The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Swaziland (MISA-Swaziland) and Save the Children are running a training and research program on young people and the media. Over three days in June 2013 MISA-Swaziland trained nine journalists on how to report when young people are involved in the story. The training was part theoretical (reading over ethical guidelines on reporting on young people) and part practical (the journalists met with young people, allowing a free flowing discussion and an exchange of ideas, and giving the journalists a chance to put their new learning immediately into practice).
Freelance journalist Nkosingiphile ‘Patrick’ Myeni participated in the training session and listened to the thoughts of studens on the media. Here are his observations on the project…
Children’s rights advocates have voiced concern about the manner in which children are treated by the local media.
To help counter the problem, MISA-Swaziland, a media freedom NGO, together with child rights NGO Save the Children, trained journalists on how better to give children a platform on where these young people can debate child and youth issues.
The training of journalists ran concurrently with the UN month of the child.
As part of the training journalists visited a school in Mbabane, the capital, to talk to students.
The Sifundzani High School children criticised what they saw as negative reporting, and decried the lack of stories that offered hope. The students also called for more media that focuses on entertainment, as well as informational and educational needs.
The journalists agreed with the students that consent is needed from a parent or guardian before reporters interview minors or take photographs of children. The three reporters who attended the training discussion at Sifundzani — Jospeh Zulu from the Swazi Observer, Zwelihle Sukati from Swazi News, and me, a freelance reporters — spoke with the students on how best to cover stories involving child victims.
There was a discussion on how, perhaps, it is human nature to pity a victim of crime or abuse. But a journalist has to walk a fine line between being compassionate while remaining professional, and it was suggested that showering a victim with pity is not the best thing for that person, nor is it the best way to get an accurate and honest story.
The first part of the training took place at MISA-Swaziand’s office in Mbabane, the capital, and was moderated by MISA Research Analyst Bill Snaddon.
The training at MISA’s office and the child discussion at Sifundzani school was an eye opener. The reporters learned that while there are many stories about young people in the Swazi media, very rarely to do these stories include the voice of young people. In a sense, it’s like writing a story about surfing but not interviewing a surfer.
From the discussion with the students, it seems some young people have become cynical and are somewhat detached from the local media. Though, if it was cynicism that was detected, the students certainly haven’t lost their sense of humour, as they enjoyed poking fun at the ‘boring’ Swazi TV and radio, and laughed about the sensationalised stories in the print media. It seems their response to the poor quality local media is mockery. Yet they also want something better, they want their voices heard. They know when people aren’t listening and they know there is a better way for the media: it starts with asking young poeple themselves, What do you want? What do you like? How do you feel about this program or this policy? etc.
All over the world newspaper readership is down. At the age of new media, however, young people have taken to the social networking sites for their entertainment and information needs.
During the discussion, the students talked of various problems that young people face. One such problem was that of bullying, which they said was rampant in schools. They also said their voice should be heard in matters of social and economic issues, because it affects them as much their parents — who then have to prioritise how they spend money other than on them.
In short, the message from the students was: the youth are the future.