Essays

This page contains the two essays required for JMS3 Radio

Reflective Report: Enviromental Journalism

Within my reflective writing I will examine how the “acknowledgement that most of the scientific literacy received by non scientist adults is received through the media” (McIlwaine, 167: 2001) and thus as a journalist I have a crucial responsibility, as a source of information and opinions about science, to the audience. “Public perception and attitudes...are significantly influenced by representations of scientific knowledge conveyed by the press and other mass means of communication” (Carvalho, 223: 2010). Having this responsibility I will examine how it fits into the practice of environmental journalism. I will start off by examining environmental journalism regarding the media’s role in conveying it and the problems which arise in so doing. I will then describe the production process I undertook while compiling an environmental radio package during the course of the third term. Finally ending with my praxis of how I put theory into practice.

In our Third Year Radio Agency we discuss how as journalists we understand one of our roles to be that of educators. Stating, “A journalist identifies important information and/or problems within the community that will help inform citizens about how to act or where to find help”. However, given that it is our role as journalists to be educators, I still find it difficult to fully understand and convey the media’s role in conveying climate change and sustainability. This is because there are many universal problems and issues which face journalists when covering this specific beat. Issues such as the access to scientific knowledge and the journalists own ability to convey that knowledge to an audience. This is especially difficult as this beat requires sources of scientific knowledge and there is no getting around this fact. Thus it takes the form of a very ‘top down approach’ to journalism. However, “the representation of scientific knowledge has important implications for evaluating political programs and assessing the responsibility of both governments and the public in addressing climate change” (Carvalho, 223: 2010).

With all the media time constraints the thorough conveying of this beat is difficult to achieve, especially as a lot of research is required and experts are very limited and often have their own agendas. Along with all the research required comes the difficulty of narrowing down the topic without creating a distorted impression. Scientists often don’t speak in layman’s terms so it becomes difficult for the journalist to fully grasp the issue at hand and thus convey it to the audience. This leaves the journalist questioning whether it is their job to simply paraphrase a topic, especially as “like any other dimensions of reality, science is reconstructed and not merely mirrored in the media. Depictions of the world in the media result from a series of choices such as whether an issue will make the news, the highlight it will be given, and who is going to speak for it” (Carvalho, 223: 2010). Thus the objectivity of the journalist comes into play. This is because the more objective one is the more confusing the topic becomes; this is seen as the “media depictions of the issue often suggest that the scientific community is divided in the middle. In association, many aspects of climate change politics are heavily contested. In the social circulation of the meanings associated with this issue, the media are a central arena and certainly play a part in shaping public and political options” (Carvalho, 223: 2010). Thus if a journalist actually takes a stance on the topic less confusion is created and the public is therefore given options. Therefore a slightly more subjective approach is a more successful way to convey this topic. This also falls into our agency document which states that “we intend to maintain principals of factual based informative reporting, but will temper the distance objective approach with an understanding of our subjective position”.

With the issue of objectivity also comes the issue of whether journalists should try to find the problems themselves by weighing them up and making their own decision as to whether there is a problem at all. And even further, are journalists suppose to find the solutions as well? Thus I believe it becomes more successful for the journalist to tell the story by avoiding or dispelling the doom and gloom mindset and instead promote change. This method of telling the story appeals to the audience as it gives them hope and inspiration to change their way of life rather than just the doom and gloom approach which basically tells them they are terrible people.

Through my experience I have found that it is very difficult to make environmental stories interesting and appealing to the audience. However a media example of climate change and sustainability which I have found to be successful is the doccie drama: The Age of the Stupid. The film is set in the future and shows the terrible destruction of planet earth, highlighting what could happen if climate change is not addressed. It also discusses how the scenario came to be. Even though this is a very doom and gloom approach, I believe it is successful as much creativity was used in its design. It took the view of what humans did wrong by following a number of lives from a diverse range of people. This use of sources is effective as it makes the audience realise just how much climate change is affecting people worldwide. However this film used a lot of shock tactics and did not emphasis how we can change our fate nor did it offer any hope.

