Journalism education – A key to successful democracies

Well-trained journalists are integral to functioning democracies, particularly in Africa where some states are relatively young and others are still trying to shrug off the legacies of colonialism. To coincide with last month’s World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, University World News canvassed the views of a number of experts on the challenges facing journalism education on the continent.

"Well-trained journalists are critical to successful democracies as journalists provide a voice for citizens who are not part of the government and help those governing understand the concerns of the people so that problems can be addressed before they become unmanageable," said Charles Self, the Edward L and Thelma Gaylord Chair of Journalism and Mass Communication at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma in the United States.

"While recent journalism education studies covering North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa have found improvements in journalism education, the quality of journalism education varies widely across Africa depending on financial support and on a supportive environment in individual countries," he told University World News.

Self said that several problems continued to confront journalism education in some African countries. These included inadequate funding, too little attention to the qualifications of teachers, poor equipment, underdeveloped curricula, and too few opportunities for students to intern or otherwise practice journalism while in school.

The challenge of authoritarianism

Referring to the North African region in particular, Roy Rampal, professor emeritus in the department of mass communication at the US-based University of Central Missouri, said: "While infrastructure for journalism education in North African countries is good – meaning facilities, equipment, international collaboration, and faculty – the area that needs improvement in journalism education is to teach students how they can have journalistic autonomy in these countries that are still largely authoritarian-leaning."

Rampal is the author of an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication journal article entitled "Disparity Between Journalism Education and Journalism Practice in Four Maghreb States", which looked at the difficulty facing journalism and broadcasting graduates in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya when using their professional skills in the context of a controlled press environment.

"Scholarly research is also handicapped by political and religious factors, although emerging democracies like Tunisia offer great hope for providing an environment for high-quality scholarly research", he told University World News.

Catching up

While there has been progress in building journalistic capacity, in some quarters there is a sense that Africa is still playing catch-up with the rest of the world when it comes to journalism training and practice.

"We cannot overemphasise the significance of journalism education in Africa," said Nnamdi Ekeanyanwu, associate professor in the department of communication arts at the University of Uyo in Nigeria. "Journalism education in Africa will help the media industry to compete favourably with advanced democracies in the West which are 50 years ahead of us in media practice and professionalism," Ekeanyanwu said.

"As a professor in the discipline and a practitioner, I am aware that South Africa has made significant progress in both areas of journalism education and research while others, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, are trying to catch up,” he said.

According to Ekeanyanwu, who is also the national coordinating secretary at the African Council on Communication Education, African journalism training has suffered most from what he called the “invasion of the media industry by outsiders masquerading as media practitioners or journalists”.


"Many outsiders are running the discipline,” Ekeanyanwu said. "Anybody with a humanities and social science-based degree thinks they qualify to teach communication or journalism-based courses."

"They lack the basic training in the discipline but find their way in the industry because of the nepotistic and ethnic considerations in their appointment as journalists."

Adding to Self's list of challenges facing journalism education and research at African universities, Ekeanyanwu added outdated curricula, overcrowded classrooms, lazy researchers, poor mentorship or absence of research mentors, and a lack of practically oriented courses and experiential learning methods in the pedagogy.

According to Chris Frost, emeritus professor of journalism at Liverpool Screen School, Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, African media schools are being established but are struggling to recruit experienced journalism scholars or journalists to become teachers and researchers.

"Research work is generally underdeveloped and resources to support it are often difficult to come by," Frost said.

“Limited finance also has an effect on teaching with many journalism departments in Africa complaining they are unable to buy the equipment needed to give their students the practical experience they need to develop their craft.”

According to a 2015 report entitled Global Journalism Education: A missed opportunity for media development?, there are only 214 media schools in Africa representing 9% of the total number of media schools worldwide (2,348) including 28% in Asia, 27% in North America, 23% in Europe, 11% in South America and 2% in Oceania.

Even where education programmes exist, the content of the curriculum is not always relevant.


"Most African media and journalism institutions are still teaching inappropriate topics using approaches that start with the West," Winston Mano, director of the Africa Media Centre at the University of Westminster in the UK, told University World News.

"The biggest problems are lack of resources, political interference, overly Westernised syllabi, fees which are too expensive for locals, and a lack of synergy between existing challenges and educational approaches," Mano said.

"They need to change from universities in Africa to become African universities," he said.

This view is echoed in a 2016 report entitled Rethinking Journalism Education in African Journalism Institutions: Perspectives of Southern African journalism scholars on the Africanisation of journalism curricula, which states: "Western-based curricula tend to alienate African students from their history, thus making it difficult for them to effectively report on pertinent issues on the continent."

Indigenous languages

The report also called for the training of journalists to report in African indigenous languages to ensure that marginalised and disadvantaged people participate adequately in national debates.

On this score, Ylva Rodny-Gumede, professor in the department of journalism, film and television at the University of Johannesburg's faculty of humanities, South Africa, told University World News it was important for African journalism education to “talk to local realities and experiences”, and to make sure that it is underpinned by a “journalistic ethos that talks to a public interest that is truly inclusive of the public".

"For a long time, the public interest in South Africa as well as many other post-colonial societies in Africa, has referred only to a small wealthy urban elite. Who the public is has been very narrowly defined, said Rodny-Gumede who is the author of a June 2016 paper entitled A Teaching Philosophy of Journalism Education in the Global South: A South African case study.


In order to deal with the problems facing journalism education and research, Self said: "Better funding, better training, and a more supportive environment, particularly from existing media companies and from public officials can make all the difference."

"Many African countries also need more support for continuing education for journalism educators," he said.

Rampal called for students to be taught how to engage in objective journalism within the framework of the political and religious realities of their countries. He also called for greater levels of global academic collaboration and media workshops, and the development of professional journalism internships for students.

"We must encourage scholars to always try to ‘push the envelope’, so to speak, so that they can produce research that is not restrained by the political, religious and social realities of the authoritarian-leaning states; encourage them to collaborate with international scholars in producing research,” Rampal said.

On the issue of Africanising journalism education and research at African universities, Rodny-Gumede called for more research-led curricula.

"Because there are no teaching materials which speak to the local African context, we need to develop these and also do the research to find out how journalism is practised in our own context and what changes are desired," Rodny-Gumede said.

Mano, who is also the principal editor of the Journal of African Media Studies, said: "There is a need to refresh journalism education and research in Africa so that it can engage more meaningfully with realities on the continent … African epistemologies must be fully incorporated and valuable lessons from the evolving African past and present need to be at the centre of journalism training … Universities need to Africanise their journalism education and be more sceptical of the universalistic pretensions of the West."

There is much to be done, but the stakes are high – as expressed by Self: “Africa has such enormous potential and good journalism education can create good professional journalists who can improve all aspects of society and governance. This is something that every country must address for long-term success."