a feared unknown on the horizon two years ago and yet in 2013 it has become a reality, with the SBC already running two test television channels. The broadcaster faces the same challenges as most broadcasters in Africa: where to find relevant content with which to fill the channels and how to pay for it.

Amos, the Head of the Department of Management at Rhodes University, kicked off the EOBM course. In an experiential session, he conducted interactive exercises that aptly introduced the delegates to how they could manage change at the SBC.

Thomas, a veteran media management trainer and long-time guest lecturer at the SPI, then ran most of the course. He taught a range of modules including audience interaction and measurement, media ethics and editorial independence, advertising and marketing, content management and budgeting.

The SBC is the only operator in the country. With one television station and one radio channel, it faces a major responsibility to deliver a credible public service to the nation, more so now after the arrival of DTT and the media explosion of social networks, smart phones, instant messaging music downloads and personal blogs used by its audiences.

“We began to feel as if we were in a race with the audience and they were ahead of us,” commented Céline Pillay, a senior Programmes Officer, noting that the SBC’s viewers and listeners only needed to buy a smart phone to be connected to the world of digital media.

But the SBC needed money, expertise, time and planning to become a player on the digital media landscape. In the words of Senior Engineer Ralph Paul: “You can’t compare the purchase of a smart phone with the whole infrastructure needed to provide digital content. We have to get transmitters, which involves a whole chain of events, as well as all the content needed in special formats.“

The SBC does not carry out formal audience research because the costs involved do not justify the end result. The broadcaster has its own ways of connecting with its audiences, not least the fact that the Seychellois are highly vocal in their appreciation and criticism of any programme.

If audiences don’t like a programme, the SBC soon knows all about it. In addition, a mere 5% of revenue comes from advertising, which makes costly and complex research a non-priority for the SBC on this island nation of 90 000 people.

However, interesting debates arose during the EOBM course on the potential of using social networks by the SBC to develop better knowledge and understanding of the emotions of its audiences to its programming.

Most delegates agreed that the course had prepared them to face the challenges that have been spawned by DTT. “I don’t expect to know the future, but I appreciate the courage to face it. This course has given me the understandings and skills of how we can at least better prepare and handle these changes,” Principal Editor Will Jacques said.

Thomas said: “Even though I have run this course in Seychelles before, this time I had different people from different operational areas on the course. The new issues they brought contributed greatly to the overall learning experience.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Exciting new opportunity for newsroom managers

By Annetjie van Wynegaard

Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership will host a five-day course entitled “NEXT Newsroom Management” from 9 to 13 September 2013. The course is aimed at editors-in-chief, news directors and news editors who supervise journalists and media professionals in multi-platform newsrooms.

The course is designed to give participants conceptual and analytical tools, and practical knowledge and skills, to manage media organisations effectively.

Francis Mdlongwa, director of the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership, said: “This course has been designed specifically for senior African media leaders and managers who want to delve deeper into the issues that define leadership and management in today’s rapidly shifting media landscape.”

During the course participants will use case studies, role plays and other methodologies to address the key issues and challenges of media leadership and management that newsroom editors in Africa and the world face. The course is called “Next Newsroom Management” to acknowledge that the news environment is increasingly becoming ambiguous and constantly undergoing deep change.

Mdlongwa explained: “We thus examine a range of leadership styles and their impacts on followers and how followers themselves impact leaders; we look at how to bring about change to an organisation and the challenges that this entails from the organisation’s culture, power, politics and structure; and we zero in on the increasing importance in today’s networked world for organisations to cultivate and nurture mutually beneficial relationships with key stakeholders.”

The course is divided into six modules. They are Leadership for Excellence, Strategic Management, Managing Change, Managing Teams and Individuals, Managing Stakeholder Engagement and Partnerships, and a Take-home Management Tool Box. The leadership for excellence module explores different leadership styles and how they apply to a news environment. The discussion will focus on how leadership can be shaped as a positive motivating factor to create a good work environment and increase productivity.

Strategic management introduces participants to media business strategies, both inward and outward-facing strategies, to achieve a competitive advantage in the local and global media marketplace.

