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Communicatio 36 (2) 2010_layout.indd
VOLUME 36 (2) 2010
Special issue: Journalism in the global South: South Africa and Brazil
Guest editors: Herman Wasserman and Arnold S de Beer
ISSN Print 0250-0167
ISSN Online 1753-5379
Accredited: (South African) Department of National Education
Affiliated: South African Communication Association (SACOMM)
Editorial ..........................................................................................................................................
The past, present and future of South African journalism research, or: In search of a
metatheory for South African journalism research
Pieter J Fourie ................................................................................................................................
Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
Carlos Eduardo Franciscato .........................................................................................................
Journalism education in South Africa: Shifts and dilemmas
Jeanne Prinsloo ............................................................................................................................
Journalism/Communication graduate education in Brazil
Sérgio Mattos ...............................................................................................................................
Looking for journalism education scholarship in some unusual places: The case of Africa
Arnold S de Beer ........................................................................................................................... 213
Challenges for the consolidation of Brazilian scientific journals in the journalism and
communication areas
Elias Machado ...............................................................................................................................
Political journalism in South Africa as a developing democracy – understanding media
freedom and responsibility
Herman Wasserman .....................................................................................................................
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Political journalism in Brazil as a developing democracy: The relationship between
government and the media
Antonio Hohlfeldt ............................................................................................................................ 252
Digital journalism and online public spheres in South Africa
Tanja Bosch ..................................................................................................................................... 265
Positioning yet another idea under the glocalisation umbrella: Reader participation and
audience communities as market strategies in globalised online journalism
Marcos Palacios ............................................................................................................................ 276
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 143–147
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485361
Special issue: Journalism in the global South:
South Africa and Brazil
Guest editors: Herman Wasserman and Arnold S de Beer
This special edition of Communicatio focuses on the contexts, professional practices, institutions
and ideologies of journalism in South Africa and Brazil. These two countries share characteristics
that make them obvious points of focus for a comparative study of the political, economic and
social conditions within which journalism is practised and studied in two emerging democracies
in the global South.
A comparison between journalism in two countries in the South may provide insights into both
these contexts which may elude the more usual type of studies that tened to mirror journalism
in the South, against conditions in the media-saturated countries of North America and Western
Europe, such a comparison may potentially also contribute to the internationalising of journalism
studies itself. Although North America and Western Europe still continue to dominate knowledge
production in the field of journalism and media studies, there is an increasing awareness that the
Anglo-American epistemological framework is too limiting and impoverished to provide a rich
understanding of media in a globalised world (Thussu 2009: 16–17).
The intent is to consider journalism education and research in South Africa and Brazil, as units of
comparison, against broader transnational trends which necessitate new categories within which to
study global media. The rise of regional media powerhouses such as ‘Chindia’ (China and India), the
Middle-East nations of Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and post-Soviet Russia’s renewed
dominance over Eastern Europe and the Asian Republics, together with ever-widening diasporic
media markets, are increasingly rendering older notions of ‘international communication’ obsolete
or limited (Rao 2010). South Africa and Brazil may similarly be considered regional centres whose
influence is felt across their respective regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Rao
(2010), following the work of Gayatri Spivak in deconstructing discourses of the nation-state,
suggests an approach of ‘critical regionalism’ as a way to understand local settings such as Brazil
and South Africa within broader transnational cultural flows. Such a critical approach to the local,
but understood within its relation to the global, can be seen to inform the work of several authors in
this issue, as they deploy theoretical concepts such as democratisation theory and elite continuity,
‘glocalisation’ and hybridity to explain how journalism in South Africa and Brazil are being shaped
by the legacies of the past, as well as the new configurations of the globalising media landscape.
The articles in this issue are the result of a meeting of a group of South African and Brazilian
journalism researchers at Stellenbosch University in June 2009, where papers were presented and
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Herman Wasserman and Arnold S de Beer
workshopped, and later reworked as the articles now appearing in this issue. This first conference
of the Brazil–South African Journalism Research Initiative was organised in line with the India–
Brazil–South Africa (Ibsa) accord of 2003, which recognised the need to foster not only strategic
and trade ties between countries in the South, but also in the areas of culture, communication and
information technology.
Of importance to journalism are the particular objectives of Ibsa, which include to
deepen South–South dialogue and cooperation;
intensify and enhance coordinated positions on issues of international importance;
promote the combination of the collective strengths of the countries into complimentary
synergies, to the benefit of all three regions;
further consolidate the three continents’ southern regions on all levels, by taking stock of the
broad range of Ibsa cooperation areas that would lead to technology, information and skills
transfers in the field of information and communications technology (ICT), as well as public
policies and social development, such as democracy and cultural diversity.
A workshop on journalism studies linking South African and Brazilian research was therefore seen
as opportune, given the above ideals regarding closer ties between countries in the South. Research
topics relating to the following issues were considered during the conference:
Important yet unexplored journalism issues shared by countries in the South, particularly South
Africa and Brazil, e.g. media and the coverage of crime, health and development journalism,
sport journalism, press freedom and nation building;
Popular media and citizenship in Brazil and South Africa, as these issues relate to the role of
the media in developing democracies within the context of globalisation;
The role of global media to facilitate or impede news flow between Brazil and South Africa
and South–South communication in general;
The challenges for journalism education, research and scholarly publication in Brazil and
South Africa;
Initiatives to promote bi-national graduate and postgraduate journalism scholarship, leading to
peer-reviewed publications.
The conference was the first step in the envisaged process of developing over the next five years
(2009–2013) closer research and publication cooperation between senior journalism researchers,
as well as university journalism departments, in South Africa and Brazil.
The articles in this issue compare journalism in South Africa and Brazil along the following lines:
journalism research (Pieter Fourie and Carlos Franciscato);
journalism education (Jeanne Prinsloo and Sérgio Mattos);
journalism scholarship publishing (Arnold S de Beer and Elias Machado);
political journalism (Herman Wasserman and Antonio Hohlfeldt) and
online journalism (Tanja Bosch and Marcos Palacios).
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Each of these topics is discussed first in the South African and then in the Brazilian context. Along
the way, interesting parallels emerge between the two countries that suggest a need for further
research. At the same time, the authors also take care to indicate the specificities of the local
contexts, which are in themselves marked by contestation and negotiation among the actors in the
journalistic endeavour. These negotiations, typical of countries which are still constructing the
terms of engagement between journalism, its publics and its surrounding political and economic
institutions, prevent us from viewing either South Africa or Brazil as a monolithic environment,
and present us with rich challenges for further comparative scholarly work ahead.
In his article, Pieter Fourie shows that such comparative research could focus on journalism from
the perspective of representation as a metatheory, which may reveal and emphasise important
and significant ontological and epistemological differences between South African and Brazilian
journalism research. In comparing the two journalisms’ ways of ‘telling their societies’ we may
find answers as to why South African journalism – especially news journalism – is caught up
in discourses of crisis and negativity, and why malicious joy often underlies the communication
style of South African news journalism, blinding us to solutions to the problems and challenges of
South African society. Recognising different ontological approaches to and thinking about the role
and function of journalism in Brazil can inform South African researchers about possibilities for
journalistic change and renewal. In his article, Carlos Franciscato shows how Brazilian researchers
in the field of journalism remain focused on contextual issues related not only to the communication
sciences, but also to broader society. Such a focus can be seen in the number of research projects
directed at trying to understand language, journalistic genres and formats, as well as at analysing
the social environment in which journalistic activity is able to employ theories and methods which
have been adopted from the social sciences arena.
Jeanne Prinsloo and Sérgio Mattos underscore the need for greater understanding of journalism in
Brazil and South Africa as countries in the global South, also as applies to journalism teaching.
Prinsloo argues that dialogue can enable journalism teachers to interrogate their knowledge and
practices in order to produce knowledge pertinent to the contexts of these two countries in the
South. Such interactions have the potential to contribute to a critical practice for social justice, and
to foster the kind of democracies citizens of two previously authoritarian countries in the South
desire. Journalism’s contribution to social justice in these two countries may especially be seen
in terms of economic conditions, as Brazil and South Africa are among the world’s most unequal
societies, as measured by the Gini coefficient. However, as Mattos indicates, journalism education
faces the perpetual challenge of having to justify its value not only for society at large, but also for
the media industry.
One of the main challenges confronting journalism researchers in South Africa and Brazil is to
access the Northern publication axis based largely in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Arnold S de Beer and Elias Machado discuss the peculiar situation journalism researchers in South
Africa and Brazil find themselves in when they seek publication outlets for their work, or when
journals have to find a market almost saturated by journals and monographs from the North. While
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Herman Wasserman and Arnold S de Beer
South African communication, media studies and journalism journals are now finding their feet
in the international (Western) publishing world, and Brazilian publications are also entering the
English-language market, journalism and communication journals in the two countries face very
much the same situation in terms of the improvement of national evaluation systems for the ranking
of publications; indexing on international databases; the greater penetration of the international
community by local researchers; and the increase in the number of annual issues, from two to at
least four per year.
Like Brazil, South Africa can be considered an emerging democracy in the global South. Both these
countries have emerged from first colonial rule and then an authoritarian government supported
by a strong military, but are now establishing themselves as regional economic powers, marked by
persisting vast socio-economic inequalities. Herman Wasserman shows how the role that the media
play in facilitating political communication in these countries is still influenced by legacies of the
past, while they face new challenges brought about by rapid social change in a globalised era.
As part of the transition from apartheid to a constitutional democracy, the South African media
landscape underwent major structural shifts in terms of ownership, editorial staffing and the
regulatory environment. Linked to the new political freedoms in the country after apartheid, the
media’s democratic role was formally acknowledged by enshrining press freedom in the new
constitution. This freedom was seen as entailing certain responsibilities, and the media entered into
a system of self-regulation, governed by ethical codes in order to fulfil their role in a developing
democracy. Antonio Hohlfeldt discusses how the Brazilian desire to know and voice an opinion
about everything which might be regarded as a true reflection of the facts, also finds reflection in
that country’s journalism. This need arises from a long history of informational and democratic
exclusion. Hohlfeldt describes the different stages in the democratisation of communication in
Brazil which might serve as a way to effectively attain the ultimate goal: the free and fair expression
of opinion in all the different forms of media.
In her article, Tanja Bosch explores and evaluates the growth of digital journalism in South Africa,
within the context of increased use of online social media in the field. She shows how local activists
are increasingly using mobile and online social networking to promote their events and causes,
and reach their constituencies. Similarly, journalists are using digital media to practise their craft,
reach new audiences, and sometimes even to change the notion of who practises journalism, as
in the case of citizen journalism. She provides an overview of emerging trends and theories in
the South African context, focusing particularly on the public sphere created by bloggers, citizen
journalism and journalists’ engagement with online social media. Antonio Hohlfeldt takes the
idea of globalised and glocalised networks of information further and shows how systematic
glocalisation involves making extensive changes in the production process by incorporating human
resources and expertise in enlarging, contextualising and enriching the news with a local focus.
In the absence of such a move, there is likely to be an increasing measure of homogeneity in the
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news coverage conducted in the mainstream media in Brazil, as information is almost exclusively
produced by the national and international news agencies concerned.
With these articles the editors and authors hope to lay the groundwork for further collaboration
between journalism educators and researchers in South African and Brazil, which could in future
also extend to other countries and regions in the global South which share contextual characteristics
that shape and inform their journalistic practices and ideologies.
Rao, S. 2010. The ‘local’ in global media ethics: A postcolonial perspective. Paper presented at the
second Global Media Ethics Roundtable, Dubai, UAE, March.
