When I decided to register for the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum 2014, I did so with slight apprehension. The theme, “From Information to Participation: Challenges for the Media”, sounded interesting – especially the first part – and the programme featured presentations on ICT4D, mobile empowerment and democratic participation in Africa. But the event is designed for journalists and media practitioners. What does that have to do with learning and education? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
By Alicia Mitchell
During a panel discussion on political opinion making in the digital age, a comment from Matthew Armstrong, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, got me thinking. Internet freedom, he said, is not only the freedom to speak, but the freedom to listen.
This statement was echoed by Dr Auma Obama, speaking on the following day about the work of the Sauti Kuu Foundation. Working in rural and slum areas in Kenya, the foundation teaches children about their “light, voice and fire” or, in other words, their right to be seen, to speak, to participate and to challenge. Sauti Kuu encourages young people to lay claim to these rights and to recognise their own worth within their communities, regardless of their age or income level.
Reading and working around ICT4D and ICT4E, I often hear about ‘the right to a good education’ and the importance of ‘access to knowledge’. These are facts that many of us take as given truths, but that confidence itself usually comes about as a privilege of already having received a ‘good education’.
It’s all very well and good to build the infrastructure of learning and promote the lifelong benefits of education, but what if the people with the most to gain from such practices have not been allowed (through societal, cultural, economic or personal factors) to acknowledge their right to do so, as with the beneficiaries of Sauti Kuu’s work?
Speaking in the same panel as Armstrong, Amy Goodman, a journalist and Co-Founder of Democracy Now!, described journalistic freedom as an integral component of any functioning democracy. In addition to this, I would say it also plays an essential role in any functioning education system and, at a larger scale, a society’s engagement in learning and knowledge sharing. Professor Guy Berger, Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, later called journalists “symbols of the freedom of expression of everyone”. Beyond this, an open press is also a symbol of the right to listen and to learn.
The freedom of the press to report on issues of public interest turns the sharing and consumption of verified information into common and accessible practice. Although traditional media outlets are widely described as ‘threatened’ by new media and the Internet, newspapers, radio and television still form the backbone of information dissemination in many regions, especially where literacy levels are low and Internet access is even lower. Good journalism propagates the idea that all people are allowed to know about the world around them and that access to information is the norm.