The managing change module focuses on the drivers and inhibitors of change in African media and how media organisations can use the drivers of change to transform their organisations to become more successful and sustainable.

How do you manage your employees in the workplace? What makes them tick? The module on managing teams and individuals explores what employees want and why in the workplace and what motivates/demotivates them and strategies of getting the best out of them to achieve organisational goals, both as individuals and teams.

The module on managing stakeholder engagement and partnerships examines how people can achieve the triple bottom line of profit, people and planet by nurturing mutually beneficial partnerships with stakeholders. These relationships that are formed in an increasingly social digital environment are important to achieve a competitive advantage in the market place.

Participants will leave with a management tool box, drawn from their own experiences and key lessons from the course, including participants’ reflections on challenges that media managers will face in the near future and how these could be overcome. The course is designed to be highly interactive and will let participants learn by doing – what is known as action learning – using a range of methods.

Mdlongwa, referring to the modules of the course, commented: “All of these issues have become more critical today than ever before because our world has become more unstable, more uncertain and more ambiguous than before. Thus managers and leaders need to have a holistic understanding of their changing landscape and how they could cope with it and thrive. They also need to have appropriate tools which they could deploy to seek solutions to many of these change-challenges.”

The Sol Plaatje Institute is the only university level institute in Africa and the developing world that trains graduates and editors in media leadership and management. Interested candidates may email the workshop coordinator, Linda Snam, at or, or telephone her at 046 603 8949 for registration, details and accommodation requirements.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Threats to editorial independence in Africa

Professor Herman Wasserman, the Deputy Head of Rhodes University’s School of Journalism, spoke to African media managers on “Threats to Editorial Independence in Africa” on 25 April 2013. The managers, drawn from South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, were attending the Essentials of Broadcast Management, a five-day business management course run by Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership in Grahamstown, South Africa. Below are excerpts from Professor Wasserman’s remarks:

I was asked to reflect on the topic of ‘Threats to editorial independence in Africa’. Knowing that you are all media practitioners, I have to avoid the immediate danger that you will view this as a perspective from an academic ensconced in an ivory tower, and therefore disregard my comments as irrelevant. But, sometimes viewing things from a distance can bring some clarity.

On the other hand, journalism and the academy have in common the commitment to dialogue, discovery and criticism, so I hope that my remarks tonight can be the start of ongoing discussion and exchange of opinion.

I would like to break down the title of my talk into three questions: First, what do we mean by ‘independence’?

Secondly, what makes Africa different as a context where we ask this question?

And thirdly, perhaps most importantly, what are the threats facing editorial independence?

So let us start with ‘independence’. The notion that journalists should not be beholden to outside interests is an established one in journalism ethics. Consider, for instance, the section on ‘Independence and conflicts of interest’ in the South African Press Council’s code. It states:

3.1 The press shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non- professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided,as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the press's independence and professionalism.

3.2 Journalists shall not accept a bribe, gift or any other benefit where this is intended or likely to influence coverage.

3.3 The press shall indicate clearly when an outside organisation has contributed to the cost of newsgathering.

3.4 Editorial material shall be kept clearly distinct from advertising.

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission, in an earlier version of their code, took over the formulation of the BBC’s code of conduct that required journalists to report the news ‘with due impartiality’. The ‘due’ suggests that complete impartiality and independence is never really possible.

These stipulations in media ethical codes indicate that society expects of its journalists to speak on behalf of the public interest, not their own interests -- be these financial, political or personal – or the interests of some other party. We do not want journalists to write praise songs for companies in which they own shares, or have a relationship with a politician they report about, etc. (This is the basis for the – in all likelihood spurious – accusation of the minister of Communications against the Sunday Times’ Mzilikazi waAfrika that his reporting was influenced by supposed business interests in China).

Independence as an ethical value is closely linked to the liberal view of journalism in a democracy – the expectation is that journalism brings an independent perspective on political and social affairs and provides a disinterested check and balance on power – the so-called Fourth Estate.