I was given the opportunity to cover an environmental radio package during the start of the third term. We were given a brief by Algoa FM and the South East African Climate Consortium (SEACC) to cover environmental journalism using ‘mainstream’ media conventions, such as a reliance on experts, objectivity, etc. Thus our aim was to work with Algoa FM to produce current affairs packages on sustainability and climate change to mark the approach of the international climate change conference, COP 17, which will be hosted in South Africa in 2011.

My conceptualisation of the story idea started after I watched the doccie drama: The Age of the Stupid. Climate change was not a new topic to me, but this film brought home just how big of a problem climate change really is. However when I left the film it dawned on me how people often acknowledge just how real climate change is, especially after watching a film like this or a news event, but they ultimately don’t take much action to prevent it, as climate change is not affecting them in the here and now, ‘it is happening elsewhere in the world’. Thus I wanted to do a package investigating the social problems we are facing right now which are caused by the effects of climate change in South Africa and specifically the Eastern Cape. Thus showing how significant climate change is to us at present, as well as discovering aspects of hope.

Firstly I went about the story by identifying my sources which included number of experts and environmental researchers. I then went down to the basics and discovered what the experts had to say about the Global warming phenomenon. This helped me get a better understanding of the topic as well as acting as a base for my story. My research also included the reading of the Honours Research proposal: Perceptions of climate change and associated risks and vulnerabilities amongst poor rural communities in the Chris Hani and Amathole Districts (Eastern Cape), compiled by two of my sources. This was significant research as it highlighted the social problems being created by climate change in South Africa. As my sources were all experts in their respective fields, my approach to the interviews was to tell them about the project, then ask them to go back to the basics and explain their knowledge as much as possible in layman terms, giving example where they could.

Finally I made some difficult editorial decisions in the crafting of the final product. These decisions were difficult to make owing to the significant amount of quality interviews and information I had at my disposal. I decided to keep the focus on the effects of climate change on rural communities in the Eastern Cape, as this would keep the focus on how global warming is affecting us locally at the present moment. I also decided to start the package off with international headlines so as to emphasise how climate change is depicted as a problem happening in other countries and then contrast this with the rest of the package and how the problem is also affecting us in the Eastern Cape. Finally I made the editorial decision to end the package off on a positive note with one of my sources discussing glimmerings of hope. I did this so that my final package would not be all about gloom and doom, but rather that we have a problem so let’s find ways to deal with it.

Given what I have already discussed the challenges of effectively conveying climate change and sustainability to an audience, I will now, with reference to these challenges, asses my own work on my environmental package.

Journalists often are faced with the problem of successfully conveying scientific knowledge to an audience as well as grasping the topic themselves. I did find this to be challenging, however I worked around it by asking the experts to go back to the basics and discuss their knowledge in layman terms while giving examples where applicable. This method of interviewing was successful as the interviews were not difficult to understand and thus ultimately helped me to convey the scientific information to the audience. My deadlines for the package created a great deal of time constraints which proved to be problematic as a lot of research was required. Thus these constraints helped me to prioritise who I interviewed and define my focus quicker so as to be able to complete the final package on time; therefore also solving the problem of narrowing down the topic. Some of my sources also proved to have their own agendas. I had to abandon one of my experts owing to time constraints and their unwillingness to be interviewed as they were too busy.

Through my experience I also found that it is extremely difficult to be completely objective when dealing with a topic such as this. My approach was slightly subjective and I took a stance on the issue I was dealing with and thus the final story was not confusing. During the making of the package I also felt that creativity was key to the appeal of the story to the audience. Thus I got creative and created international headlines and used music to help make the package come alive. I also felt that I needed to somehow dispel of the doom and gloom mindset and promote change by adding a glimmering of hope at the end of the package. I believe that this also helped make the story more appealing to the audience.

I consider my successes to be the significant amount of information I managed to find in a short amount of time; the focusing of the story; the interviews I conducted; and the creativity of the final package. However if I were given the chance, I would redo the way I approached the topic with having such a subjective manner. I do believe that there is some place for subjectivity within an environmental beat, as this does create less confusion for the audience; however looking back I think my package would have been a lot more interesting if I had been more objective. For example I would have found out the economic effects facing rural communities if they changed their way of life to help prevent climate change.