Thussu, D. (ed.). 2009. Internationalizing media studies. London: Routledge.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 148–171
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485362
The past, present and future of South African journalism
research, or: In search of a metatheory for South African
journalism research
Pieter J Fourie* 1
In view of the Brazil–South Africa Journalism Research Initiative, the purpose of this article is to provide an
introduction to some of the main themes and topics in South African (SA) journalism research, and to contribute
to the further theoretical conceptualisation of the initiative against the background of the opinion raised in
this article about the nature of SA journalism research. The article is structured around four arguments: how
the legacy of apartheid has guided, if not dictated, SA journalism research and continues to do so; how the
dichotomy of SA society, being both a Third and a First World, affects SA journalism research; how being primarily
quantitative, empirical research has produced a mainly self-reflexive and self-indulgent body of journalism
research and has obstructed the way for a more phenomenological approach to SA journalism, as being first
and foremost a communication phenomenon and a part of cultural production and the production of the SA
semiosphere of mediated meaning; and how representation could form a metatheory for future research and
contribute to the ontological and epistemological points of departure of the comparative research between
South Africa and Brazil.
Key words: Brazil, journalism research, journals, phenomenology, SAHRC, Sanef, South Africa, theoretical
A note on methodology: the article is not an overview based on empirical research for evidence of
past and present SA journalism research, but rather offers a personal impression, criticism and some
conceptual ideas about the past and future of journalism research in this country. This is done against
the background of the nature of a changed SA society and a changed media landscape, as a result of
technological, political, economic and cultural developments, all having an impact on journalism
and contributing to the so-called crisis of journalism. By approaching the topic of the article from
this perspective, the purpose is to contribute to the further conceptual development of the Brazil–
South Africa Journalism Research Initiative (BSA-JRI) and to further comparative research which
may be of a more empirical nature. For a more detailed overview of past SA journalism research
and a more in-depth treatment of the topics dealt with by SA journalism researchers, readers are
advised to consult the following SA research journals: Ecquid Novi: South African Journal of
Journalism Research (recently renamed Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies) (see especially
Volume 25(2) 2004, devoted to 25 years of journalism research); Rhodes Journalism Review;
Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research; Communitas:
Journal for Community Communication and Information Impact; Communicare: Journal for
Pieter Fourie is professor in the Department of Communication Science, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa.
E-mail: [email protected]
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The past, present and future of South African journalism research ...
Communication Sciences in Southern Africa; Critical Arts: A journal of South–North Cultural and
Media Studies, and smf: Stellenbosch Media Forum (a student publication dealing with journalistic
After a brief overview of some of the main themes in SA journalism research (past and present),
the article looks at select characteristics of the changed society and the changed media environment
which determine, if not dictate, the field of journalism research internationally and locally. This
is followed by a brief overview of some of the main journalism research issues. The emphasis
is on journalism and its relationship to a new kind of democracy, the commercialised quality of
journalism and its loss of authenticity, media ethics in the changed society and media environment,
journalism and the pressure to indigenise, and journalism and/for development. The main
theoretical approaches from which these issues are researched internationally and in South Africa,
are introduced. It is then argued that despite these approaches, and despite the numerous research
projects and topics arising from them, there is, especially in SA journalism research, still no coherent
perspective from which journalism, as a human communication phenomenon and part of broader
cultural production, is approached and investigated. It is suggested that key constructs in the study
of communication, such as ‘dialogue’, ‘meaning’ and ‘representation’, could be considered as a
metatheory. The article concludes with an explanation of how representation, for example, could
be applied as a metatheory for journalism research.
The legacy of apartheid
That the politics, culture, economics and people of a society have an impact on a country’s
journalism, is undeniable. This is also the case in South Africa, where the recent history2 of
journalism and journalism research was, for example, dictated by apartheid and its policies
and politics. To a great extent one can argue that the history of SA journalism and journalism
research is a history of the representation of apartheid ideology, politics and policies, although it
is seldom researched and/or described from the perspective of representation, as will be argued
later on. The relationship between journalism research and apartheid (implicitly or explicitly) is
expounded by SA researchers such as Berger (1998, 2007), De Beer (2000, 2008), Duncan (2003,
2008), Wasserman (2006a & b), Wasserman and De Beer (2005), Steenveld (2004, 2007, 2008),
Tomaselli (2000, 2009), Tomaselli and Nothling (2008), Teer-Tomaselli and Tomaselli (2001) and
Fourie (1991, 2002, 2007a, 2009). De Beer (2008) argues, for example, that most work on SA
journalism research has been conducted within the confines of the legacies of higher education
under apartheid, and thereafter as part (or not part) of the struggle against apartheid. It has always
been characterised by a confrontational emphasis on us (whites – P.J.F.) versus them (blacks –
P.J.F.) – stereotypes in news and topics related to racial inclusion/exclusion. De Beer also classifies
journalism, and journalism training and education in schools, paradigms and approaches, on the
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Pieter J Fourie
basis of their political positions and relationship(s) with and to the apartheid government which,
according to him, determined (to a great extent) the schools or departments’ approaches to research
and their syllabi. According to De Beer (2008), these ‘long-standing ideological schisms’ made it
very difficult to achieve a coherent journalism research platform. He argues that only now are these
divisions beginning to disappear (ibid.: 191).
The more recent history of SA journalism research (after the end of apartheid in 1994) is
characterised – and strongly directed, if not dominated – by two landmark studies: the South
African Human Rights Commission’s (SAHRC) study on the SA media and race (2000), and the
commissioned skills audit of the South African Editors’ Forum (Sanef), in two parts, on journalism
skills in the media industry (Steyn & De Beer 2002) and on managerial competencies among firstline news managers in South Africa’s mainstream media newsrooms (Steyn, De Beer & Steyn
2005). A third UNESCO study by Berger (2007), on centers of excellence in journalism education
in Africa, can be added to this list. In the first study, the emphasis is obviously on apartheid and its
impact on the content of news. The Sanef studies implicitly take as point of departure the impact of
the apartheid education system on journalism skills. These studies were conducted under the sword
of what Sparks (2009: 15) refers to as Nelson Mandela’s ‘concerns about the ethical limitations’ of
the existing journalists in news offices, even before he took up the presidency – something which
continued throughout Thabo Mbeki’s term of office, in other words, concerns about black media
ownership, regulation and the absence of black people in editorial and production offices and
studios (see also Tomaselli 2002; Wasserman 2006d.)
The SAHRC’s study was received with considerable criticism of the methodologies used by the
researchers and their ideologically biased views (see, for example, Fourie 2007b; Olorunnisola
2006; Steenveld 2007; Tomaselli 2000). Nevertheless, Steenveld (2007) points out two important
consequences resulting from the SAHRC research. She argues that two key discourses emerged
from the study, as dealt with by various scholars and researchers:
The investigation’s threat to press freedom and the illegitimacy of any form of state intervention
in media performance;
Given the history of (part) of the South African media’s (silent) support for the apartheid
state, the ‘need for any democracy to protect freedom of expression but also to question media
performance as a legitimate part of civil society’s participation in maintaining democratic
practice’ (Steenveld 2007: 108).
To this can be added continued research in South Africa on the power relationship(s) between
the government and the media, and the government’s continued efforts to interfere with the
independence and autonomy of the media (especially public broadcasting). (See, in this regard,
Fourie 2009 for an overview of government interference and threats to the media, and Milo’s 2009
overview of such threats in ‘Chilly winds are blowing around South African media’.)
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The past, present and future of South African journalism research ...
Freedom of expression – what it is, what the threats to it are in a young democracy, how views
about freedom of expression are based on and related to ideologies and world and life views,
and how (and if) it can be indigenised – is a topic of popular and serious academic concern in
SA journalism circles, and of an increasing number of Masters’ and doctoral studies (see the
2000–2009 editions of Rhodes Journalism Review, Ecquid Novi, Communicatio, and the special
edition of the Afrikaans journal Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe on freedom of expression [Vol.
49, March 2009]). In the context of post-colonial studies, there is increasing emphasis in African
media studies and journalism research to find answers to the questions of freedom of expression,
and, closely related to that, of media ethics and normative theory about the role of the media in
society, from an African epistemological perspective. See, in this regard, for example, the entire
Ecquid Novi 25(2) 2004, the work of Berger (1998), Fourie (2007a), Tomaselli (2009), Wasserman
(2006a) and Wasserman and De Beer (2004). For an overview of the debate in the rest of Africa,
see the journals African Communication Research, Journal of African Media Studies and Global
Media Journal – Africa Edition.
An additional outcome of the SAHRC study was that it led various media organisations (newspapers,
radio and television stations, regulatory and journalism organisations) to develop and/or revise codes
of conduct with an emphasis on racial sensitivity. For copies of codes of conduct, including how to
deal with race, see the websites of SA newspapers, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of
South Africa, Sanef, The Press Council of South Africa, and the Press Ombudsman, etc.
Furthermore, the topic of media and race has become almost a standard component of SA journalism
research and education (see Steenveld [2008] for an example of teaching and learning outcomes
related to media and race). The entire edition of Ecquid Novi 21(2) 2000 is devoted to media and
race, dealing, inter alia, with the role of the media in apartheid, as it was dealt with by the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The task of the commission was to investigate and document
gross human rights violations under apartheid, both in and outside South Africa, in the period
1960–1994 (see TRC 1998).3 Also see the special ‘TRC and the media’ edition of the Rhodes
Journalism Review 14(May) 1997.
Much of SA media law and regulation (see, for example, Fourie 2008b and Van Heerden 2008)
deals with race. The purpose is to address racial injustices of the past. The emphasis in legislation
and regulation is often on racial equity and transformation in the media industry, and focuses on
media ownership, employment, media production, media distribution and access to and within the
media – in short, on how to redress the racial inequities of apartheid policy and for current political
leaders, such as Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, to have South African (and African) realities presented from
an African perspective. Despite occasional outbursts by politicians that the SA media is still racist
(see Fourie 2002, 2009), Daniels (2005), nevertheless points out that the majority of journalists
in SA newsrooms today are black, but that they (the journalists themselves) are not identifying
purely on race terms, and are not kowtowing to the ruling party’s desire for a more loyal media.
The press appears to be loyal to its role of being watchdogs and holding power to account, rather
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than being crude race reductionists (Daniels 2009: 11). It is for this reason that some politicians still
experience the media as racist. Daniels goes on to show how the Forum for Black Journalists4 has
‘dwindled into nothing’ in favour of a new multiracial journalist forum, Projourn.
This, however, does not mean that racial issues are not constantly the topic of reports in and by the
SA media. On the contrary, being a mirror of society, the local media expose an ongoing if not an
escalating racist society, urging Makhanya (2009: 12) to write that ‘ … we should be very afraid
of the spectre of racial discourse that is reasserting itself in our national life, as is happening now.
Be it in the form of increasingly re-emerging white racism or in pockets of African chauvinism, it
is something that can easily throw us back two decades.’
