‘Media Freedom in an Age of Misinformation’- CAMFF fellows discuss their research findings

Ellen Bramley

Ellen Bramley

Communications Officer

CAMFF fellows hosted a forum event to discuss the key themes and challenges facing the media, after participating in the seven-week media freedom programme at the University of Westminster.

The Chevening Africa Media Freedom fellowship (CAMFF) concluded last week, and I was lucky enough to attend a forum organised by the participating fellows, where they presented their research findings from the fellowship programme titled ‘Media Freedom in an Age of Misinformation’.

Media regulators, educators, information providers and media professionals across 10 sub-Saharan African countries were chosen for the fellowship scheme that was hosted over a seven-week period at the University of Westminster. Over the duration of the course, these fellows participated in a variety of guest seminars and group discussions, in London and around the UK, that engaged with some of the issues that confront the sustainability of a trustworthy press, in their home counties, as well as globally.

The day began with a panel of 5, discussing the contentious topic of media regulation. Fellows discussed the existence of criminal libel laws in some African countries, unpacked some of the benefits and drawbacks of statutory and self-regulatory frameworks respectively, and explored the challenges of regulation on social media platforms. Each speaker was able to bring forward unique and compelling insights into these areas of discussion, based upon personal experiences as media professionals in their home countries, namely, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Cameroon.

The next two fellows presented on the topic of media funding models. One speaker, from Malawi explained the various advantages and disadvantages of existing methods of funding journalism, including the use of company paywalls, donations from philanthropic and corporate business partners, and creating advertising opportunities for investors.

On the same subject, a newsletter editor for an independent media business based in South Africa demonstrated how separating the business and journalistic components of a media business can advance the integrity and objectivity of reporting. He shared knowledge on the ‘marketing funnel’, a model that exemplifies the importance of understanding the demography of a publication’s readership as a pre-requisite for creating a reliable and sustainable business revenue model.

In the afternoon session, a guest speaker from the BBC’s World Service Disinformation Unit came to discuss matters of misinformation in the media. Rebecca Skippage, who established the BBC Disinformation team gave an overview of disinformation trends, explained some of the digital material used to assist the public with identifying ‘fake news’ and shared some of the existing practices at the BBC which enable it to verify and debunk viral social media content.

In a question-and-answer session that followed, she discussed some of the complexities that arise when identifying sources of misinformation in a global media landscape that comprises many different languages. A stance that all fellows agreed was a challenge in their own countries, where there are often many local dialects.

It was clear from the quality of discussions throughout the day that fellows have gained much from their experience working with one another over the duration of their course. In her vote of thanks, to conclude the forum, one South African fellow spoke on behalf of the CAMFF cohort when she said, “we leave here wiser, more committed to free and critical press and with a deeper understanding around the complexities that come with the desire to tell important stories”.

Finally, speaking to her fellow cohort, she went onto say, “what separates us is insignificant compared to what binds us…we must rely on each other and stay united, continue to share what we know and help each other where we can, as we have done in the last seven weeks. One country in Africa’s success, is all of the continent’s success”.

This is a sentiment I believe truly captures the essence of a Chevening fellowship. That is, to facilitate life-long ties between mid-career leaders across the commonwealth, so they can continue to increase their knowledge, networks, and potential.

The Chevening Africa Media Freedom Fellowship is one of many fellowships available to mid-career professionals from across the globe. You can find more about the different programmes available and apply via. the Chevening website.

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