This reflective report shows the difficulties of environmental journalism through the examination of environmental journalism and the problems the beat creates for a journalist when trying to convey the topic to an audience. Through the description of my own production process while creating an environment radio package I am able to examine my praxis of putting the theory of environmental journalism into practice. This examination shows that there are many problems facing journalists covering this beat however some can be overcome. It is difficult to convey scientific knowledge to an audience while trying to hold on to their attention; however I believe this can be achieved through creativity and the use of positivity and stories of hope and change.



Media Landscape Essay

The South African radio landscape has developed greatly over the years. This is especially seen when one contextualises the contemporary South African radio landscape. Through the analyse of SAfm (a public service station) and 702 (a commercial station) one is able to see the institutional context which frames the production of news at the both these radio stations and a contrast in their news content, regarding the focus on the bulletin composition and story treatment, can be seen.

During apartheid the government invested disproportionate amounts of money into “the radio and television services aimed at white audiences. The effects of this were bolstered by the organization of programming itself.” (Barnett, 1999) In the run up to the 1994 first democratic elections the SABC was distanced from the government through the creation of an independent broadcasting regulator. This was done so as to assure that the creditability of the SABC as a news and information provider was not influenced by the Nationalist lead government. Thus the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was formed and passed in 1993 and the regulating authority was officially established in 1994 (Fourie, 2007).

The IBA later amalgamated with the South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Satra) to form the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) in 2000. ICASA is accountable to parliament as a whole and not to any government department or political party.

There are three classes of broadcasting licence, known as the three tier system. The first tier is commercial radio, which can be defined as a service operated for profit and the need to provide a diverse range of programming in all official languages. Their core aim is to sell audiences to advertisers. They are owned privately by shareholders and are profit driven. The second tier is public radio which emphasises quality programming and serves the various cultural and language groups that make up the country. Its core aim is to serve the public interest and build democracy. It is run by a statutory body for the general public (SABC). The last tier is community radio, which has a core aim to serve the public and build democracy, but in the context of building strong, unique relationships with particular communities. It is based on participatory production.

This shows the South African radio landscape in reference to the broadcasting regulatory authority, the three tiers and the key characteristics of radio stations in each tier.

In the examination of the institutional context which frames the production of news at both SAfm (public radio) and 702 (commercial radio) one can see how their license obligations affect the news produced at these stations. This can be examined through their editorial policies and guidelines, newsroom operations, resources and audiences.

The editorial policies and guidelines which frame the production of news at SAfm are those of the SABC. These policies revolve around the core editorial values of the SABC which include equality, editorial independence, nation building, diversity, human dignity, accountability and transparency (SABC Editorial Code of Practice, 2010). National objectives underpin the values and principles that define the SABC's role as a public broadcaster. These include: to play a part in healing divisions of the past; to promote respect for democratic values and human rights; to supply information that allows citizens to exercise their rights and to reflect the rich diversity of a united South Africa (SABC Editorial Code of Practice, 2010).

SAfm is an English language station which broadcasts news, an informed analysis of current affairs, law reports, a concert hour, market updates and SAFM literature. This assumes an appeal to the older audiences, as news and business updates are pertinent to those who are working. The music played is mostly classical and jazz, a more relaxed vibe, something the youth isn’t really looking for in general. Core listeners are between 30-49 years old and the station actively seeks a ‘diverse’ audience and therefore they do not have a racially specific audience. This is interesting as it shows that SAfm views ‘diverse’ to be in relation to race and not class. The station targets an audience that’s culturally rich and financially affluent, even though its reach goes beyond their target audience. This is especially seen when one notes that SAfm’s signal reaches 95% of the country, but they only target the upper 10%.The presenters are diverse racially and culturally. This is to present an equal front to add to their quest for a ‘diverse’ audience. This shows the kind of audience SAfm targets and attracts as well as how newsroom operations also contribute to the production of news. Through this analysis one can see that the aim of public radio is achieved as SAfm emphasises quality programming and serves the public interest and encourages the building democracy.