Why is this so important? Because the assumption is that we can trust an independent media, as they have nothing to hide – they have our interests at heart. Not their own interests, not that of politicians, big business or their family or friends. Ours. From this perspective, independent self-regulation by the media, or co-regulation between the media and representatives of the public (the current system for press regulation in South Africa), is seen as preferable to statutory regulation that would compromise the media’s independence.

But, as with all ethical concepts, there exists differences of opinion about how widely this concept should apply, and what exactly it means. In the first instance, many media are big businesses themselves, and most certainly also have their own interests to think of. We can however expect of media to be responsible for not letting their own interests stand in the way of the public’s interests. But of course the media sometimes lets us down – the recent phone-hacking scandal in the UK is an illustration of how the media’s own commercial interests can even lead it to harm ordinary people.

It is not always easy to decide what ‘independence’ means in practical journalistic situations. Does independence mean, for instance, that journalists should never have any political views? That they should never be involved in any community organization? That they should not take a position on matters?

I would argue that a journalist without an opinion is not a good journalist. Journalists with no view on the matters that they report on, not only produce boring journalism, but also have a limited chance of effecting social change. The mantra of ‘objectivity’ should not mean never taking a stance, or never becoming emotionally involved. It would be immoral and inhuman to report on a massacre without allowing yourself an emotional response, or reporting on a or a genocide by balancing both sides as equal.

But the kind of independence we need to insist upon from journalists in Africa is the kind that ensures that news is reported in the interest of the public – not the interests of politicians, big business, or even the media themselves. Independence is however not the same as an editorial authoritarianism that refuses to answer to anyone outside the newsroom – journalists and editors remain responsible to the public (which, by the way, is a much broader concept than the ‘audience’ or the ‘market’ – but I’ll return to that point later).

So when we talk about ‘independence’, it is important that we ask: ‘independence from whom’? We should also be clear about what independence is not:

Independence does not mean arrogance – not listening to criticism or corrections from others. Independences does not mean that journalism is a value-free exercise or that journalists do not have to justify their actions – the claims that ‘we are just holding up a mirror to society’ or ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ are mostly poor excuses to avoid self-reflection by journalists.

Independence does also not mean aloofness – journalists should remain rooed in communities, should remain committed to the public interest, even if that concept is difficult to define especially in a fragmented and unequal society such as South Africa. When journalists start thinking of themselves as an elite at a remove from the everyday lives of ordinary people, journalism is in trouble.

To come to our second question – what makes Africa different as a context for independent journalism?

While the notion of independence is one that can be found in journalistic codes around the world, there are some specific conditions in African countries that gives the question of independence added dimensions.

For one, an independent media as a watchdog of democracy is not an idea appreciated in many African countries. We know that journalists around the continent are still being harassed, imprisoned and even killed for daring to have an independent voice. Even in those African countries where freedom of the press is constitutionally protected, reality does not always meet the ideal. Several countries have insult laws in place that prohibit criticism of the president; and even in countries that do not have such formal laws in place, prevailing cultural attitudes of respect towards elders are often used in an attempt to muzzle media criticism of political leaders. But we should also guard against essentialising and homogenizing ‘Africa’ Some countries like Ghana, self-regulation of the media is better developed than in others. Different countries in Africa are also in different stages of the developmental trajectory – in some, democracy is reasonably well established, others are still in transition to democracy, and in others democracy is yet to arrive. So it is impossible to talk about media independence ‘in Africa’ in general terms -- we have to acknowledge the specifics of the situation in various countries.

The media in African countries also operate against the historical background of colonialism and post-colonialism, that firstly created rifts in society between elites and the rest of the population, which are still mirrored in the media landscapes in many African countries today; and secondly often created expectations that the media should support the post-colonial developmental state, rather than act as its adversary. These inheritances make it difficult for the media to be truly independent – there is the danger that it would continue to view the world from the perspective of a narrow, elite section of society instead of giving voice to the masses; and is often branded as unpatriotic or disloyal when they criticize the government.