It is this racist discourse and, related to it, questions of identity (especially Afrikaner identity), as
reported by the media, that are of growing interest in SA journalism research. See, in this regard,
Wasserman’s (2010) discourse analysis of news coverage of a 2009 racist incident at a historically
white, Afrikaans university. In his analysis, Wasserman shows how ‘ … the precarious balance
between the liberal consensus of individual rights and freedom of expression on the one hand
(in the Afrikaans press) and the imperative to carry a torch for Afrikaans cultural identity’ on the
other hand, surfaced in coverage of the event. Closely related to this analysis is Botma’s discourse
analysis of shifting nationalism in the SA media in relation to two victories in the Rugby World
Cup (RWC) tournaments (in 1995 and 2007 respectively). He shows how the dominant discourse
in 1995 of reconciliation and the ‘rainbow nation’ changed in 2007 to that of ‘Africanness’ and
transformation (see Botma 2010). The above are only two of a growing number of discourse (and
qualitative) analyses of SA journalism. One of the first was Fourie’s 1991 analysis of how the
Afrikaans press communicated the ‘other’ (black people) through metaphors of war. Apart from
news analyses, there are many examples of how the so-called ‘smiling’ media genres (Hartley
2000), such as fictional television genres (for example, soap operas) are analysed in terms of race,
identity and xenophobia.
Recent topics and themes
Other recent prominent topics in SA journalism research are development journalism or journalism
for development (cf. Banda 2006a & b), the commercialisation of journalism and/or tabloid
journalism (cf. the complete issue of Rhodes Journalism Review 25 November 2005; Strelitz
2005; Wasserman 2006b & c; Wasserman & Du Bois 2009) and journalism ethics (cf. Fourie
2005c, 2007a; Tomaselli 2009; Ward & Wasserman 2008; Wasserman 2006a & d).
Given that South Africa is part of the developing world, and development is a vital topic in SA
society, journalism for development is often a motivation for SA journalism research. Development
and journalism are mainly dealt with in terms of the role of journalism education for development
(cf. McCurdy & Power 2007, in the special edition of Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies
on journalism education in Africa; and Berger 2007). Apart from the emphasis on journalism
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education for development, increasing focus is also on how journalism can accommodate people
in local communities (at grassroots level), and how journalism can articulate citizens’ views, needs
and interests, and communicate these to the local, regional and national levels of government.
What also receives considerable attention in the development paradigm is the gap between the
modernised elite sector and the majority who live in poverty, and the effects thereof on access
to media – the so-called digital divide. This kind of is research is, however, done more in the
field of information and communication technology (including telecommunications), and not so
much in media and journalism research. Nevertheless, what is important to note, is that a new
development paradigm is emerging from within Africa that may affect thinking about journalism
and development in a radical way (cf., amongst others, Ansu-Kyeremeh [2005], who calls
attention to the need for mediated communication to take into account the cultural characteristics
of African communication, should journalism wish to contribute to development; and Joy
Morrison [in Ansu-Kyeremeh 2005: 16]). These characteristics include, inter alia, acknowledging
the importance of the symbolic power of words, the need for communication to project mood
and atmosphere, the multimodal nature of African communication (including singing, dance,
drama, storytelling, rhetorical speaking and the effective use of proverbs), acknowledging that all
communication is expected to teach, that all public communication should have as its purpose to
communicate community values, that it should comply with the demands of the art of rhythmic
discussion ‘palaver’ (chatter/gossip), and to take into account that African styles of communication
are not just incidental, but incorporate fundamental cultural values (see also White 2008). All
these ‘characteristics’ of African communication, if researched thoroughly, could bring about a
fundamental change in journalistic style.
The topics of commercialisation, journalism ethics and the threat to the future of the print media
are dealt with below in the context of the brief overview of the crisis of journalism, which has
not left SA journalism untouched. After all, one of the dichotomies of South Africa is that it is
both a First and a Third World. Despite extreme poverty and desperate development needs in
terms of employment, education, health services, housing, basic literacy and so on, it also has an
advanced economy and a First-World media system experiencing the same threats, challenges and
opportunities in a new media landscape. For an overview of the nature and characteristics of the
globalised society, and of the new digitised, converged, interactive, fragmented and pluralised new
media landscape, see, for example, Fourie 2010.
The purpose of the above overview was to give an impression of the emphasis in SA journalism
research. From this overview it is evident that matters related to race, inequity, freedom of
expression (democratisation) and indigenisation dominate the scene – all of these issues are closely
related to and stem from the very history and fabric of SA society. However, as discussed below,
matters arising from the so-called crisis of journalism, including tabloid journalism and a renewed
emphasis on ethics (as referred to above), are also dealt with.
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The new society and the new media landscape
Insofar as it affects media communication, it will suffice to point out that the new society is
characterised by hybridity, fragmentation, new kinds of democracy and globalisation, but also
increased ‘glocalisation’ and ‘localisation’, as well as an abundance and pluralism in terms of
cultural goods and products – including media products. The new media landscape is characterised,
inter alia, by new distribution platforms, the blurring of genres, interactivity, the convergence of
public and private media, changed audiences and niche markets.
The changed media environment has also brought about significant changes to the journalism
profession. To name a few, the new media workforce is more educated, there is a greater professional
consciousness, and with the development of information and communication technology, there are
almost radical new processes and techniques of production (see Heinonen & Luostarinen 2008;
Reese 2008). In so far as the political economy of the new media is concerned, McNair (2005: 151–
163) argues that there is a move away from the ‘old control paradigm’ in critical political economy,
in which media audiences were seen to be the victims of a power (market) elite (cf. the work of
critics such as Herman & Chomsky 2002; McChesney 1997), to what he describes as the ‘chaos
paradigm’. With this he means that the media, and particularly the mainstream media, increasingly
tend to be disruptive, subversive and iconoclastic in their relationship to power.
The environments in which journalists work – across the various media platforms (print, radio,
television, video, Internet, mobile) – are constantly changing in response to new technological
innovations, changing media policy, changing audience needs and expectations, and fragmented
markets. All this affects journalists’ employment, their perceptions of their professional roles, their
professional values, and practices. Most of all, grave concern exists about the future of the print
In dealing with these issues, the United Kingdom’s (UK) Open University departs from the premise
that ‘ … these are troubled times for journalism. One commentator after the next is declaring the
conviction that journalism is in a state of crisis, even in danger of losing its place at the heart of
democratic society’ (Allan 2005: 1).
In trying to pin-point this ‘crisis’, four main research concerns (and thus areas for increased
research) are usually highlighted: (1) mainstream journalism’s lack of response to the new kind of
democracy in society, politics and culture; (2) technology and media convergence; (3) consumerism
and the quality of journalism; and (4) the search for a new ethics in a new society and a new media
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As far as democracy is concerned, critics – including journalists themselves – agree that the media
often fail their democratic responsibilities. Allan (2005: 89) calls this the ‘media malaise’. In general
(and this ties in with African thinking about the relationship between media and democracy) (cf.
Ansu-Kyeremeh 2005), it is argued that it is necessary for the media to play a more radical role
in public deliberation politics. Radical democracy and thinking about democracy in a radical way
should guide journalists, media owners and media and journalism researchers, to develop a more
‘thoroughgoing view of democracy as not just a set of procedural rules, but a societal environment
which nourishes developmental power – everyone’s equal right to “the full developmental use of
their capacities”’ (Hackett 2005: 92 ). It should be a democracy in which democratic values direct
every form of citizen participation in decision making (also in journalism) and in which equity is
prioritised as a core principle of democracy – not only equal political and legal rights, but equal
access to wealth and power, including access to media.
Radical democrats endorse the watchdog and public sphere expectations of journalism, but add
and emphasise the role of journalism in enabling horizontal communication between subordinate
groups, including social movements as agents of democratic renewal. Journalism is and should
foremost be to give a public voice to civil society; it should expand the scope of public awareness
of events and voices outside of the agendas of the elites; and should counteract power inequalities
found in other spheres of the social order. Should journalism not achieve this, it has failed.
As referred to above, the development of information and communication technology and new
media and the convergence between different public communication mediums have had a huge
impact on the ways in which journalism is practised today. Online publishing and do-it-yourself
journalism (for example, blogs, chat rooms, electronic interest groups, etc.) almost redefine old
ways of thinking, and new theories about key constructs in journalism, such as time, space,
objectivity, factuality and authenticity are needed.
In short, as Heinonen and Luostarinen (2008) contend, technological reasoning is increasingly
underlying all decision-taking and -making in journalism. Consequently, journalism is in danger
of succumbing to technological determinism. This has vast consequences for journalism practice
and eventually for journalism research. Most of all, grave concern exists about the future of the
print media. On the future existence of the print media in this environment, and especially in South
Africa, see Harber’s (2009) views on the decline of the SA mainstream print media and the need
for an international consortium of publishers who could negotiate and fix prices and costs in the
industry. Research to safeguard the future of the print media, especially in developing countries
with their limited access to new media, is of grave importance.
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Quality and the loss of authenticity
A third research concern is the often questionable quality of journalism.5 The main unease is the
commercialisation and changed culture of journalism, which has brought about a decrease in
impact and a loss of authenticity.
One of many critics, Franklin (2005: 137–149), refers to the emphasis on celebrity reporting and on
live, interactive and talk programmes, and a rise in tabloid journalism, as ‘McNugget journalism’
(after McDonaldisation). This kind of journalism is practised under the charade of being more
democratic, because of the so-called ‘voice’ it gives to viewers, listeners and readers, which the
top-down journalism of the past did not do. However, it boils down to tidbit sound bite, image
bite and tabloid journalism without depth, which can hardly claim to be of a high quality and
At one of the sessions of the 2009 ICA conference in Chicago, in the United States (US), the crisis of
journalism was explored by probing key terms in journalism, such as ‘objectivity’, ‘engagement’,
‘accountability’, ‘public interest’, ‘advocacy’ and ‘trust’. Amongst others, the authors concluded
that as far as objectivity is concerned, it is in decay as a journalistic doctrine; that the mainstream
media have become extremely opinionated; that although journalists seem to be committed to
and endorse objectivity, they nevertheless see it as an unrealistic ideal; and that objectivity does
not guide journalists’ decision making. In short, objectivity ‘is a great blockbuster myth’ (Tiffen
2009). ‘Public interest’ is whatever the journalist/editor wants it to be. Journalists agree that it is
difficult to define public interest, because the goalposts shift all the time (Morrison 2009). As for
advocacy journalism, Waisbord (2009) finds it difficult, of late, to differentiate between advocacy
and professional journalism (objective journalism), making it difficult to distinguish between news
and issue-related reporting. As a result of news fabrication – especially on the Internet – trust in
journalism is radically on the decline (McNair 2009).
Insofar as journalism on the Internet and its quality are concerned, the American philosopher
Dreyfus (2001; 2004) warns that we are back to the criticism of philosophers such as Kierkegaard,
Mill, Tocqueville and Ortega, who held the press of that time responsible for the decline of 19thcentury society, the rise of the tyranny of the masses, and for creating a public sphere conducive
to risk-free anonymity and idle curiosity. In this way the press undermined a responsible and
committed public, destroyed qualitative distinctions (also between people), and contributed to
a nihilistic ‘so-what’ life and world view. Dreyfus (as one of many critics of the Internet) also
argues that the Internet creates a journalistic platform or space in which it is difficult to distinguish
between relevancy and irrelevancy, fact and fakery, the authenticity of identity and the authenticity
of community.
With the exception of recent SA research about tabloid journalism (see earlier references to, for
example, the work of Wasserman, Berger and Strelitz), research about the quality of SA journalism
is scarce. One of the reasons may be that SA journalism schools (departments) often have (too)
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close ties with newspaper (media) groups and owners. Fourie (2005b) writes about the need for
educators to focus on the thinking of journalists (intellectual development), and not just on the
skills requirements and codified (habitual) journalistic practices of (and prescribed by) media
groups and media owners, in order to raise the quality of journalism in South Africa.
