Rhodes University honours its trendsetting journalism alumni to celebrate 50 years of existence

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Ray Hartle receives his award from Professor Sizwe Mabizela at the JMS Gala Dinner
Ray Hartle receives his award from Professor Sizwe Mabizela at the JMS Gala Dinner

In commemorating its 50th anniversary in 2022, Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) is honouring 50 of its most distinguished alumni across the globe. Seven alumni were honoured at a Gala Dinner hosted by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sizwe Mabizela, at Lagoon Beach Hotel in Cape Town last night. These are Audrey Brown, Rebecca Davis, Ray Hartle, Leonie Joubert, Daneel Knoetze, Karyn Maughan, Minoshni Pillay and Professor Alison Gillwald. They are among 50 graduates celebrated by the School this year for their career excellence in their work as journalists and communicators.

The evening was attended by the families of the awardees, journalists, media practitioners and some of the members of Rhodes University executive. SABC tv news reporter Atule Joka was the programme director for the night. JMS Acting Head, Dr Jeanne du Toit, said the School intends to recognise those who have had very distinguished careers and long-term impact and those who have more recently graduated and are already making their mark in the industry.

Former Daily Dispatch journalist Hartle said he felt honoured to be included in the group of Rhodes University JMS alumni to be awarded this year. “To be included in this group is amazing. This hard, heavy-hitting group has done tremendous work in their fields. A variety of skills is reflected in the honorees – it’s not just narrow hard news journalism or corporate communication. I feel that it reflects everything good about Rhodes University journalism. The awards say much about the status of journalism in our country and the work JMS has done over the years. It is an amazing honour; I never expected it.”

Hartle said the calibre of journalists produced by JMS is evidence that good things can hail from the Eastern Cape. He said people sometimes feel that nothing positive can come out of the province and that those working there are failures. “Some of us have consciously chosen to do our work in the Eastern Cape, and for me as a journalist and communicator, that’s where I want to work and make a contribution to my community and society at large,” he added.

Legal journalist Maughan said it’s extraordinary to be recognised by her alma mater because that’s where her love for journalism started. “I appreciate this award, particularly this time when everything that’s happening in terms of facing private prosecution and the kind of issues that I am going through. It’s an amazing feeling to be acknowledged and celebrated because often the only kind of engagement we get is harassment and intimidation from individuals undermining us and making it difficult for us to do our job.”

She said she is proud that Rhodes University JMS prepared her to face anything thrown at her. “There has always been a strong sense of ethics embodied in my education and a powerful sense of right and wrong. That has shaped me and helped me stay focused on the fact that we are here to get as close to the truth as possible. I was taught that it is my job to give the public information so that people can be properly informed to make up their minds and take decisions relevant to their lives,” she added.

Telecommunications and broadcast policy and regulation specialist Professor Gillwald said the award had given her a chance to reflect on how far journalism has come in South Africa. “I remember in the 1970s when journalists were imprisoned and newspapers banned; it was very dark times. However, we were taught at JMS to always fight for what is right and never give up. JMS prepared me for the enormously privileged positions I have had in building several post-apartheid democratic institutions and being involved in the independent broadcasting authority and policies around independent broadcasting. I feel humbled that the University has recognised my work this way,” she said.

Professor Gillwald said there is still a long road ahead for the future of journalism, with many stories to tell and many battles to fight. “Hopefully, ultimately, we will have a strong public interested policy environment in which journalism will flourish in this country,” she concluded.

Professor Mabizela said: “On behalf of Rhodes University, I wish to offer our heartfelt congratulations to all the recipients of the JMS 50th awards. Thank you to each one of them for flying the flag of our University with such great distinction and honour. They are indeed the ambassadors of our University and have become leaders in their field. They embody Rhodes University’s motto, ‘Where leaders learn’. We are immensely proud of them.”

The Vice-Chancellor also paid tribute to all journalists who have died in the line of duty.