Well the Highway Africa conf (HA) is over. It was three days of intensive sessions and workshops.
The organization was excellent. Access to the Internet was by WiFi and worked fairly well - you had to know where the relayers were to get connectivity and for mac users the problems were worse. SABC covered the event in both TV and radio and the HA awards ceremony was broadcast live. [The award winners were excellent and well worth a visit]
There were some very interesting panels and some great contributions from the floor.
The community media panel was very interesting. A really good session presented by practitioners with roots in bush radio and eyes on the future.
The critical historical background by Tracey Naughton and Lumko Mtimde (CEO of the Media Development and Diversity Agency) was informative and we heard excerpts from Radio Freedom, the voice of the African National Congress in exile, Radio Zibonele in Khayelitsha and Bush Radio in Salt River, Cape Town. This gave a perfect platform for Danny Moalisi (National Community Radio Forum) to talk about the future of community radio. The future is digital and Danny talked about how new tech can spread the number of voices heard and also talked a little about business models.
(See Juanita's post on insideIOL for a fuller account of the session)
In general however the content however left me with a feeling of loss and
disappointment. I have been to a number of HA:s and have noticed an increasing tendency to pack the panels with representatives from the corporate sponsors, government officials and PR-people.
We had the Group CEO of SABC, the Group executive of SABC news & current affairs, the head of news research at SABC, the Managing Director of Barclay's Africa, the CEO of FutureWorld, the Director General of the Department of Communications, the Managing Director of ABSA...
And they were almost all men.
I do not mean to say that these people do not have important things to say, nor that they could not say them in an interesting fashion. Just that they didn´t.
The problem (for me) was that there seemed to be way too little counter-balance. The "discussions" were often a presentation of policy from particular point of view. A reiteration of government and corporate policies, all too often put forward in an self-congratulatory, uncritical and politicaly or commercialy self-serving manner. It seems that the SABC and the South African DOC were calling the shots. You pay the piper, you call the tune.
I never got the feeling that here was a group of journalists engaging with other journalists around issues pertaining to their daily struggles and problems. There were delegates from 42 African countries (and a few form the rest of the world), but you would never really guess it from the conference which had a quite narrow South African focus. There was an attempt at translation to French for the West African delegates which is an improvement on previous years.
Then there was the unsettling calls for "control". Control over the technology, control over the content and most importantly control over the users. Quality control through ISO standards, journalistic
control through accreditation.
As one of the speakers would later say at the Digital Citizen Indaba: when in doubt - lock em out!
So, to conclude, my three major bugbears:
- For a conference organised by a gender sensitive department there was a distinct lack of women panellists
- Way too many CEO:s, politicians and PR people
- Too many former oppressed journalists calling for control in one form or another (the line control and repression is often so thin as to be non- existent.