The colonial legacy of divide-and-rule can also still be felt in Africa. In certain African countries, journalists’ ethnic loyalties also come into tension with their stated aim of remaining professional and independent. A recent PhD study here at Rhodes by Jacinta Maweu demonstrated how ethnic loyalties impact on the ethical decision-making of journalists working for the Nation Group in Kenya. She found that ethnicity often acts as a type of ‘filter’ that determines what gets published or not. Apart from the inherited legacy of colonialism, Africa is also located within new global networks of power, in which it is often on the margins of a globalized economy (even while The Economist is celebrating ‘Africa Rising’, it is rising from a very low baseline). Compared to North America and Europe, Africans are still by and large on the underside of the global digital divide, even when there is spectacular growth in some areas of digital media and especially mobile telephones. Asymmetries in access to the media are amplified internally, with disparities between media-rich and media-poor. What does this have to do with media independence?

This – that if the media in highly unequal societies is dependent on the support of a specific section of that society, usually the commercially lucrative one that advertisers are interested in, it makes it difficult for them to cover stories that might not be of direct interest to their primary market.

Or, media can be run in an unsustainable manner that makes them over-dependent on government or donor funding, which again undermines their independence to make independent choices.

This of course is basic commercial logic – but it prompts us to ask the question again about what we mean by an independent media – independent from whom? And, perhaps more importantly, dependent on whom?

This brings us to the third and last part of our question that completes the topic that this talk was meant to be about: what are the threats facing editorial independence in Africa today?

That there are political threats to media freedom and editorial independence around the continent is well-known, but it is worth restating. The Protection of State Information Bill debated in the South African parliament today shows that these threats continue to develop even in countries that pride themselves for their protection of media freedom.

But we should see the threats to media independence more widely than just in the political sphere.

Social and material conditions in many African countries make it difficult for the media to act as independently as they might want to. Journalists are often not well-paid, which means that they succumb to pressures of ‘brown envelope journalism’, where they accept gifts or bribes from sources to supplement their income. This is a clear and widespread example of how economic independence is equally as important as political independence.

Commercial interests can also threaten editorial independence in other ways. The notion of media independence is held up as an ethical principle because it enables the media to act as a check on power on behalf of the public – to afflict the comfortable in the public interest. But when media become so beholden to their specific interest groups, when they confuse serving the public interest with serving up what interests their market, then commercial pressures can become a real threat to independence in the true sense of the word.

In African countries these commercial pressures are exacerbated by the internal inequalities within countries, the demarcation of markets in ethnic terms, and the fierce competition with global media formats that are increasingly available to African audiences.

This is therefore an appeal to you as media managers, to consider how the structures and processes that you put in place in your newsrooms can support or undermine editorial independence in the wider, fuller sense of the word. So to conclude – to contribute to robust, dynamic African media that can contribute to social change, we need to see editorial independence not only as an individual matter, but a systemic one, one which asks not only for commitment by individual journalists, but requires a holistic response from journalists, editors and media managers alike. This is the challenge I will leave you with tonight.

Thank you.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Leadership lessons from the Iron Lady

Vilified by some, loved by others – the leadership legacy of Margaret Thatcher is as varied as it is distinct. Said German chancellor Angela Merkel: “She was an extraordinary leader in global politics of her time. I will never forget her part in surmounting the division of Europe and at the end of the Cold War.”

Analysing Thatcher’s eleven and a half years in office, here are three primary leadership lessons that have characterised her style of leadership and are most applicable both to leadership in politics and business today.

Clarity trumps consensus

Shortly after taking office in Downing Street in 1979, Thatcher stated that “I am not a consensus politician. I’m a conviction politician.” From the very beginning, she not only had a clear conviction but also a definite roadmap of where she wanted to take the country.

According to leadership guru Brendon Burchard, the founder of the High Performance Academy and author of the bestselling book “The Charge: Activating the Ten Human Drives that make you feel alive”, clarity is the foremost quality of leaders and the one most cherished by followers.

