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An Afrokology of public-service broadcasting

Afrokology is presented by Mano and milton (2021) as a heuristic toolkit, which can provide a basis for an indigenous approach to African media and communication that resonates with conditions on the continent. Here, we look at whether and how PSB and PSB practices can be situated within an indigenized theoretical framework for media, based on an African ethos. To interrogate these, we turn our attention to two attempts at ‘indigenizing’ media theory in general and PSB theory specifically, from the Southern African context. The first is Blankenberg’s (1999) attempt to redefine media theory in the context of ubuntu and the second is Banda’s (2007) project to redefine PSB within the context of development journalism.

PSB as ‘ubuntu’

Ubuntuism can be understood as a moral philosophy, a collective African consciousness deeply embedded in African culture’s expression of communal (collective or shared) compassion, reciprocity, dignity, harmony and humanity in the interest of a community (traditionally the tribe or clan), with justice and mutual caring for all (cf. e.g. Nussbaum, 2003: 1). As such, it differs from the emphasis on the individual of mainstream Eurocentric moral philosophy, which Nyamnjoh singles out as ‘harmful’to the African communard (Nyamnjoh, 2004: 2011). Ubuntuism views the essence of being as participation with other humans. Unlike Western individualistic democracy, which insists on freedom of the self from intrusion by others, ubuntuism sees a person’s freedom as dependent on their personal relationships with others. A person is first and foremost a participatory being dependent on others for his/her development. Ubuntuism therefore places a high premium on negotiation, inclusiveness and tolerance (cf. Fourie, 2008; milton and Fourie, 2015).

Taking this basic understanding of ubuntu into consideration, Blankenberg argues that the philosophy of ubuntu could be used as a foundation for and a legitimation of a liberation journalism that attempts to unite the role of the media -and for our purpose, particularly PSB - to serve the basic tenets of democracy (Blankenberg, 1999: 44). The tenets of democracy underlined by Blankenberg include, first, the creation and preserving of a space within which people are able to voice their opinions on the future of their nation and, second, that the media has a strong role to play in the creation and recognition of a civil society, a public space and a common culture. To this he adds that the media is integral to ‘the modern day liberation project, as a facilitator to ensure widespread participation in the political system and all aspects of the public sphere, as a “catalyst” for critical consciousness, and as a storyteller, creating and litigating public cultural rituals for negotiating cultural conflicts and agreeing on common values’ (ibid.).

For Blankenberg, liberation media combine the best elements of development journalism, participatory communication and other theories of media to come up with a concept of journalism that best addresses the needs of many African communities. He concludes that the philosophy of ubuntu, combined with a Freirean philosophy of critical consciousness, principles of Third Cinema and a spirit of participation, provide a foundation for a journalism applicable certainly to Africa but also globally (ibid.). It is further noted that the w/wntw-ethos as explicated here, chimes with UNESCO’s definition of public broadcasting, which sees it as a meeting place where all citizens are welcome and considered equals. It is an information and education tool, accessible to all and meant for all, whatever their social or economic status.

This has far reaching theoretical and practical consequences as pointed out by Fourie (Fourie, 2008). First, the implications of this view of the ontology and epistemology of contemporary Southern African thinking about the media are clear. ‘The West’ focuses on media primarily in terms of its information, surveillance, entertainment and educational role;journalism’s freedom and right to protection in order to be able to fulfil its social responsibility, and the individual’s right to information, surveillance, entertainment and education. Ubuntu shifts the focus towards the media’s role in community bonding and dialogue towards reaching consensus based on the cultural and social values and morals of a community. Of course, it has to be noted that this idea of the media sphere is not that different from Habermas’ perception of the public sphere (the latter’s many problems notwithstanding).The emphasis thus moves from the media as informant, gatekeeper, interpreter and educator, to the media as mediator; from the media as observer, to the media as participant and negotiator, from the media as a watchdog to the media as a guide-dog.