The production of news at Talk Radio 702 prides itself on the wealth of experience the presenters have especially as the staff members come from diverse backgrounds. Thus they are expected to use their experience when talking and dealing with an issue. The code of conduct of 702 talk shows revolves around the views of the host, guests and listeners which should not be totally impartial (Katopodis, Eyewitness news editor). Thus the idea is to create a conversation between the host and listeners so therefore all viewpoints are welcomed. To ensure this does not result in a homogenous viewpoint, the line-up includes men and women of different ages, races and background, so the views expressed on the shows are varied (Katopodis, Eyewitness news editor). Even though Eyewitness news is editorially independent of 702 its principles of news are impartial, and takes pride in being unbiased and reflecting all sides of the story. As a commercial station, 702 depend on advertising but it is not driven by it. The job of the programming team is clearly defined: to attract listeners. To do this, programming needs to create compelling content that grows the station’s audience, which in turn will attract advertisers. Thus the aim of the commercial radio is achieved as 702 is a service operated for profit and the need to provide a diverse range of programming. Their core aim is to sell audiences to advertisers. Talk radio 702 is also owned privately by shareholders and are profit driven.

Given the examination of the institutional context which frames the production of news at both SAfm and 702 a link can be made by examining the trends and comparing the contrasts of the news content produced by the two stations. One can see how they differ in their bulletin composition and story treatment.

The bulletin composition of SAfm consists mainly of national news. The primary items in each of their news bulletins are national political, economic and crime stories, which feature at the beginning. A small amount of culturale and international stories are then covered at the end. SAfm don’t report on local news or local traffic. This lies mainly in the fact that they are a national radio station broadcasting to the whole of South Africa. They also have a large amount of resources which allows them to access stories from all over the country. This emphasises how SAfm serves the public interest.

On the other hand the bulletin composition of 702 consists of both local and national news. Each of their bulletins contains national news of mainly a political, crime or economic nature at the very beginning of the bulletin, and then moves on to more local content including the local traffic report. This lies mainly in the fact that, unlike SAfm, 702 is locally produced and broadcast in Johannesburg. With the aid of Eyewitness news 702 have the resources which SAfm has to produce a large amount of national news, however they broadcast to a mainly local based audience, and thus the composition of their news bulletin is driven by their local audiences needs. This emphasises how 702’s programming to attract listeners and appeal to their audiences is achieved.

A comparison can be made when one looks at how the same stories are treated in different ways by both stations. For example the lead story on Tuesday 6 April 2010, regarding Eugene Terre Blanche’s murder, differs in content and angle for both stations. SAfm treated the story by completely politicising it. Their angle was a political one and their sources were politicians, in this case DA leader Helen Zille. They probably chose this angle as it is a way of to “play it safe”. However, by choosing a political focus, they are not being objective; they are only achieving a less bias coverage of the different political opinions. Their political approach to news stories could possibly be a way of encouraging the building of democracy which is one of the aims of a public broadcaster. On the other hand 702 treated the story by concentrating on what the reporter on sight had investigated, and did not politicise it like SAfm. They did this by going live to a reporter on the scene during the bulletin, to talk about the trial and the accused. Thus their treatment of the story was that of a more judicial process. This angle and approach differs greatly when compared to SAfm’s ‘playing it safe’. These main differences, in both content and angle, which have been emphasised through the given example, can be traced in the majority of the stories produced by the two stations. During the 4 day period, SAfm broadcast nearly all of their stories with a politicised angle and included the view points of politicians; whereas 702 broadcast nearly all their stories with the reporter being on the scene.

This shows that through an analysis and comparison of the news content produced by SAfm and 702 Radio one can see how they differ in their bulletin composition and story treatment. The content and angles of both stations differ greatly along with their national and local reporting which stems from the different resources they both have. Their place in the contemporary South African radio landscape and the institutional context which frames the production of news at the both these radio stations plays a role in the contrast of the news content produced by them.