Media ethics
Concerns about the quality of journalism lead to questions of a normative kind on the role of
journalism and the journalist in society, and focuses attention on the need for research about media
ethics. A vast amount of research has been forthcoming, which is indicative of the renewed interest
in ethics after decades of neglect. For example, Keeble (2005) identifies five categories of present
discourses about journalism ethics:
A cynical, amoral approach, with the profit motif as the only concern;
An ethical relativist approach, focusing on formal codes of ethics;
A standard professional approach, which stresses journalist’s commitment to agreed
professional and trade union codes of ethics;
A liberal-professional approach, focusing almost entirely on mainstream issues and in which,
for example, the decline of the public service ethos in the media (particularly broadcasting) is
The radical approach, in which professional perspectives of the free press, democracy public
interest, objectivity and neutrality are exposed as myths.
Keeble (2005)7 suggests that the debate about media ethics should break with old dualities (such
as, for example, objectivity vs. subjectivity) to rather focus on the authenticity of communication.
With this he provides a substantial position for SA journalism research about the indigenisation
of ethics or finding an ethics based on the principles of an indigenous life and world view (see the
earlier SA work by, for example, Ward & Wasserman 2008). The new emphasis on dialogue and
authentic communication, and on journalism as dialogue and authentic communication, returns us
to the important phenomenological work on communication done in the 1980s in South Africa by
Van Schoor (1986), and which can again be used as a framework for future journalism research.
Quantitative and qualitative research
Research about the topics and issues referred to above (the list is not exhaustive) is mainly done
from empirical and quantitative methodological perspectives. The theory underlying most of SA
journalism research is largely based on empirical epistemologies. The methods are quantitative
content analysis,8 survey and field research for audience analyses and for research about/in
the profession (for example journalists’ perceptions, experiences, training, gender and racial
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representativeness, etc.), and a triangulation of methods for the analysis of the media’s political
economy and its impact on journalism. Qualitative analyses are few and far between. Examples are
discourse analysis (cf. Wasserman 2010), semiotic analyses, and to a certain extent studies such as
Steyn’s Whiteness just isn’t what it used to be: White identity in a changing South Africa (2001)
(and how journalism reflects this).
In terms of theory, SA journalism research, like most journalism research (cf. Löffelholz, Weaver
and Schwartz [2008], Hanitzsch [2006] and Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch [2009]), is usually guided
by systems theory, critical political economy theory, ideology theory, Habermasian-enthused
theory of the public sphere, and Western-inspired democracy theory. Presently there are attempts
to challenge these theoretical perspectives from indigenous perspectives (as referred to earlier).
The majority of research, also in SA, about gatekeeping, news values, framing, journalism
organisations, the journalistic profession, the relationships between management and journalists,
and journalists’ own assessments of changes and changing practices in the profession, are done
within systems theory.
A problem with systems theory, though, as pointed out by Ruhl (2008: 33), is that
journalism (as a system) operates circularly, without a known beginning and without a foreseeable end
... Journalistic repertoires of possibilities in social memories are texts produced in agencies and other
journalistic organizations, in internet, journals, books, archives, and libraries, realized through psychic
memories. Journalism systems construct and sustain themselves in this way.
Much of the research done under the umbrella of systems theory thus still tells us little about
the nature and essence of journalism as a communication phenomenon and as part of cultural
production, which is one of the main shortcomings of journalism research.
Many examples in SA journalism research (in fact, the work of the majority of SA authors referred
to in this article) can be cited as being in the tradition of critical political economy, ideology and
democracy theory, and public sphere criticism. Once more, apartheid and its effects on SA society,
its intellectual life, academia and social research are probably the main reasons behind this. It can
be argued that SA journalism research has – in the context of critical theory and as practised in
local cultural, journalism and media studies – become part of a macro struggle against inequity (of
whatever kind). Critical ideology and democracy theory, as a foundation of SA journalism research,
is still the main paradigm for research on new and rising racism,9 xenophobia, homophobia and
identity crises.
With reference to the methodologies in SA research, one can also keep in mind Hartley’s comment
the cultural [studies and critical theory – P.J.F.] approach is not associated with agreed methodology.
Because of its heterogeneous and interdisciplinary nature, one of its distinctive features over the years
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has been ‘reflexivity’, which in brief means recognising the position of the investigator both politically
and as a knowing subject. Indeed, it is an interventionist form of analysis; its proponents want to
change the world, not merely to understand it; many of its writers seek to produce activists. (2008: 42)
Despite the continued dominance of critical theory (in all its forms) in SA journalism research,
structuration theory (as initiated by Anthony Giddens and Mosco’s understanding of the political
economy of the media in contrast to the ‘classic’ political economy of Garnham, McChesney,
Chomsky, etc.), as well as Schimank’s theory of ‘actor-structure dynamics’ (in which elements of
institutional, systems, and action theories are connected) are, however, beginning to take root in SA
journalism research. This is seen in the growing emphasis on, and further research in, the field of
access to media and media markets, media literacy and media policy. Although this research does
not concern journalism as such, it may nevertheless have an impact on journalism (cf. research done
by the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF), own or commissioned research
by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) and the government’s
Department of Communications). The motivation for research based on structuration and actorstructure-dynamics theory is the impact of new information and communication technologies on
the SA media system, and ultimately on the production, nature and quality of journalism, media
organisations, ownership patterns and regulation.
Another method and theory (or approach) that is on the rise in SA journalism research is
comparative research. There are increasing examples of such research in South African and African
communication, cultural, media and journalism journals, conferences and seminars. The emphasis
is again mainly on journalism training and educational matters, also and especially in the field
of new media (cf. the School of Journalism at Rhodes University’s Highway Africa Project).
However, as referred to earlier, there are also increasing comparative debates about media and
democracy, monitoring freedom of expression, and indigenising journalism practices and ethics.
Other examples of comparative research are Du Plessis’ (2005) ‘What’s news in South Africa?’ in
Shoemaker and Cohen’s News around the world: Content, practitioners, and the public (2005),
and more recently De Beer’s (2008) ‘South African journalism research: Challenging paradigmatic
schisms and finding a foothold in an era of globalization’ in Löffelholz, Weaver and Schwarz’s
Global journalism research: Theories, methods, findings, future (2008).
The BSA-JRI, introduced in this special theme issue of Communicatio, may contribute to a better
understanding in South Africa of Latin-American ontological thinking about the power of the media
and journalism. The Latin-American ‘approach’ is not well known locally, despite its resemblance
to African thinking about the media. For instance, Latin-American research departs from an
ontological perspective in which media and journalism are seen as an integral part of people’s lives.
Western thinking places the media and journalism almost on a pedestal, as something special and
unique above the people, as a mirror of society, and as such detached from society and its people.
Latin-American thinking, however, as expressed in the work of, for instance, Martín-Barbero
(1993) and García Canclini (2001), sees the media and all its genres (including journalism) as a
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space that is not conditioned by a media elite, but rather by the people, for the people. As Berry
(2006: 192) formulates it: ‘ … the means of communication and elements of the content therein
contain aspects of an historical experience relating to the people within contemporary society and
this is conditioned by the memory of the people and their culture’. Part of this culture is their
In other words, there is an ontological shift from seeing and focusing on media and journalism as
powerful instruments, to seeing the media and journalism as in integral part of a society’s culture.
Martín-Barbero and García Canclini also emphasise the persisting and enduring role of media,
including journalism and popular culture, as part of people’s culture in the processes of human
This way of thinking about journalism which is, as previously mentioned, closer to the African
emphasis on community (cf., for example, Fourie 2007a; White 2008), also moves us closer to
Bourdieu’s field theory.10 In this theory, Bourdieu emphasises media and journalism as part of
cultural production. He distinguishes between small-scale and restricted (cultural) production and
large-scale (grande) or mass production of which journalism and the media, with their complex
production systems, are good examples. Each field is structured by possible positions in them
which, although not worked out by Bourdieu himself, open the space for the recognition of various
genres within journalism (Hesmondhalgh 2006: 214–215).
But, as Hesmondhalgh (2006: 223) points out, despite Bourdieu’s penetrating criticism of the
journalistic profession based on his theory of habitus and symbolic power, his work primarily
remains a theory about media power, similar to the critical political economy of Herbert Schiller
and his disciples. It is rather Bourdieu’s associates (cf. Patrick Champagne 2005; Dominique
Marchetti 2005) who have focused our attention on the important topic of interconnectedness in
journalism, and how a model of the interconnectedness and relationship of fields to questions of
power could provide an alternative to liberal pluralism and the reductionist critical accounts of
cultural and media studies’ political economy. Describing and explaining the interconnectedness
of journalistic fields can provide us with a better understanding of the phenomenological nature of
journalism, as cultural production and as part of the mediasphere of meaning.
However, with the work of Bourdieu and his associates, in sync with the opinions of journalism
scholars such as Allan (2005); Löffelholz (2008); Scheufele (1999); Schwarz (2008); WahlJorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009); Weaver and Hesmondhalgh (2006) and Zelizer (2008; 2009), a
new view about the ontological and epistemological problems (complexities) underlying journalism
research, also in South Africa, is emerging.
In this new view, journalism research is seen to be done too often in an anecdotal, random,
fragmented and mainly self-reflexive way. It is reductionist and focuses too much on the profession,
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and then too often only on the periphery of the profession. Journalism research is based on an
integrationist, empirical sociology of culture, and a strand of political economy which fails to take
cognizance of the interrelatedness and interconnection of different journalistic fields and of seeing
journalism as part of the broader field of cultural production. By not being seen and researched as
a fundamental part of cultural production, journalism research has lost the art of focusing on and
describing content, form and substance, and thus of critiquing the quality of journalism.
In short: journalism research lacks phenomenological depth and seldom departs from the perspective
of a metatheory about the nature of journalism as a phenomenon. As such, journalism is first and
foremost mass/public communication (and lately interactive mass communication). However, it
seems as if communication itself has disappeared from journalism research.
If communication is taken as the point of departure for journalism research, then many
communication metatheories can be brought into play. Examples are dialogic theory (journalism
as dialogue), rhetorical theory (journalism as rhetoric), semiotic theory (journalism as meaning
production and distribution), and journalism as representation (journalism as an agency and
journalism as a mirror). For the purpose of this article, representation is briefly introduced as
an example of such a metatheory. The aim is to show how all journalistic research problems,
topics, questions, issues, approaches and criticisms, as referred to above, could be addressed from
the perspective of representation as a metatheory or ontological and epistemological point of
departure. The point of departure is that all forms (genres) and interconnected fields of journalism
as a communication phenomenon and as cultural production are primarily about representation, in
the sense of journalism being representative of someone or something, and representation in the
sense of depicting/portraying/describing.
Representation as a metatheory for journalism research
What is meant with ‘representation’? Definitions distinguish between the use of the concept in
terms of journalism representing and being the representative of the public/people/citizens, in
other words, representation in terms of representing someone or a group. It concerns position and
agency. It also applies to the representativeness of different groups (gender/race/sexual orientation/
ethnicity/the disabled) in media organisations, and different media owners being representative of
the diversity of society. All journalism research about the profession and its role and functions in
society could be done from the perspective of this interpretation, for example, SA research about
the representativeness of race and gender in media organisations, about access, ownership, use and
application (media literacy), policy and regulation, journalism education, freedom of expression
and the right to freedom of expression. Whatever the research questions, theory and methodology
used for this research, it could depart from the perspective of representation.
The second meaning of ‘representation’ concerns the content, form and substance of journalism.
