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UWC Media Society Media Mind Blast Explores Media and Democracy

Author: Aidan van den Heever

The University of the Western Cape’s student led Media Society was officially launched on Friday with its inaugural Media Mind Blast

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(Published - 26 August 2019)

He was on the beach then – total darkness. Albie Sachs, esteemed former Constitutional Court Judge, recalled the day he cheated death, and his enemies, while in exile in Mozambique. He was a victim of a car bomb and when he woke he was told that he would lose his arm.

“I fainted back into darkness – but with a sense of joy,” he said. “It’s the moment every freedom fighter is waiting for – will they come for me? They came for me and I had survived. I feel joyous and I knew I was in the hands of FRELIMO, not kidnapped and in a jail in South Africa.” 

He had dozens of students entranced when he spoke at the launch of the UWC Media Society, standing on the very stage where he’d stood as a young man when he returned to South Africa to help craft the country’s new Constitution when the late Dullah Omar asked him to join the Community Law Centre.

He told the audience that “UWC was the engine room of our Constitution” and that it had been “the centre of the struggle”. 

“Truth is a serious business,” Judge Sachs reminded members of the society, encouraging them to be unafraid in their pursuits.

“But don’t be reckless. There is an onus on you to have integrity.”

The UWC Media Society comprises of three streams – print, radio and television. Ryland Fisher will serve as a complaints Ombudsman for the society, to ensure the journalism complies with professional media standards.

UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Pretorius, said journalists play a valuable role in post-apartheid South Africa by upholding and strengthening democracy.

But the industry finds itself at a crossroads due to social media among other things. Traditional media has had to find a way of remaining a legitimate and commercially viable sector.

“We have seen trust in the media eroded more than ever before. Let’s just look at the leader of the free world – Donald Trump and his favourite tweet. When he doesn’t like what the media says ‘fake news’,” said Prof Pretorius.

He said that it is in this climate that the UWC Media Society will have to find an “authentic voice that speaks to student concerns and challenges”.

Professor Pamela Dube – Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Development and Support – expressed her pride and excitement for the newly-formed student-driven society. She thanked colleagues, external partners such as the SABC and the society’s board of directors.

“As we move forward, ready to face any challenges that may come, it is my hope that the UWC Media Society will provide a safety net of trust beneath the dreams of those who are willing to keep reminding us of who we are as UWC,” she said.  

The launch also saw the inaugural Media Mind Blast taking place in the form of panel discussions.

The first discussion was entitled: How South Africa’s media told my story. Panelists included Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, political analyst Prince Mashele and Right2Know member Ghalieb Galant.

Mashele challenged Mkhwebane when she claimed that she was a victim of the media.  Mashele responded that not all media can be painted with the same brush, and that politicians need to be specific when talking about the ‘media’.

Right2Know’s Ghalib Galant said the South African National Editors Forum should start looking at media ethics and best media practice.

Another panel discussion - The state we’re in – is media an enabler or disabler of the democratic project - then took place. Panelists included media practitioner Lance Witten and social commentator Bongani Mbindwane.

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