Part of leadership clarity is the ability to not only be clear in your messaging but also (and more importantly) to be clear in the follow-through. In sharp contrast to many a self-styled leader who profess one thing and practice another, Thatcher was never a turncoat for anybody. In her first year of office, Thatcher countered those that argued she would not be able to stay the course in the face of strong opposition: “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn, I have only one thing to say. You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

Commenting about the legacy of Thatcher, the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patton, told the BBC that not only did she make Britain governable again but she was the polar opposite to a phenomenon that is dominating politics today, which he called ‘triangulation’: never sticking to principles but always looking for the weakest denominator between two opposing views and then meeting up somewhere in the middle.

Once she told her foreign policy advisor Sir Anthony Parsons she was glad not to belong to his class. He replied, “What class would that be, prime minister?” And she responded, “The upper-middle class, who see everybody’s point of view but have no view of their own.”

Even her contemporary German counterpart, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl (in office 1982-1998), who crossed swords with the Iron Lady many a time – and mostly fiercely over her opposition to Germany’s re-unification in 1989/90 – concedes that he “greatly valued Margaret Thatcher for her incomparable openness, honesty and straightforwardness.”

Instilling Competitive Identity

Competitive Identity, a concept popularised by the author of the Nation Branding Index, Simon Anholt, postulates that for any organisation – be it a corporation or a nation – to succeed in today’s hypercompetitive environment, instilling a clear and compelling identity is key to positioning your brand and winning new markets. Said Charles Powell, one of the closest aides of the Iron Lady: “She changed us all. We went from being a people who saw ourselves as eternally on the downward slide to a nation that was proud to be British again. On the world stage too, she made Britain count once more. She was a startling presence who brought a strong and controversial style to our diplomacy after years of Foreign Office blandness.”

Restoring the country’s Competitive Identity during the Falkland’s crisis, is what turned Thatcher’s ratings during her first term of office from rock bottom and almost guaranteed to lose the next election to a landslide victory in 1983. Contrary to the warnings of her security advisors who insisted on seeking a solution to the crisis through the diplomatic channels and urged her to make concessions to the invading Argentinians, Thatcher realised that resolving this conflict conclusively would go a long way to restoring Britain’s self-confidence.

In an era where nearly 1 in 3 US workers is seriously considering leaving his or her current organisation and another 21% view their employers unfavourably and have rock-bottom scores on key levels of engagement (meaning that over 54% of the entire workforce is actively disengaged from their organisational mission), instilling competitive identity is no longer a nice-to-have option but rather a mission critical must-have.

Willpower determines success

One of Thatcher’s famous quotes was, “Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.” As politically incorrect as this sounds (and the self-help industry has made us believe for almost one century), recent studies have shown that self-discipline is a key determinant of personal success.

In his book “Willpower: Rediscovering the greatest human Strength”, German scientist Roy F Baumeister shares an experiment conducted by Professor Walter Mischel at Stanford University called ‘The Marshmallow Experiment’. In a nutshell, the researchers were studying how a child learns to resist immediate gratification, and they found a creative new way to observe the process in four-year old children. They would bring the children one at a time into a room, show them a marshmallow, and offer them a deal before leaving them alone in the room. The children could eat the marshmallow whenever they wanted to, but if they held off until the experimenter returned, they would get a second marshmallow to eat along with it.

As expected, some children gobbled the marshmallow right away, whilst others tried resisting but couldn’t hold out, and some managed to wait out the whole fifteen minutes for the bigger reward. The ones who succeeded tended to do so by distracting themselves, which seemed an interesting enough finding at the time of the experiments, in the 1960s. Much later, though, Prof Mischel discovered something else thanks to a stroke of good fortune. His own daughters happened to attend the same school, on the Stanford University campus, where the marshmallow experiments took place. Long after he finished the experiments and moved on to other topics, Mischel kept hearing from his daughters about their classmates.

He noticed that the children who had failed to wait for the extra marshmallow seemed to get in more trouble than the others, both in and out of school. To see if there was a pattern, Mischel and his colleagues tracked down hundreds of veterans of the experiments. They found that the ones who had shown the most willpower at age four went on to get better grades and test scores.