It is about journalism depicting, portraying, describing, reflecting, imaging and telling the
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‘stories’ of the world and its people. It is about journalism representing the public interest or any
interest (public interest, being in South Africa, for example, a key issue in present debates about
indigenising [Africanising] normative media theory). All research about the quality and production
of journalism could depart from this perspective on journalism as representation. This perspective
closely ties up with the view of journalism as cultural production (Bourdieu), Hartley’s (2000)
position on the redactional (editing/structuring) nature of journalism,11 and growing insight into
journalism as part of the semiosphere of meaning or the mediasphere of meaning (Fourie 2010b;
Lotman 1990).
In this sense the term ‘representation’ has a long history as a metatheory in describing all forms
of symbolic expression. Acknowledging journalism as cultural production, as being redactional
and part of the semiosphere of meaning, presupposes the acknowledgement of journalism as a
symbolic form of expression. All of this constitutes the nature of journalism as a communication
phenomenon (one which is fundamentally a symbolic form of expression similar to literature/the
Throughout history, philosophers, writers, human scientists, historians and artists, have been asking questions about and seeking answers to the understanding and meaning of representation (cf.
Reid 2008 for an overview of the concept of representation).
In Western academia, such thinking is traced back to Plato’s concern about the falseness and/or
fakeness of the imitation of reality, and to Aristotle’s appreciation of imitation as an interpretation
of reality. Here, already, we can begin to map out today’s concerns or many of the issues linked to
the question of whether or not journalism is a true or false portrayal of something/somebody, its
authenticity, its truthfulness, and concerns about journalistic processes of selecting and defining
what is news. In the Middle Ages, Thomas of Aquinas, for example, was concerned with symbolic
representations of God, and Galileo emphasised representations as scientific indicators. This was
followed in the Enlightenment with, for example, Immanuel Kant’s concerns about the relationship
between truth and representation. Many of the answers and ways of thinking about representation
of these philosophers can contribute to dealing with today’s concerns about the authenticity,
objectivity, reliability and truthfulness of journalism.
In the so-called age of media, the invention and development of photography initiated substantial
debates about journalistic representations as being inherently an abstraction of reality, in the sense
of being space-time structured portrayals of reality, or an aspect thereof. Theories like these, one
can argue, form the core of film theory and media semiotics, and do not only relate to images but
also to language and the media’s use of language to construct representations or ‘tell stories’.
The cognitive psychological approaches from which concerns about gate-keeping, agenda-setting,
framing, news selection and news values are researched, seldom take note of perception theory,
in which representation is a fundamental concept. Perception and representation are the topics of
rigorous theorising and investigation into, for example, the arts, and of late, visual communication
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studies. An understanding of perceptual theories of eminent theorists such as art historians Ervin
Panofsky and Ernest Gombrich could go a long way towards contributing to understanding many of
the questions raised in today’s journalism research about journalists’ perceptions of reality, as well
as journalism’s creation of perceptions through agenda-setting, framing and mapping. Panofsky
emphasised, amongst others, the iconic nature of representations and Gombrich the schematic
nature thereof. By so doing, they emphasised that no such thing as an innocent eye exists; that
all representations (visual and linguistically) are only traces of the truth and reality based on
preconceived social-cultural understandings of reality and schemata. The value of these theories
and insights, for a more fundamental understanding of the nature of journalism as visio-linguistic
interpretation of reality, is self-evident.
When it comes to probably one of the most prominent topics in journalism research, namely the
inherent ideological nature of journalism, the work of structualist, post-structuralist and postmodern
theorists such as Roland Barthes and his emphasis on the production and nature of social myths
(as represented in and by journalism), Louis Althusser’s exploration of the media (journalism)
as part of ‘state apparatuses’ to represent and sustain dominant ideology, and Foucault’s work
on the ideological nature of discourse and discourses as ideological representations, is too often
underemphasised in topics such as gate-keeping, agenda-setting and framing.
Journalism seldom researches itself as part of the culture of mediated meaning. In this regard,
the work of Baudrillard on the media – and especially on the ways the visual media create a
hyper-reality and a simulacrum of the real – may contribute to a more fundamental understanding
of electronic and especially Internet journalism, and the issues created for journalism related to
the so-called virtual public sphere and virtual communities. The same applies to the work of, for
example, Nicholas Mirzoeff on the visualisation of modern life through media representations.
The benefit of this wide use and thinking about representation in a variety of disciplines and
applications is that it provides communication and journalism scholars with hindsight and
better insight into the possibilities and problems of representation as a metatheory for mediated
As far as comparative research is concerned (which is the purpose of the BSA-JRI project and the
reason for this article), focusing on journalism research from the perspective of representation as a
metatheory may, as suggested earlier, reveal and emphasise important and significant ontological
and epistemological differences between SA and Brazilian journalism research. In comparing the
two journalisms’ ways of ‘telling their societies’ (Hartley 2000), we may find answers as to why
SA journalism – especially news journalism – is caught up in discourses of crisis and negativity,
and why malicious joy often underlies the communication style of SA news journalism, blinding
us to solutions to the problems and challenges of our society. Recognising different ontological
approaches to and thinking about the role and function of journalism can inform SA researchers
about possibilities for journalistic change and renewal.
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Pieter J Fourie
The purpose of the article was to give an impression of the content and nature of past and present SA
journalism research. The article does not pretend to be a comprehensive overview. Four arguments
were raised:
It was argued that SA journalism research and its topics have been, to a large extent, determined
by apartheid, hence the emphasis on race, racial stereotypes, racial issues, equity in journalism and
journalistic matters, and the need for education and skills. Until today the relics of colonialism and
apartheid infuse and emphasise research about the importance of freedom of expression, journalism
and democracy, and on research of this from indigenous normative and ethical perspectives;
Part of the paradox of South Africa is that it is part of both the First and Third Worlds. This is
also reflected in SA journalism research. Given the country’s First-World media system, research
increasingly focuses on the new media landscape created through convergence, digitisation and
commercialisation. This includes research on increasing concerns about the future of the print
media, the authenticity of journalism and concerns about the quality of journalism. At the same
time, journalism and development, access to the media (including new media) and media literacy
are research concerns stemming directly from the country’s developmental needs;
A third argument is that SA journalism research is done mainly from an empirical perspective,
with a focus on empirical methodologies. In terms of theory, the emphasis is on Western-inspired
ideological theory (despite its Marxist and neo-Marxist orientations), democracy theory, public
sphere theory and political economy theory. Little attention is given to qualitative research and to
the fact that journalism is first and foremost a communication phenomenon, and part of cultural
production and the production of the mediated semiosphere of meaning. It was argued that in
journalism’s preoccupation with itself, communication has disappeared from journalism research;
Finally, it was argued that SA journalism research can gain from a focus on journalism as
communication, and that this could be done from the perspective of a number of metatheories
about communication, such as dialogic, rhetorical and representation theory. The last was briefly
explained and it was argued that all journalism research can be done by focusing on journalism
as representative of someone or something, and/or as offering representations of someone or
something. It was concluded that representation as a metatheory for the BSA-JRI project could
provide valuable insight into different ontological and epistemological points of departure about
the role and functions of journalism in the SA and Brazilian societies and regions.
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
Cf. works such as Hachten and Giffard’s Total onslaught: The South African press under attack
(1984); Shaw’s Believe in miracles: South Africa from Malan to Mandela and The Mbeki era:
A reporter’s story (2008); Zug’s The Guardian: The history of South Africa’s extraordinary antiapartheid newspaper (2007).
The task of theTruth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was to investigate and document gross human
rights violations under apartheid, in and outside South Africa, in the period 1960–1994 (see TRC 1998)
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In 2008 the Forum of Black Journalists’ (FBJ) refused to let white journalists attend a meeting.
The South African Human Rights Commission reprimanded the FBI that this constitutes racist
behaviour. Daniels (2009) writes that since then the FBJ ‘has dwindled into nothing’ and has been,
to a large extent, replaced by Projourn. This is a multi-racial association of journalists with more
than 300 members. Projourn is endorsed by the Press Ombudsman, the Freedom of Expression
Institute, and the South African National Editors’ Forum.
5 Fourie (2005b) argues that criticism about the quality of journalism is almost as old as journalism
itself. In substantiating this view, he refers to the criticism of philosophers such as Kierkegaard,
Ortega y Gasset, Hannah Arendt, etc.
6 For a more in-depth discussion of the loss of a public ethos in, for instance, public service broadcasting
and a more in-depth discussion of the values and principles of public service broadcasting and the
media’s social responsibility, see, for example, Fourie 2004; 2005a.
7 Keeble (2005: 63–64) offers what he calls the ‘George Orwell solution’ to break with the old
Cartesian dualities: emotion and reason, objectivity and subjectivity, head and heart, thought and
action, culture and nature, and then to face a new paradigm, namely what Orwell would have called
the journalist’s choice of outlet. The journalist’s ethical choice is to decide with whom and through
which outlet he/she is going to communicate – the so-called implied reader or imagined community
of the mainstream media (which is mainly propaganda for wealthy proprietors), or the authentic
audience of alternative, small-scale, ‘left-wing’ outlets (publications/radio (and increasingly
TV)). What is needed is a commitment to authentic communication in which one can engage
with both the objective and the subjective – a stance which reminds of Plato’s (and more recently
philosophers such as Mikhail Bakhtin’s) emphasis on dialogue as an essential characteristic of real
8 See, for example, the work of Media Monitoring Africa (previously the Media Monitoring Project)
( for examples of content analyses of South African
journalism, as well as Media Tenor South Africa (
9 There are many examples of rising racism reported by the media. For a single example, however,
see the latest Reconciliation Barometer of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (http://www.
10 In his book, On television (1998), Bourdieu, for example, argues that the structural limitations of
the journalism profession are, amongst others, economic censorship brought about by, for example,
the financial cost of covering a story and whether a story will be cost-effective in terms of the
size of the audience it will draw (in short, the point of departure that journalism is a business
and should be profitable). Furthermore, there are the limitations of time, space and format (in the
shortest time or smallest space a story needs to be covered), work routines (for example, deadlines
– working against the clock), and conditions of labour (for example, low salaries which do not
necessarily draw the best and most responsible intellectual minds). Yet, journalists do not question
these structural limitations as being responsible for them to obscure instead of to expose the truth
(about something). They see it as part of the nature (habitus) of the job, the way in which things
should be and are done, and as the unquestioned rules of the profession. These and other structural
limitations of the profession have lowered journalistic standards and quality, and will continue to
do so unless journalists themselves question the structures and practices of their profession. While
journalists may pride themselves on isolating the truth that hides behind, for example, the rhetoric
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Pieter J Fourie
of governments and the business elite, in the end it accomplishes the exact opposite. Instead of
exposing the way things work and/or are, journalism mystifies them further (cf. Barnhurst 2005).
These structural limitations are contrary to moral and ethical conduct, given that the symbolic
capital of journalism lies in the fact that journalism is, after all, contemporary man’s main lens on
the social world. Through news (and the media in general), we understand our world(s) and rely on
it to take (crucial) decisions (cf. Szeman 2005.)
