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JMS at the Vanguard of New Approaches to African Media Research

Date Released: Tue, 6 March 2012 00:00 +0200

The mass proliferation of media platforms in Africa, while still a relatively recent phenomenon, has birthed a burgeoning everyday media culture whose range, diversity and complexity makes for some of the most interesting discourses emerging from the continent today. Yet the bulk of academic research on media and communication in Africa has thus far focused on media’s relation to the state, with liberal democracy as the ideal normative model for Africa’s media to adhere to. It’s an approach that tends to neglect the actual ways in which media contribute to everyday life in African societies; and to fill this gap, a recent international conference, ‘Beyond Normative Approaches: Everyday Media Culture in Africa’, was held at Wits University in Johannesburg from 27-29 February. The conference was jointly hosted by Wits and Westminster Universities, and the University of Michigan; while Rhodes’ School of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) was strongly represented at the conference, with staff and postgraduate students presenting a number of papers.


The two members of staff, Ms Alette Schoon and Prof. Herman Wasserman, were joined by two PhD students, Admire Mare and Jacinta Mwende Maweu, as well as an MA student, Loisa Mbatha-Kakoma, in presenting papers on their respective areas of research.


Schoon’s paper, ‘Mixing with Mxit When You're Mixed: Young people, hybrid identity and the mobile phone’, drew on her research on the use of mobile phones in Grahamstown’s Hooggenoeg community – exploring how a new generation of young people accessed social media sites via mobile platforms, while moving beyond apartheid definitions of 'coloured' and 'black African' to construct hybrid identities.


Wasserman’s paper ‘The Ethics of the Everyday: Towards cultural normativity of the South African media’ sought to combine his work on normative media ethics with his research on tabloid media. He suggested that existing normative frameworks be revisited by looking at actual ways in which people use media – together with their expectations regarding the roles media could play in their everyday lives.


Loisa Mbatha-Kakoma’s paper ‘Investigating The Popularity Of The Zambian Television Station Muvi TV: A reception study of Lusaka viewers’was based on her MA thesis – exploring the meanings that television viewers in Lusaka derive from tabloid news reports on this popular television station.


The tabloid news theme then continued with Admire Mare’s paper, ‘Investigating the Popularity of the Zimbabwean Tabloid Newspaper H-Metro: A reception study of Harare readers’- delving into reasons for the popularity of Harare’s state-owned H-Metro tabloid, and the way in which the state uses the paper to target anti-government activists.


Finally, Jacinta Maweu’s paper ‘A Clash of Journalistic and Capitalist Values? How journalists respond to meddling advertisers in commercial media in Kenya’outlined her current PhD research on the commercial pressures experienced by Kenyan newspaper journalists, together with how these pressures impact on their ethical decision-making.


Ultimately, all the JMS presentations at the conference in some way embodied the spirit behind the words of legendary Swedish media consultant, Karl Wilkström, when he said "Remember that people are the new media” – and it is this anthropomorphic view of media culture, which drives JMS to constantly engage with it in terms of how it touches and affects the lives of real people in Africa and the world! 

 -  Strato Copteros