On Thursday we can celebrate our new name change from the Media Monitoring Project to Media Monitoring Africa – we felt Project was a little too temporary and while it would have been lovely to have achieved our vision and worked ourselves out of a job in just three years, our first few years of existence showed us just how many opportunities there were for change not just in South Africa but our great continent as well.  We also felt very strongly that our new name needed to reflect that we are African based, not only because we are but also so that the rest of the world can see just where some of the most innovative, effective and sustainable projects come from. We can celebrate the achievements and contribution MMP/MMA has made in and to the media. We can celebrate that the shift in media where in 2001 the Editorial of the Sunday Sun noted, “The Media Monitoring Project they call themselves.  Who are they? We’ve not heard of them either.”(Sunday Sun 05/08/2001 P10), and then in 2008 the Sunday Sun’s sister paper the Daily Sun not only hired one of the most respected and expensive advocates to defend them in a complaint we and Crmsa had laid with the press council, when we settled they printed the settlement on the front page of the Daily Sun.  See Daily Sun 28/09/20080.  We celebrate that MMP has an established international reputation for its monitoring expertise and is also the only organisation to have had guidelines it developed recommended by the South African National Editors Forum.

We can also celebrate the fact that we have from the beginning been analysing and monitoring gender in the media.  This event being in the 16days campaign has great significance for us given the significant work we have done on and around gender in the media.  From monitoring violence against women and developing guidelines on reporting on gender based violence to playing a critical role in the Gender Media Baseline Study together with Gender Links and MISA.  We have monitored and tracked changes in the media coverage of gender based violence on a local, regional and global scale as the data analyst of the Global Media Monitoring Project and we have even developed our own software to assist in monitoring gender in the media.  While the fight against gender based violence continues we will be there doing whatever we can to eradicate it.  Watch for our comprehensive Guidelines on Strategic Communication on Gender Based Violence that we will launch in early 2009.

So why do we do what we do? Other than because we all love media monitoring, we do it because we have an ideal vision of society where citizens are informed and engaged.  It doesn’t mean everyone gets all excited about politics everyday – although with our current political fireworks I think there is more excitement than your favourite weekend sports game – but it does mean that people know and understand hw other society works, they know their rights and responsibilities, they know and understand how government does, should and could work , they know if they have a complaint about the media who they can send it to.  They know if there is a failure of service delivery in their community or if they want information form their local municipality, they know how to get it and the process involved.  In effect we believe each person in a society needs to be informed, have access to information to take action and wherever possible be actively engaged in building a society.  It means that if there is a story about a child who is being sexually exploited, the story doesn’t just tell us about the horror and emotion, but also examines for example, causes, relevant policies as well as some form of solutions.

So how do we plan on achieving this venerable vision?  Well we have great faith and optimism about the role and power of the media in society.  The media can, does, should and could play a vital role in informing citizens as well as encouraging engagement.  Media can only however do this if it is free to do fulfil its responsibilities., so media freedom is key to us achieving our vision.  At the same time we know media houses and media titles have their own share of challenges, from a lack of resources and capacity and the juniorisation of the newsroom to issues of transformation and accountability.  Media doesn’t just need to do it ‘s job it needs to exercise it rights in a responsible manner, and the media by and large support this view which is why they almost all subscribe to a self regulatory system and codes.  Media also need to be ethical in the manner in which they report.  It significantly undermines the value of a story if it is biased, inaccurate and violates the rights of those being reported.  For media to be able to fully engage and inform it must also offer quality reporting.  This isn’t to say that each story must fit specific criteria but it does mean that people should be able to easily access diverse information on a range of issues reported in a manner that is balanced fair an d accurate.  Hence we work to build and support ethical and quality reporting.

So where does MMA fit in with all this?

We fit in with it in that we aim to be the most effective media watchdog in Africa, to realise improved quality and ethics in reporting and to see robust and effective communication legislation and media codes of conduct in Africa.  In other words we fit in, in that we work with media NGO’s regulators, other key stakeholders to watch the media, builds ethical quality reporting and help ensure robust and effective communication legislation.

How do we achieve these goals?

We achieve these things by working carrying out media monitoring research and analysis of a variety of aspect in the media.  Our programme areas include, race, xenophobia, HIV/AIDS, gender, Children and democracy and governance.  We develop tools for journalists, guidelines and media policy.  We carry out training and offer a specialist university course with our academic partners, we work with children and build critical media literacy skills and we engage with media on a daily basis.

Why should you care?

You should care because media fundamentally plays or seeks to fulfil a positive function in a democracy – underlying all of the issues is medias role in democracy which on some level is there to make each democracy a little bit better.  You will want to care if you try media monitoring.  Be warned though as once you done it using our method you are unlikely to see the news in the same way again.  But even if you never want to try the joy of media monitoring, you may want to care because we believe, passionately in the power of our media and that if it operates in a way that is fair, ethical free and if there is quality reporting and robust media policy, it wont only make the media better but it will significantly enhance, develop and build each of our countries.

We know we have some way to go in certain areas and respect and in this blog I will try and look at some of our biggest challenges, but I will also make sure I don’t lose my sense of humour – the world is depressing enough as it is without an NGO do-gooder losing his sense of humour as well.  Either way I hope you will find these blogs informative, stimulating and maybe they can also encourage you to engage as well.