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redactional representation. He asks if it is possible to tell a society by how it edits. ‘Is redaction
a symptom of the social? Can a period be identified by how it brings “matter into a certain form”;
how it reduces “(a person or thing) to a certain state, condition or action” (ibid.: 45). He further
contends that the media (and its journalism) represent, explore and edit the full range of the social,
other people’s lives, specialist knowledge for general readers, decisions, discourses, policy and
textualise the world in order to know it. All of this is communicated with a style that is appropriate,
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 172–184
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485364
Tendencies in the development and consolidation of
journalism research in Brazil
Carlos Eduardo Franciscato* 1
This article reviews the origin of journalism studies in Brazil in terms of its roots and influences. It traces the
development of journalism studies from 1808, when the first Brazilian newspaper was founded in the colonial
era while Brazil was under Portuguese dominance. The late-1900s saw the emergence of a struggle for
emancipation, which was not only reflected in the political independence of Brazil (attained in 1822), but also
in the beginnings of a search for authentic Brazilian thinking and identity, as distinct from Portuguese control
and as influenced by a liberal ideology during the 19th century. The article tracks the work of those intellectuals
who were immersed in a background of political thought, philosophy and literature, and made substantial
contributions to the study of journalism.
Key words: Brazil, identity, intellectuals, journalism studies, Portugal
This article offers a review of the origin of journalism studies in Brazil in terms of its roots and
influences. To grasp the first steps taken in terms of Brazilian journalism thinking requires an
understanding of the starting point of its development. The date of such a starting point is 1808,
the year of the founding of the first Brazilian newspaper during the colonial era, when Brazil was
under Portuguese dominance. That time saw the emergence of a struggle for emancipation, which
was not only reflected in the political independence of Brazil (attained in 1822), but also the start
of a search for an authentic Brazilian thinking and identity, as distinct from Portuguese control and
as influenced by a liberal ideology during the 19th century. Those intellectuals who were immersed
in a background of political thought, philosophy and literature, made substantial contributions to
such initial journalistic efforts. At the time, journalists were the chief thinkers and political actors
of their day (Melo 2009).
At the start of the 20th century, the field of Brazilian journalism was first systematically considered
by historians, who intended to evaluate the degree of progress attained in just one century of
journalistic evolution. The development of formal journalism studies in Brazil was confirmed by
the founding of the first schools and faculties of journalism in 1947. Such development signalled
progress towards a journalism-oriented academic organisation, which would ultimately unite
the professionalisation, teaching and research activities related to journalism. Such research was
conceived as adopting an historical approach, which would increasingly come to be influenced by
Carlos Franciscato is professor of journalism at the Federal University of Sergipe, Brazil, and President of the Brazilian
Association of Researchers on Journalism (SBPJor). Email: [email protected]br
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Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
the social sciences. Such an extension of research in the field of communication would, inevitably,
elicit both administrative and critical perspectives.
The establishment of undergraduate courses in journalism at the major Brazilian universities
conferred new respectability on such studies in relation to the issues and challenges of the day. On
the one hand, such a development demanded ongoing debate about what the tasks and obligations
should be of a journalistic course conducted by a university. Such debate required consideration
both of the profile of the journalists concerned, as well as of what core requirements journalistic
agencies should be expected to fulfil. In addition, a new debate arose about the need to have
a journalistic undergraduate diploma, in order to be allowed to work in the field of journalism
– something which was first brought into law in 1969. Two different theoretical understandings
of the situation emerged, with one being directed at developing an undergraduate education in
communication studies, whereas the other defended the need for specialised training in journalistic
theories and techniques.
On the other hand, graduate studies in Brazil have made substantial progress over the past ten years,
in terms of the redefinition of an institutional basis for research in the fields of communication
and journalism. Until 2009, there were 36 postgraduate programmes (both Master’s degrees and
doctorates) in Brazil, including a specialised programme in journalism studies, with some others
partially incorporating journalism within their fields of research.
The objective of the current article is to identify the main tendencies in the development and
consolidation of journalism research in Brazil, as a specific field of study in the communication
sciences area. Reviewing the origins of such a field of study enables us to gain a better understanding
of both the basis for, and the various steps taken in, such an explorative study, as well as the
tendencies in, and perspectives acquired by means of, the investigation concerned.
Based on historical references, the aim of the current article is to explore the following three
aspects of journalism studies:
The growth of postgraduate communication studies at Brazilian universities is investigated,
taking into account the modus operandi of journalism;
New institutional forms of organising research in the field of journalism are identified, with
due focus being placed on the specialised type of coverage required of scientific events within
the broader area of communication; the role of the new Brazilian scientific reviews specialising
in journalism; and the inauguration of the Brazilian Association of Researchers on Journalism
(SBPJor) in 2003;
The increase in a diversified range of areas or subdivisions in the journalism field is also
We intend to show that all such movements help to demonstrate that journalism studies forms a
field of research that is increasingly expanding in Brazil.
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The first Brazilian dissertation for a PhD in Journalism was presented in 1972 by José Marques
de Melo at the University of São Paulo (USP). At the time, research into the field of mass
communication was at its height, which has led to the academic organisation of undergraduate
courses under the banner of social communication. Even so, during the 1970s journalism was seen
as a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the context of the absence of press freedom during
the time of military dictatorship in the country (1964–1985), when such issues as culture, society
and politics were partially determined by the limitations imposed on the freedom of speech, with,
in consequence, a prohibition on the free circulation of news. Within such a context, the study
of journalism was regarded as a relevant way of investigating the development of cultural and
political activities within a restricted public space, which was controlled by agents of the state.
During the past ten years, Brazil has experienced the accelerated expansion of postgraduate courses
in the communication field. The first Master’s programme in Brazil was launched in 1970 by the
Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), which was followed by the inception of four
other similar courses in the same decade. Following such a tendency, the first doctoral programme
was launched in 1978. The tables below indicate the expansion of postgraduate communication
studies during the following decade. The data on which the tables were based, were provided by
the governmental agency responsible for regulating the postgraduate system in Brazil, namely the
Coordination for the Improvement of High Education Personnel (CAPES), which was formed in
Table 1: The first five Master’s courses
Date of creation
2) USP
4) UnB
Source: CAPES (
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Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
Table 2: The first five doctoral courses
Date of creation
2) USP
Source: CAPES (
A comparison of the data contained in Table 1 with those contained in Table 2 shows that, whereas
the expansion of the Master’s programmes took place continuously over a period of time, the
doctoral programmes, after the launching of the first three courses, only expanded further during
the mid-1990s. In other words, postgraduate communication programmes have grown relatively
more over the past fifteen years. Table 3 gives a more accurate view of such an evolution.
Table 3: Evolution of postgraduate programmes in the field of communications
Source: CAPES (
In the space of 14 years, the number of Master’s courses has increased four-fold, from eight
programmes in 1996, to 36 in 2009. The doctoral courses experienced a similar gain, increasing in
number from four to 13 programmes in the same time period. Such development shows how the
institutional scientific field has consolidated during the period under review, and gives an indication
of the geographical and thematic diversity of the field concerned.
The field of journalism research has clearly made a significant contribution to the expansion of
communication studies as a whole. By analysing each of the 36 Brazilian postgraduate programmes
and identifying the research projects, teams of researchers and institutional divisions associated
with journalism studies, it is possible to gain a more focused perspective on the role played by
journalism in postgraduate studies.
Table 4 shows that journalism is the central research concern in three postgraduate courses, whereas
Table 5 shows that journalism is a complementary focus of study in another five courses currently
on offer at the different institutions of higher learning.
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Table 4: Journalism as the central research concern in postgraduate courses
Specific concern of journalistic
Journalism and society
Master’s and Doctorate in
Communication (UnB)
Journalism as a theoretical
and practical field; a cognitive
category used for the
representation of reality; and
a critical analysis of news-making
and journalistic narratives
Languages and journalistic
Master’s and Doctorate in
Communication Sciences
Journalism in terms of its specific
theoretical approaches, taking a
multidisciplinary perspective into
Fundamentals of journalism
Master’s in Journalism (UFSC)
Journalism in terms of studies of
theoretical and philosophical
Journalistic processes and
Master’s in Journalism (UFSC)
Analysis of journalistic processes
and products
Media products: Journalism
and entertainment
Master’s in Communication
Journalism as discourse,
production, reception and genre
Research area
Source: CAPES (
Table 5: Journalism as a complementary focus of study in postgraduate courses
Research area
Specific concern of journalistic
Cyber culture
Master’s and Doctorate in
Communication (UFBA)
Practice and language of online
Cyber culture and digital
Master’s in Journalism (UTP)
Journalism as a component of
communicative practices in
Media and social processes
Master’s and Doctorate in
Communication (UFPE)
Journalism as a social mediatic
practice in the construction of
Press and audiovisual
Master’s and Doctorate in
Communication (USP)
Journalism as a constituent of
the structure and language of
mediatic communication
Master’s and Doctorate
in Communication and
Information (UFRGS)
Journalism as a communicational
process, together with its
modes of meaning production,
representation, identity and
representation and social
Source: CAPES (
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Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
Tables 4 and 5 indicate the following:
In the Brazilian postgraduate communication system, studies tend to focus mainly on the
communicational phenomenon, including the consideration of such elements as representation,
media language, the aesthetics of communication, social and cultural influences, and the
application of schematic models originating in the fields of linguistics, semiotics and the social
Despite the field of journalism being the primary research concern of most related courses, it is
not always treated as the focus of attention in regard to internal and specific processes, which
demand the adoption of a formal theoretical approach and the use of analytical categories to
describe and explain the processes concerned;
The rise of specific research lines within the broader field of journalism is a recent development
in terms of the Brazilian postgraduate system. Except for the two traditional courses in
journalism (one of which is run by the University of Brasilia [UnB] and the other by the
University of São Paulo [USP]), the institutional emphasis on journalism resulted from the
creation of new courses (at the Federal University of Santa Catarina [UFSC] and at the Casper
Libero Faculty [FCL]), or from changes in existing courses (such as in that offered by the
University of Sinos River [Unisinos]) during the past five years;
Two Brazilian universities have journalism as a central focus of study, allowing them to be
considered as the best references in the field of journalism research in Brazil:
- The UnB offers a traditional Master’s and Doctorate in Communication in the area of ‘Journalism
and society’, with a focus on research within the field of journalism itself, and allowing for its
articulation with other social practices;
- The UFSC offers an innovative Master’s in Journalism, which focuses on two areas ofstudy, name
ly ‘Fundamentals of journalism’ and ‘Journalistic processes and products’. The inauguration of such
a Master’s in 2007 was the climax of a long struggle which had occurred in the communication field,
in terms of which researchers in the field of journalism sought for both legitimacy and sufficient
academic authority to allow for the production of new scientific knowledge.
The postgraduate programme in communication is on offer at the University of São Paulo
(USP), which has been recognised as one of the most influential journalism schools in Brazil,
due to the contribution it has made to the development of research in the field since its
inauguration in 1972. This, despite the fact that its contribution is no longer regarded as being
as relevant as it was in the past.
During the past 15 years, Brazil has been experiencing an increase in the number of new public
spaces for debate and for the presentation of scientific papers in the field of journalism. Four
aspects of such a development require consideration: (a) the organisation of annual congresses by
the different Brazilian scientific associations, which allows for the hosting of specific meetings to
discuss issues with relevance to journalism; (b) the founding of SBPJor; (c) the organisation of
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Carlos Eduardo Franciscato
research groups which facilitate networking among researchers from different institutions; and (d)
the publication of articles on journalism in scientific journals.
Organisation of annual congresses by scientific Brazilian associations,
with specific meetings allowing for the discussion of issues relating to
Two leading scientific research associations in the field of communication in Brazil have specific
working groups for journalism studies. The more traditional association is that of INTERCOM
(the Brazilian Society of Interdisciplinary Studies in Communication), first formed in 1977.
