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SA radio journalism appalling - Prof Franz Kruger

Radio journalism in South Africa is not in good shape, Wits University Prof Franz Kruger said on Friday, 29 July 2011, in Johannesburg at the last day of the Joburg Radio Days conference at Wits University in Braamfontein.
"The staff on air is not doing what they are supposed to be doing, whereas they should do better," he said, adding that some radio journalists lack interviewing techniques.

Doing themselves a disservice

Wits Radio Academy Prof Kruger accused commercial radio stations of seeing the news as 'something irritating' imposed on them by the licence regulator. "They are just doing it to fulfill licence conditions," he said, adding that radio journalists in this country are doing themselves a disservice by not adding any value to the journalism profession.

SABC News, the self-proclaimed "Africa's news leader", also took a beating from Kruger, who lashed out at the public broadcaster's newsroom for allowing a great air of timidity to overtake it. "There is a general feeling of unwillingness on the part of SABC News to take risks by putting up a tough new agenda and asking tough questions," he said, as SABC head of radio news Mike Siluma despondently looked on.

Juniorisation of newsrooms

Primedia Broadcasting's Eyewitness News editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis seemed to echo's Kruger's sentiments. She said: "Yes, radio journalism in SA is in a poor situation, but we face serious challenges, including the issue of juniorisation of newsrooms.

"Senior journalists who are prepared to stay want more money, and what happens is that they are being poached by public relations companies and government. This is a serious issue in SA at the moment."

Katopodis called on radio journalists to evolve and change and start keeping in touch with Twitter and Facebook, and the Internet, which she said have become critical tools in the current world of journalism.

"Radio journalism needs to take a 360 degrees approach because there are opportunities for us to grow."

Responsibility to ensure radio journ doesn't die

She said the media has a responsibility to ensure that radio journalism does not die, by investing, among others, in training and collaboration, including helping community radio.

Prof Alan Thompson, of Carleton University in the US, told delegates that if one needed to invest in media development, he or she should invest in journalists. "Pay journalists a fair price to do their work. Ship them for a week or two to go somewhere to attend workshops and conferences to learn more about journalism techniques and issues because journalism education is a very important aspect," he said.

"Let's all take a step back and have a look at journalism fundamentals, and do research to find out what's working and what's not working."

Thomson, who is involved in radio convergence projects in Africa and has previously worked in Rwanda, said journalists should revisit their role in conflict and post-conflict societies, and have a better understanding of these societies' issues.

Resources-starved journalism training institutions

Furthermore, he said Africa's resources-starved journalism training institutions need urgent help.

Siluma, who is now the SABC acting news and current affairs director, defended SABC News against mounting criticism, saying the SABC faces challenges such as stakeholders' relationship and funding, which he believes put the organisation under increasing pressure as a news service provider.

Increasing the state's funding for SABC from a mere 2.5% to 60% was high on the agenda at the 2007 ANC conference in Polokwane. But four years later, the SABC is still waiting, and waiting...

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About Issa Sikiti da Silva: @sikitimedia

Issa Sikiti da Silva is a winner of the 2010 SADC Media Awards (print category). He freelances for various media outlets, local and foreign, and has travelled extensively across Africa. His work has been published both in French and English. He used to contribute to as a senior news writer.