Fourie therefore raises five questions about ubuntu as a normative framework for journalism. He points out the significant consequences such a framework may have for journalism in its Western-defined libertarian-democratic ideal of an ‘objective representation of the world’. The questions speak to concerns about the relevancy of ubuntuism in the context of the changed nature of traditional African culture; the claim that ubuntuism is distinctively an African moral philosophy; moral philosophy’s vulnerability to political exploitation; ubuntuism as a normative theory in a globalized world and changed media environment, and the implications an ubuntu approach may have for journalism practice (Fourie, 2008). Yet, as pointed out by Chasi (2015: 98) locating ubuntu within a liberal constitutional framework is not necessarily counter-intuitive,‘especially if one recognizes that ubuntu can be read as a moral philosophy that does not eschew recognition of individuals ... and that ubuntu has, for example, been found to be consistent with Kalwsian liberal thought ...’ (ibid.).

Blankenberg was not oblivious to the issues highlighted by Fourie. In his conclusion he noted that many obstacles stand in the way of the realization of the ideal of an «¿wntw-inspired liberatory media. Notably, he singled out the interests of those who benefit from a libertarian journalism that enforces the status quo and is elitist in nature, as a key obstacle. In this respect he acknowledges the importance of buy-in from different role-players in the search for a model journalism that aspires towards mainstreaming — cautioning therefore against a journalism that is ‘relegated to only marginalised “grassroots” development’ (Blankenberg, 1999: 60). Echoes of such a line of reasoning can be found in West and Fair’s work, who argue that:

Only ... by locating media within the sphere of social relations of power and by historically situating media forms ... will we see clearly that what is at issue in using communication for development purposes is not merely the success or failure of‘development’, but rather the ability of people in African societies to construct, advance, contest, transform, and resist visions for the future direction of their own communities’.

(West and Fair, 1993: 95)

PSB as development journalism

Development journalism, notwithstanding its many problems, appears to be making a comeback, notably in the work of Banda, in his attempt to reconceptualize development journalism within the new African reality, specifically aiming at a synthesis between development journalism and public-service broadcasting ideology. Banda’s effort, read in conjunction with Blankenberg’s explication of so-called «¿wntM-journalism, presents some interesting pointers for an ‘Afrokology’ of PSB (Banda, 2007). He notes that the demonization of development journalism (resulting from a discourse embedded in Western notions of press freedom) has diverted attention from important questions about how journalism can contribute to participatory democracy, security, peace and other humanistic values.

Banda demonstrates first, the relevance of the development journalism paradigm to PSB and second, how the principles of the paradigm can be implemented within the context of PSB. He points to five key areas of similarity between development journalism and PSB. First, development journalism stresses the free will of the journalist, which resonates with the requirement of PSB to be independent from vested interests. Second, PSB’s notion of‘universality’ (i.e. universal accessibility and universal appeal) is implied in development journalism’s concern with providing access to marginalized members of society and enhancing their participation (through, for example, having their voices heard on a range of issues) and its holistic view of ‘development’ as ‘appealing to all’. Third, PSB’s structure of regional houses and its insistence on a people’s representative body to which it is accountable, assumes that PSB is there to service the needs of the people and not a particular political elite. Fourth, both development journalism and PSB value cultural and community identity' as a counter-hegemonic force against any local or foreign hegemonic cultural encroachment and, last, both development journalism and PSB are infused with a concern for the development of societies in their entirety (Banda, 2007: 164).

Banda expands on this list in a comparative table where he also points to similarities between the two concepts’ perceptions of content i.e. both emphasize good, quality programming content, with development journalism specifically highlighting the importance of infusing grassroots voices as well, and both value independent programme-making and independent and democratic participation. A distinguishing feature of Banda’s attempt to redefine PSB within the context of development journalism, is not necessarily its insistence that the media exists for the people and must therefore have emancipation as its ultimate goal, but rather its downplaying of the role of the state and its focus on the potential of citizens in media making (an aspect that is also gaining traction in contemporary ‘Western’ discussions of citizen participation in media-making in a digitalized PSB environment).

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