INTERCOM holds an annual national meeting, of which certain portions specifically focus on
issues with relevance to the field of journalism. According to Meditsch and Segala (2005), some
of the papers which have been presented at past INTERCOM congresses have examined issues
far beyond the immediate concerns of the journalism working group alone. Meditsch and Segala
(ibid.: 51) state that ‘[m]any papers on Journalism have been presented in other working groups
rather than Journalism, such as Communication and Politics, or Audiovisual Communication’.
Another important scientific association is the National Association of Postgraduate Programmes
in Communication (COMPOS), first established in 1991. Since 2000, COMPOS has held a
working group on journalism studies at each of its annual congresses. At each meeting so far, ten
scientific papers have been selected for publication from among an average of 40 papers submitted
for consideration.
Table 6 summarises the coverage of the 40 papers selected for publication by the Journalism
Working Group of COMPOS, from 2000 to 2003.
Table 6: Papers submitted to the Journalism Working Group at COMPOS (2000–2003)
Distribution %
Theories of journalism
Digital journalism
Ethics and journalism
Language studies
News production and journalistic processes
History of journalism
Source: Machado (2005: 36)
Meditsch and Segala (2005) analysed the proceedings of six national communication congresses
held in Brazil during 2003 and 2004, reviewing 263 papers which were presented at the 2003 and
2004 INTERCOM, the 2003 and 2004 COMPOS and the 2003 and 2004 SBPJor congresses. Table
7 shows their findings in this regard.
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Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
Table 7: Themes of papers on journalism presented at six different Brazilian
congresses during 2003 and 2004
Distribution (263 groups)
Framing /Themes and coverage
Journalistic production/News making
Theories/Basis of journalism
History of journalism
Reception and effects
Professional studies
New technologies
Source: Meditsch and Segala (2005: 53)
Founding of the Brazilian Association of Researchers on Journalism
SBPJor, the leading Brazilian scientific society focused on journalism research, consists of 390
members, of whom half hold PhD degrees. SBPJor was founded during its first national congress
in 2003, in which 130 researchers participated. From the start, the society has supported the
establishing of contact between the different educational institutions, the facilitation of partnerships,
and networking.
SBPJor annually organises a national journalism congress in Brazil, which brings together
approximately 400 different researchers in the field of journalism from Brazil and other countries,
including Portugal, Spain and other Latin-American countries. The event is the most important
meeting held in Brazil for the presentation and debate of issues relating to journalism research.
Table 8 enumerates the evolution of the national congresses.
Table 8: Scientific papers presented at the SBPJor Congress
Event no.
Year in which
congress was held
City hosting congress
Number of papers
presented at congress
Porto Alegre
São Bernardo
São Paulo
Source: SBPJor (
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Carlos Eduardo Franciscato
SBPJor publishes a scientific journal, entitled Brazilian Journalism Research (see http://www.unb.
br/ojsdpp/index.php?locale=en). All of the journal’s articles are published in English, and feature
the most recent research conducted in Brazil.
Organisation of research groups which facilitate networking among
researchers from different institutions
The increase in the number of research groups in Brazil is one of the most important developments
to take place in the field of journalistic knowledge production. The main organisation of research
groups is carried out by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development
(CNPq), formed in 1951 in order to act as an agency for scientific development, support research
projects and encourage networking. The national council registers research groups in all areas,
assembling all relevant information on its website (see
Benetti Machado (2005: 33–34) conducted a keyword search for ‘journalism’ in the databases on
the CNPq website, and retrieved the details of 67 research groups in the field of journalism. The
groups concerned identified 101 different areas of research existing within the field of journalism.
A synopsis of the areas identified is presented in Table 9:
Table 9: Institutionalised research conducted by CNPq groups in the field of
Distribution (67 groups)
News production and journalistic processes
Language studies
Specialised journalism
Digital journalism
Theory of journalism
History of journalism
Reception studies
Journalism and ethics
Journalism and education
Source: Machado (2005: 33)
Table 9 indicates the presence of two major areas of research in the field of journalism studies:
‘News production and journalistic processes’ and ‘Language studies’. Both research areas are
linked to traditional concerns relating, on the international front, to the investigation of the field
of journalism, entailing the citing of the principal international authors from each research area
concerned. Two other categories which are currently eliciting much interest, are those of digital
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Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
journalism and the theory of journalism. In the latter case, such interest has been on the rise for the
past ten years.
The founding of SBPJor, which enabled researchers to develop new ways of networking, resulted
in the creation of the following three research networks:
The National Net of Media Watchers first appeared in 2005, with the objective of uniting
those initiatives to do with media criticism – especially journalistic organisations – in order to
contribute to the enhancement of the Brazilian media;
The Net of Applied Research on Journalism and Digital Technologies was founded in 2009,
with the purpose of producing applied research aimed at experimentation and the creation of
digital technological innovations in the field of journalism;
The Net of Telejournalism Research in Brazil and Portugal is currently still in the process of
creating itself, with its main focus being centred on television journalism in the two countries
concerned. The network deals with information to do with televisual narratives and languages,
the quality of programming, and the productive routines of the organisations involved.
Publication of articles on journalism in scientific journals
The review published by SBPJor, entitled Brazilian Journalism Research, was launched in 2005
with the objective of allowing Brazilian researchers a chance to make their work available to the
international community and, by so doing, offering a general view of the most recent research
results. Such an objective is the reason why all the journal’s articles are published in English. Since
2008, the review has been edited in both English and Portuguese. Another important Brazilian
review which is exclusively dedicated to the field of journalism, is entitled Pauta Geral (General
Guideline). The review has been published annually since 1993.
Luiz Motta, editor of Brazilian Journalism Research from 2005 to 2007, studied six issues of
the journal to analyse the different kinds of articles published in them. His inquiry investigated
64 articles written by 92 different authors, of whom 76 were Brazilians and 16 were from other
countries (Motta 2007: 7–8). The themes of the articles are shown in Table 10.
Table 10: Themes of the articles published in Brazilian Journalism Research
Theory of the news (state of the art, trends, paradigms,
challenges and courses of research)
15 (23.5%)
News and the cognitive processes; construction of
images, identities and social representations
8 (12.5%)
Freedom of the press; freedom to produce and receive
8 (12.5%)
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Carlos Eduardo Franciscato
Ethics and social responsibility of the press; journalism
and society; right to information
7 (11.0%)
Political journalism, pluralism; diversity of sources and of
political representation
6 (9.5%)
Journalistic coverage; techniques for verifying the news;
relation with the sources
6 (9.5%)
Digital electronic journalism; cyber journalism; online
Journalism; information technologies
5 (8.0%)
Crime and news; violence; police coverage; press and
public security
2 (3.1%)
Mediation of information by communication institutions;
new informative institutions
3 (4.7%)
Journalistic photography; photographic coverage
1 (1.5%)
1 (1.5%)
Criticism of the media; media watchers
Reception; .attention; response and comprehension of the
reader; listener; internet user or television viewer
1 (1.5%)
1 (1.5%)
Discourse; language and narratives of journalism
64 (100%)
* The thematic categories are not mutually exclusive. In theory, the
articles could be classified as falling into more than one category
Source: Motta (2007: 8)
Another significant scientific review which is published in the field of communication is the
Brazilian Journal of Communication Sciences (Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação),
which is the official scientific review of INTERCOM. The periodical, which is published biannually,
is considered to be one of the most traditional publications in the field of communication studies.
Moreira (2005: 18–19) analysed the content of the periodical from January 2000 to December 2004
(encompassing a period of five years and ten issues). Having identified 30 articles that dealt with
different aspects of journalism, she broke these down into ten different thematic areas (see Table
Table 11: Articles related to journalism published at INTERCOM review (2000–2004)
Thematic approach
Distribution (%)
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Tendencies in the development and consolidation of journalism research in Brazil
Radio journalism
Source: Moreira (2005: 19)
Moreira (2005) found that the diversity of themes covered and the depth of investigation that
characterised the journalism studies featured in the INTERCOM review had helped to establish
the reputation of the review. She stated that ‘in the Communication area, the particular field of
journalism studies can be considered an exceptional research sector’ (ibid.: 22).
The analysis presented in the current article about the state of journalism research in Brazil has
revealed the considerable growth that has taken place in the theory of journalism. In addition to
foreign authors having provided novel insight into the field, new perspectives have also been gained
on core concepts in the Brazilian context. Machado’s (2005: 13) identification of three different
phases of development in journalism theories is appropriate in this context, with the first phase
being earmarked by pioneering works written by authors in the first half of the 20th century, the
second phase being characterised by the involvement of researchers in postgraduate programmes
during the 1980s and 1990s, and the third phase featuring a new generation of theoreticians who
have been active in more recent years. The growth of theoretical research in the field of journalism
has resulted from the increasing theoretical effort that has been exerted by the networking of
researchers from different institutions.
Moreover, researchers in the field of journalism – including those involved with concerns of an
academic nature – remain focused on contextual issues related to the communication sciences,
society and language. Such a focus can be seen in the overwhelming number of inquiries directed
at trying to understand language, journalistic genres and formats, as well as at analysing the
environment in which journalistic activity is able to employ the theories and methods adopted
from the social sciences arena.
The institutionalisation of journalism research has two primary components: The first consists of
the multiplicity of actions that serve to stimulate interaction among researchers; the founding of
SBPJor; the support of working groups associated with scientific bodies in the communication
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Carlos Eduardo Franciscato
field, and the ongoing publication of scientific reviews, which lend a significant level of credibility
to the publication of well-researched studies in the field of journalism.
The other component consists of the restructuring of the postgraduate system in the area of
communication studies in Brazil, which requires further development in terms of formal and
organised research in the field of journalism. Currently, the only university in Brazil to offer
a Master’s course in journalism is UFSC, and only one university (UnB) in the country has a
research division that offers a doctoral programme (‘Journalism and society’). Despite such
limitations, the field of journalism is recognised as worthy of ongoing research undertaken in the
form of postgraduate studies within the wider spectrum of communication studies, in light of the
perspective of more general theories to do with communication and society.
Finally, it is noted that much journalism research has already been carried out by teams of
researchers from a range of academic institutions. Researchers in the field of journalism have
exerted their efforts in developing associations, research groups and both national and international
networks, in order to reap those benefits that can be gleaned from pooling the intellectual resources
available in the field.
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
This item contains references to Brazilian institutions of education and research. To facilitate
an understanding of the description proposed, some abbreviations will be presented as follows:
CAPES – Coordination for the Improvement of High Education Personnel; CNPq – National
Council for Scientific and Technological Development; FCL – Casper Libero Faculty; UFBA –
Federal University of Bahia; UFRGS – Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul; UFSC – Federal
University of Santa Catarina; UnB – University of Brasília; UNISINOS – University of Sinos River;
USP – University of São Paulo; UTP – University Tuiuti of Paraná; UFPE – Federal University of
Pernambuco; PUC-SP – Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.
Machado, E. 2005. From journalism studies to journalism theory. Brazilian Journalism Research 1(1):
Machado, M.B. 2005. Data and reflections on three journalism research environments. Brazilian
Journalism Research 1(1): 26–46.
Meditsch, E. and M. Segala. 2005. Trends in three 2003/4 journalism academic meetings. Brazilian
Journalism Research 1(1): 47–60.
Melo, J.M. 2009. Journalistic thinking: Brazil’s modern tradition. Journalism 10(1): 9–27.
Moreira, S.V. 2005. Trends and new challenges in journalism research in Brazil. Brazilian Journalism
Research 1(2): 10–24.
Motta, L.G. 2007. Brazilian Journalism Research: Courageous adventure in search of an identity.