The children who had managed to hold out the entire fifteen minutes went on to score 210 points higher on the SAT than the ones who had caved after the first half-minute. The children with willpower grew up to become more popular with their peers and their teachers. They earned higher salaries. They had a lower body-mass index, suggesting that they were less prone to gain weight as middle age encroached. They were less likely to report having had problems with drug abuse.

Clearly, willpower was a key component of Thatcher’s success formula and she alluded to it when she welcomed the English football team outside of 10 Downing Street in 1980, saying that “I’ve got a woman’s ability to stick to a job and get on with it when everyone else walks off and leaves it.”

Paying tribute to Mrs Thatcher, former US Secretary of State, James Baker described the “Thatcher doctrine”: “First, decide what is right, even if that is not always convenient or expedient. Second, let people know what is right, give people a sound direction, trust them – sooner or later they will recognise what is right. Third, be persistent; don’t give up and don’t let up.” Jokingly, Baker added a fourth component of the ‘Thatcher Doctrine’: “Fourth and finally, when negotiations stall, get out the handbag! The solution is always there, usually written on a small piece of paper deep within it.”

Was Margaret Thatcher’s leadership flawless? Certainly not – in fact, her last two years in office saw her fumbling from one mistake to the other, mostly due to her obstinate reluctance to consider views other than her own. However, much can be gleaned from the above leadership principles – especially at a time when consumer confidence in the leadership abilities of their top brass is at a record low globally.

Article first published on memeburn.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Looking for a startup model? Be the change you want to see in the world

The internet has changed the power dynamics of our world. Increases in information, connectivity and high populations of enabled individuals forces us to review the system and reconsider whether it still operates in this brave new world. This is a world where we are all empowered and responsible for defining its future.

A system can be defined as “a set of interacting or independent components forming an integrated whole”. All systems have some level of structure (defined by its component elements), behaviours (such processes, required resources, information etc) and relationships (how the components fit together to allow the system to fulfil the behaviour). Some systems are unconscious such as the universe system. Other, smaller intelligent life designed systems, such as our political, economic, education, social systems have a level of consciousness as provided by the very nature of the human condition. At every level there is a system within a system within a system. It is the dynamic interplay between these systems which results in change (which is neither positive nor negative — just different).

Historically this model has been clear. The rich, by definition, have the best access to information, resources and process control. Conversely, the majority (typically poor) lacked the ability to exert as much influence on the system for the reasons mentioned above. The result is that the poor are pushed around by the rich “top dogs”.

The internet (read: reduced cost of communication) is however changing this dynamic. Through the highly connected and social nature of the internet, its ability for information to be equally available to all users and the ability for fragmented economies to be grouped into scale means that anybody who cares (and has support) can exert as much, if not more, pressure on the system than the current “top dogs” can (read: business, politicians etc).

is enormous evidence to support this — Kickstarter, the resistance to various pieces of legislation and the united nature of consumers in their response to corporate decisions all point to a change in the way that relationships are negotiated.

The high levels of fibre cables coming into Africa, the reduction to smart phone costs, the overall community education about the internet and the roll-out of Metropolitan Area Networks (as is happening in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban) will see a dramatic expansion in the number of individuals who are highly connected and therefore able to “collude” in order to exert force in their collective self-interest.

The implications are potentially enormous. Not just for the top dogs but for all components within the system itself.

As a public we will increasingly have an opportunity to define the future in the way that makes the most sense to our needs (negotiated, through collusion, with much bigger systems than previous possible). Similarly, the top dogs will increasingly receive pressure to behave in the interests of their consumers who validate their existence (be that voters, clients, customers or friends).

Sadly, few top dogs see the advantage to this level of public honest and ongoing development and a stand-off has been created. Brands are seen to be fighting with their supporters — the exact antithesis of what they aim to do as “customer centric” businesses. The result is decreasing levels of trust and enormously losses in supporter retention rates. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the largest issue facing businesses in the 21st Century — one which is expected to get worse as the Millennials come of age and power.

