Is media playing its role in regional integration?

3 Sep 2015

Reposted from The Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC)

Southern Africa’s longstanding vision is a united, prosperous and integrated region.

The Declaration and Treaty that established the Southern African Development Community (SADC), formerly the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), clearly states how these targets could be achieved.

It states that “regional integration will continue to be a pipe dream unless the peoples of the region determine its content, form and direction, and are themselves its active agent.”

This assertion, therefore, means that the media has a critical role to play in the integration agenda through educating and informing SADC citizens about the various benefits of belonging to a shared community of southern Africa.

Is the media providing this platform for SADC citizens to actively participate in the regional public debate and discourse, or is the media the missing link in the SADC integration agenda?

These are some of the issues discussed at the 19th Highway Africa conference held on 30-31 August in Grahamstown, South Africa.

A session on the “Imagined Community of Southern Africa – Reporting the Region,” of which this writer was a panellist, noted that most SADC citizens are broadly unaware of the various benefits of regional integration, largely due to limited reporting of the region by the media.

“The regional story is more than just reporting about the SADC Summit,” said Bhekinkosi Moyo, Executive Director of the Southern Africa Trust (SAT), which supported the session.

He gave the example of industrialization, as a topical issue for SADC, saying that the media must unpack the different facets of industrialization so that citizens can contribute to unlocking the potential to take full advantage of the vast resources to develop SADC economies.

However, Moyo also acknowledged the challenges faced by media in reporting on issues of regional integration in southern Africa.

Some of these include lack of knowledge about the subject, as well as limited resources to pursue regional stories.

“There is need to train and capacitate journalists so that they take an active role in the integration agenda of SADC,” he said.

A research fellow with the Institute of Economic and Social Research at the University of Zambia, Parkie Mbozi concurred, saying it is critical for media to first appreciate regional issues before reporting on them.

“Journalists cannot write about something they cannot understand,” he said, adding that “media should be equipped to report on regional integration.”

The communication officer for Afrobarometer, Sibusiso Nkomo, said one way that journalists could equip themselves is by familiarizing with various regional documents including the SADC Treaty, and other declarations. Download full presentation here.

He said an informed media will be able to educate SADC citizens, but will also contribute to shaping the integration agenda of SADC and “the agenda for SADC leaders to discuss at their summits”.

“We need to address these shortfalls and let the media play its role in regional integration,” he said, adding that it is also important for media to track the implementation of regional agreements signed by member states to ensure accountability of the integration agenda.

These agreements include those on economic and financial integration, industrialization, gender, environment, the Tripartite Free Trade Area, and the SADC standby force.

It was also noted that there are a lot of success stories of the integration agenda of SADC, however most media tend to focus more on the challenges, and on trivial issues, thus depriving citizens of balanced and informative reportage of the main issues.

Some of these achievements are contained in the recently launched publication SADC Success Stories, and include the establishment of the One-Stop-Border Post initiative at Chirundu Border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The initiative has proved a viable development in eliminating trade barriers through reduction of clearance time and cost, with benefits extending to consumers further afield.

SADC Success Stories also cites the creation of development corridors as essential in boosting industrial growth, especially in landlocked countries, by providing cheaper alternative transport routes to seaports; as well as an electronic payment system developed by SADC member states to settle transactions among banks within the region.

The book was compiled and published by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) and Frayintermedia with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

More than 300 journalists, researchers and other experts attended the conference organized by the Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies.

Full conference video below: