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Highway Africa Conference Hails Citizen Journalism
Citizen journalism here to stay, delegates agree
Zachary Ochieng (Zach)     Print Article 
Published 2008-10-12 11:16 (KST)   
Discussions and presentations at the recently concluded 12th anniversary of Highway Africa Conference left no doubt that like the rest of the world, the continent is ready to embrace citizen journalism. The over 700 delegates attending the annual Information and Communication Technology (ICT) conference were unanimous that news reporting has taken a new dimension and media owners must be ready for this revolution.

The event -- dubbed the largest gathering of journalists on the continent -- is the brainchild of Rhodes University's School of Journalism and Media Studies and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Each year, more than 500 delegates from across the globe gather at this 19th Century English city of Grahamstown, South Africa, to discuss issues relating to Internet governance, the use of new media technologies, ICT policy and media for democracy.

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It is noteworthy that the three-day conference, held under the theme Citizen Journalism, Journalism for citizens, attracted government, corporate as well as civil society funding. Besides Rhodes University and SABC, other sponsors this year included South Africa's Department of Communication (DOC), ABSA Bank, Multichoice, MTN, Siemens, Telcom South Africa, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa (NIZA) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) among others.

In his welcome remarks, Mr Phumelelo Kate, the mayor of Grahamstown, underscored the historical significance of the conference and praised the organisers for choosing Grahamstown as a venue. Said he: "It seems to be very appropriate that a conference of this nature should be permanently associated with Eastern Cape province since it was a bastion of the African media since the days of Imvo Zabanstundu (Black People's Opinion) founded by J.T. Jabavu in 1884, right through the dark days of Apartheid".

Highway Africa Director Chris Kabwato stressed the need for ordinary people to engage in journalism.

"Our conference is about how information and Communication Technology can be deployed in the African development and democracy project (think internet, think mobile)", he said, adding that for quality journalism in a rapidly changing world, journalists need the tools to enable them respond with speed and precision. "Digital technologies give us an opportunity to do just that -- to access a virtual library at the touch of a button, to send a story at the wink of an eye," Kabwato observed.

Prof Guy Berger, Head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University appreciated the increased support for the conference. "This is what makes possible the world's biggest gathering of journalists. The buzz also attracts a host of other associations who stage parallel events alongside. What we have therefore is a huge network at this event, and a rich generator of what is called social capital," said Prof Berger.

Featuring a diverse range of speakers and media professionals from across the globe, the aim of this year's conference was to equip Africans with skills relating to new media so as to empower them and the organizations they work for by creating an effective digital voice. A key aim was to allow fellow Africans to network with one another so as to promote collaboration and build a strong online community on the continent.

Through formal presentations, keynote addresses, workshops, interviews and practical examples, the Highway Africa Conference explored the challenges of print, radio, television, online and multimedia. Besides presentations at the conference, journalists also had an opportunity to attend training workshops on ICT reporting and the use of new media technologies.

Other parallel events lined up for this year's conference included the Highway Africa -- SABC New Media Awards ceremony, telecast live every year. Then there was the third Digital Citizen Indaba -- a meeting of citizen journalists from across the continent. Africa's first blogging conference, dubbed the First Digital Citizen Indaba (DCI) was held in the same venue in 2006. It was the first of its kind on the African continent and attracted bloggers, citizen journalists, media practitioners and members of the civil society from all over Africa. There was also a meeting of the South Africa's National Editors' Forum as well as the African Editors' Forum. Book launches and exhibitions also ran parallel to the conference. Among the books launched were those on citizen journalism.

Highway Africa takes place in Grahamstown, which is situated in the Eastern Cape Province, some 130km from Port Elizabeth. The 19th Century English cathedral city was founded in 1812 by Colonel John Graham as a military headquarters for British troops during a series of bitter clashes with native Xhosa fighters. Grahamstown also hosts the annual Arts Festival, the continent's biggest cultural event which runs from June to July. It is also home to Rhodes University, one of the world's top ranked universities on the continent.

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Zachary Ochieng

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