We sit at a precipice. On the one side is an enormously positive opportunity for fully integrated, open and honest decision-making — with the collective interests in mind. On the other is revolution against the existing model of power — as has been seen during the Arab Spring, London Riots and South African civil disobedience.

A number of brands have achieved very positively through their efforts to integrate their supporters views on their vision. Helen Zille (and her use of Twitter Town Hall) is an excellent example of the public’s views being included in her political agenda. Ultimately, a shared vision with a broad support base is being shown to be the most powerful force of the fledgling 21st century.

At present far too many brands position their own short-term self-interest ahead of the longer-term system gain. Power is seen as the outcome and becomes a retardant on many systems where a win-win environment can be built through open dialog and flexibility around the principles which govern the system. We are missing opportunities as a result of ego driven decision-making. We need to come to terms with the fact that exclusive self-interest cannot save humanity.

This applies more broadly than just to the business environment. Consider your relationships with your friends. With politicians. With the legal system. With the environment? What would you change? Where? Do others agree with you? If so — what have you done to try change the system dynamic? (Nothing? Well… then I’m afraid you’re exactly where you want to be).

Ultimately, society needs to make a collective decision. Either we begin to work together to solve the broad inequality through negotiation or we allow the relationship to degrade to the point that nothing but revolution can solve it. This isn’t about power dynamics. It’s about a culture of collective behaviour with the aim of solving the broader environmental, political, military, economic and social issues facing our planet and the future of humanity. The clock is ticking — it’s time to act.

Article first published on memeburn.

Friday, February 8, 2013

5 simple things you can do on LinkedIn to boost your career

If social networks were people then LinkedIn would be the grey-suited accountant sitting at the corner of a party too shy to talk to people. Twitter, of course would be the hipster chick and Facebook would be the jock in the cloakroom talking about his recent conquests.

I recently saw a message posted on Facebook that read “Daughter, if you want to be successful in life, ignore the jock and spend time with the nerds in the class”; and it got me thinking: how often are we ignoring LinkedIn as a powerful tool to further our careers.

LinkedIn isn’t pretty to say the least. At first glance it’s cluttered and confusing and very little actually makes sense. It takes a little navigating and a lot of patience to find what you need, but once you gain the hang of it you’ll realise how incredibly powerful it really is.

There’s the obvious use of keeping LinkedIn as an online résumé, and then there are the few people who use it to find clients (it’s incredibly handy as a tool for business development). It’s also used by many head-hunters and recruiters looking for someone just like you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a business owner looking for clients, a sales manager looking for business leads or an employee looking for better prospects… at the end of the day it’s not what you know — it’s who you know. And LinkedIn can provide you with the ability to find the who-you-knows.

Here are five ways you can change your LinkedIn experience to make you more attractive to people and increase your ability to attract amazing business and job opportunities.

1. Keep your profile up to date

Your profile is the way people will see you. While it’s important to keep your profile professional, it wouldn’t hurt to add a small bit about yourself and your hobbies. Show people you’re a well-rounded individual.

Use a professional tag-line, but make sure it’s descriptive. “Operations Manager” doesn’t mean much, but “Team Developer and Operations Manager in eCommerce” says a lot more.

Use a professional photograph on your profile. It doesn’t have to be stoic, but it’s not the place to show yourself at a drunken party or shooting a gemsbok on a game farm.

2. Be sparing on your connections

LinkedIn is not the place for you to connect with every Tom, Dick and Harry. It’s the place where you connect with people you personally know, trust and can recommend. If you don’t know the guy and really can’t recommend him, then it’s probably better not to connect with him (unless you’re strategically wanting to connect for a business venture/job move).

3. Recommend others

If you’ve managed your connections properly, take the time out to recommend other people by writing short testimonials. Remember that this is where honesty counts. Your reputation is as much on the line here as theirs. If you cannot honestly recommend the person, then don’t. In fact, remove them as a connection.

4. Ask for recommendations

There’s nothing wrong with asking past clients, colleagues and bosses (who you’re on friendly terms with of course!) to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn. It gives people a great insight into who you are and how you’ve worked with people in the past.

The good news is that LinkedIn gives you the opportunity to accept or reject a recommendation, so if you’re not happy with a recommendation, you can just delete it.

5. Get involved

LinkedIn is as much about networking as any other business community, club or organisation. Use the LinkedIn group search to find groups you’re interested in, start discussions, ask questions, answer questions. Show that you know what you’re talking about within your community and become the expert in your field. Soon people will be offering you incredible jobs.

Whether you’re looking for a new job, a promotion, more sales or clients – LinkedIn is a powerful tool that cannot be ignored.

Article first published on memeburn.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Who owns your social media account and community when you resign?

There have been a number of court cases that have taken place recently concerning the ownership of social media accounts and associated contacts and content. This is a very contentious issue and is not always easily resolved. The question of ownership can be quite tricky especially if the owner of a social media account grew their community and developed content at the expense of their employer.

I was contacted by a young lady recently who faces a dilemma. She was employed by a recruitment company and during her tenure, created a LinkedIn account and connected with thousands of individuals, creating a substantial database in the process.

She left the company, taking her LinkedIn account with her. Unbeknownst to her, the company in question had access to her LinkedIn user id and password, and without her permission, accessed her LinkedIn account. Her personal details were removed and her password was changed. The lady in question is, as you would quite expect, extremely upset. She planned to use the LinkedIn profile and contacts she had created to continue doing was she is good at, recruitment; however she has been robbed of much-needed information and her livelihood.

The question which goes begging is, “Who did the contact information created during her employment at the recruitment belong to in the first place?” Was her employer within their rights to claim the information she had created during her employment, or does this information belong to her?

Here is an excerpt from an article on Forbes on the issue, titled “Who Owns Your LinkedIn Contacts?”:

The idea that an employer might someday claim that my contacts belonged to them was more than a little unsettling. Now, a court in England has issued an order that requires an employee who resigned to start his own consulting business to turn over all of his LinkedIn contacts to his former employer – along with receipts and contracts proving that none of them became clients of his new firm.

That clarifies one legal issue in the UK at least: the contacts on your LinkedIn profile are more likely to belong to your employer than they are to you if those contacts are customers, employees, or vendors you did business with in your job.

This clearly indicates that the ownership of LinkedIn contacts do not necessarily favour the employee when they leave their employer and it is something they must seriously consider if they are planning to move.

If you are in any way involved in social marketing, you may want to pay particular attention to this excerpt from the same article:

Marketing employees who manage corporate social media sites and accounts during their employment may find that their social media accounts are especially vulnerable according to employment attorney Donna Ballman. Ms. Ballman wrote recently that employers may have a claim regardless of what documents you signed.

“If you were hired to be the company blogger, to create a Twitter account and tweet for the company, to develop the corporate media presence, the work you did while you were employed and those social media accounts you got for the company likely belong to the employer. An exception is probably LinkedIn. They don’t allow profiles for companies – only individuals. Your LinkedIn profile is probably yours, even if the company told you to create it while on the job. Just don’t run afoul of your nonsolicitation or noncompete agreement,” she says.

In another case, the court ruled in the employee’s favour when a former employer sued the employer when they went out on their own:

Just a year ago, in another case involving a head hunter who went out on her own only to be sued by her former employer (who happened to be her uncle) for approaching candidates and clients who were her LinkedIn contacts — and also part of his database. The Eastern District Court of New York state took the opposite stance from the UK court, ruling in Sasqua Group, Inc. v. Courtney that the availability of information in social media invalidated the company’s argument that the information was a trade secret. (It also proves that if you hire a relative, make sure that you get them to sign the standard noncompete agreements.)

If you have a significant online presence, have thousands of followers and connections and deemed a social media influencer, and happen to be planning on moving to a new employer, it is advisable to have a very close look at the legal issues that may crop up. It is best to understand your rights before you sign the resignation form.

Depending on the circumstances the situation could go either way if it goes to court. Judgement may vary depending on local laws too.

Article first published on memeburn.