Brazilian Journalism Research 3(2): 5–12.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 185–199
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485365
Journalism education in South Africa: Shifts and dilemmas
Jeanne Prinsloo*
In this article the focus falls on journalism education in relation to an agenda of social equality and justice. Its
intention is to consider journalism education in relation to this purpose, and to do this it looks both at past and
present journalism education programmes in South Africa. While discussing other programmes, it maintains
a particular focus on Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, as the
teaching programme has stood apart from others. The intention is to be both descriptive and to pose questions
about journalism education in the future – hopefully in a way that is relevant to South Africa, Brazil and other
southern countries. The teaching programmes and curriculum choices are discussed in relation to the current
context of higher education and the history of journalism and media studies nationally, which responded to
debates emanating from northern/industrialised countries.
Key words: Brazil, curriculum, democratisation, journalism education, Rhodes University, South Africa
South Africa is frequently referred to as an ‘emerging democracy’ or as being in the process of
‘democratisation’. Both descriptions are an acknowledgement of an unhappy past and an unsettled
present, while envisaging a more hopeful future. They are also applied to other countries with
troubled histories and uneasy presents, for example Brazil. It is precisely in such places, I suggest,
that the media have a critical role to play in fostering the democracies that are anticipated. The
media are crucial to the way in which citizens might imagine their places and roles, as well as of
the roles of those in political and economic power. I have mentioned Brazil in line with the theme
of this edition, which seeks to promote the conversation about journalism research and education in
these two countries of the South. The two countries are, of course, very different from each other,
yet there are similarities in their pasts and present that make for a rich critical conversation – in this
instance, in relation to journalism studies and education.
First, a disclaimer: I am not knowledgeable about Brazil and my comments in this regard are no
doubt superficial. This said, during the symposium I attended on journalism education and research
in Brazil and South Africa in 2009,1 I was struck by certain similarities of context and purpose
between these two countries which make this a pertinent conversation, and which I shall briefly
outline before moving on to the substance of this article, namely journalism education in South
Africa, specifically at Rhodes University.
Jeanne Prinsloo is professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa. Email: [email protected]
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In both cases, these countries have histories of colonisation by European powers, although Brazil
was colonised in the 1500s by the Portuguese and South Africa was settled by first the Dutch and
then the British, from the mid-1600s. While Brazil gained independence in 1825 (much earlier than
South Africa, in 1961), both countries have emerged from histories of recent authoritarian regimes
and violent repression – the apartheid regime of South Africa until 1994, and military rule in Brazil
from 1964–1985. Both regimes ensured economic and political privilege for some, and both the
Brazilian and South African societies are marked by huge discrepancies in wealth between the
city and the countryside, between regions, and between social classes. The most glaring similarity
is manifest in the extreme economic inequalities in both these countries. Brazil and South Africa
are notoriously identified as the two countries with the highest discrepancies between the rich and
the poor in the world, as identified through the Gini coefficient. South Africa, at 65, has overtaken
Brazil, at 56.7.2 As a consequence of the structural inequalities, issues of land dispossession and
extreme urbanisation in the form of sprawling informal settlements, whether favelas or squatter
camps, are among the pressing concerns for both countries.
Apart from having such discrepancies in wealth/poverty in common, both nations are effectively
regional hegemons, boasting the largest national economy in their respective regions and increasing
economic penetration into neighbouring countries. Pertinent to the focus of this article, they also
have robust and developed media industries. At the same time, alongside these manifestations of
economic prowess, forms of opposition to the widespread dispossession have been manifest both
in the political resistance during the authoritarian regimes of the past, and in the current social
movements of the present which confront social injustices.
The issue of democratisation needs to be understood against these contexts and the role of the
media is arguably crucial in enabling its emergence, for the media provide frames for understanding
and imagining being in the world. In this article, the focus is confined to journalism education in
relation to an agenda of social equality and justice. Its intention is to consider journalism education
in relation to this purpose and to do this it looks both at past and present journalism education
programmes. While it discusses other programmes, it maintains a particular focus on Journalism
and Media Studies (JMS) at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, as the teaching programme
has stood apart from others. My intention is to be both descriptive and to pose questions about
journalism education in the future – hopefully in a way that is relevant to South Africa, Brazil
and other southern countries. Its teaching programmes and curriculum choices are discussed in
relation to the current context of higher education and the history of journalism and media studies
nationally, which responded to debates emanating from northern/industrialised countries.
Journalism, as is the case with certain other applied fields of study (for example, education or
pharmaceutics), is located at the nexus where the twin imperatives of intellectual knowledge
relevant to the field and vocational training meet – demands that are frequently reduced to a crude
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Journalism education in South Africa: Shifts and dilemmas
dichotomy of theory versus practice. These fields of study generally seek to be both professional
(or vocational) as well as socially relevant. Currently, a vocational training discourse tends to be
hegemonic in journalism education and needs to be understood in relation to the broader higher
education context in South Africa.
Higher education institutions have had to address the issue of transformation both in South Africa
and globally (Singh 2001), and this has been accompanied by the demand for institutions to
reposition themselves in line with national policies (for example, South Africa’s White Paper,
1997). This was patently important in South Africa, where education at all levels had served different
groups differentially and most obviously along the lines of race. However, the transformation of
higher education has been an international phenomenon attributed in particular to the demands or
challenges of globalisation and a neoliberal economy. While considering higher education trends at
any moment, it is necessary to relate them to the economic policies of the government of the time,
for this must impact on them.
The decade and a half since South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994 has seen the demise
of official apartheid and its replacement by an African National Congress (ANC) government. In
this short period, the economic policies of the government have shifted from the Reconstruction
and Development Programme (RDP) (informed by a concern to redress social and economic
inequalities), to adopting a neoliberal and privatising agenda with the changed Growth,
Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy. Drawing on a discourse of the ‘rainbow nation’
and by advocating Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), this political and economic agenda
masks its class orientation. It is rationalised by describing the economic disparities, as former
President Thabo Mbeki did, as a ‘dual economy’ and the blame is accordingly relegated solely to
the history of apartheid. This discourse effectively obscures the unequal class relations inherent in
any society with a capitalist economy. The construction of two economies allows the second (poor)
economy to be understood as a lack of development, rather than, to the contrary, the product of a
particular kind of development: ‘The process that produces wealth [for some] is made to appear as
if it is separate from the process that produces poverty [for most]’ (Hallowes & Munnik 2006: 120).
The re-ordering of higher education that has accompanied the political transition is held to be
necessary in terms of social responsiveness and accountability to this changed context. Yet it is
precisely the issues of social responsiveness and accountability that need to be made problematic.
In South Africa, the definition of this country as a ‘developmental’ state and the imperative for
‘nation-building’ have become a common-sense discourse that extends to an understanding of
university-based knowledge as valuable, in as much as it supports the developmental goals of the
state. The emphasis has been on perceived skills shortages and vocational training. Government
has made frequent calls on universities and scholars to mobilise their resources in service of the
reconstruction and development of South African society (Babbie & Mouton 2001; Du Toit 2008).
Such accountability, framed as giving ‘a competitive edge to country performance in the global
market place’ arguably presents a singularly one-dimensional approach:
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Within a paradigm that invokes the ‘market’, the notion of responsiveness is becoming emptied of
most of its content except for that which advances individual, organisational or national economic
competitiveness. The conception of an autonomous intellectual or socially emancipatory role for higher
education, where it still features, remains largely at the level of policy rhetoric with little funding or
other policy enabling factors in place to give substance to them. (Singh 2001: 9)
This is the market-driven logic of a powerful influential global paradigm, and has impacted on
the policies and practices of developing or southern counties as though universally appropriate,
despite the vast social, historical and economic differences between them and northern countries.
Any informing logic of the social, moral, political, intellectual and cultural dimensions of higher
education responsiveness is increasingly merely a rhetorical flourish. The consequences of the
reduction of social responsiveness and accountability to the terms of market responsiveness are
enormously impoverishing for the broader social role of higher education. A more comprehensive
version that foregrounds the ‘public good’ can also been envisaged as
a set of societal interests that are not reducible to the sum of interests of individuals or groups of
individuals and that demarcate a common space within which the content of moral and political goals
like democracy and social justice can be negotiated and collectively pursued. (ibid.)
This version of transformation would incorporate goals and purposes that are linked, even if at one
remove, to a broad-based social and political agenda whose purposes could thus include: enhanced
access to higher education for disadvantaged and excluded communities; the pursuit of knowledge
in a variety of fields without undue focus on commercial imperatives; knowledge development in a
range of fields; and finally the possibility of its functioning as the critic and conscience of society.
It is the latter in particular that directs us to the idea of a critical citizenry, or as Barnett terms it,
‘critical being’, that is ‘critical thinking, critical action and critical reflection’ (1997: 7).
The broader social purposes of higher education, as identified by Singh, can be argued to be of
general relevance to journalism studies and education. This notion of critical being has its resonances
for journalism and media studies teachers who, as US journalist and journalism educator, Medsger,
suggests, engage with two invaluable tasks:
Preparing the next generation of minds that will stimulate the discourse of democracy, the
main purpose of journalism;
Teaching the skill that is critical to journalism but that is central to the mission of any university
– the concentration of the mind and the clear expression of what one discovers. (1996: 10)
The tension between defining responsiveness in terms of the market or democratic ideals, identified
above, finds resonance in the accounts of journalism and media studies in South Africa. The sporadic
introduction of the study of the media at South African universities occurred during the apartheid
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era and took different forms in response to different agendas. The agendas related to the schism that
existed in the academy, as elsewhere in South African society. It manifested along the language lines
of English and Afrikaans where, crudely speaking, English-language universities were grounded in
a Western liberal conception of a university, while Afrikaans-language universities were strongly
aligned with Afrikaner nationalism and functioned as instruments of the state (Du Toit 2008). Like
Media Studies, Journalism Studies is a relatively recent field of study, and has been introduced and
defined very differently at particular moments in this history and in different spaces.
I do not attempt anything like a comprehensive account of such diversity, but select specific aspects
I consider pertinent to my discussion. What I wish to foreground is that the differences are generally
set up as a tension between theory versus skills approaches – an analysis which, I propose, serves
to mask what is more fundamental, namely the politics of representation.
A brief overview of earlier journalism studies departments at South African universities helps
establish the trends. The first university to introduce journalism was the conservative Afrikaans
University of Potchefstroom, in 1959. Afrikaans-language universities in apartheid South Africa
had become central to serving the Afrikaner project and they ‘understood their role explicitly in
instrumental terms, as serving the interests of dominant social institutions’ (ibid.: 9), and thus
contributed to building and bolstering the Afrikaner nation. Accordingly, the Potchefstroom
teaching programme was designed to produce graduates for the Afrikaans press which operated to
defensively foster Afrikaans language and culture, frequently in a spirit of antagonism to English
and British influence. The early approach (outlined by Du Toit 2008) focused on the technical skills
of typing and translation of news copy from the English wire service of the South African Press
Association, coupled with ideas from American journalism textbooks that reproduced mainstream
approaches to journalism. This was subsequently supplemented with ‘press science’ to include the
study of ethics and morality in line with the Calvinistic-inspired vision, and was consistent with
the university’s orientation – as evident in the name, Potchefstroom Universiteit vir Christelike
Hoër Onderwys [Potchefstroom University of Christian Higher Education]. Thus, the early phase
of journalism education occurring in Afrikaner institutions was skills-oriented, with some degree
of theory appended (albeit normative and acritical), and a sense of serving the agenda of producing
graduates for the Afrikaner news industry, complicit with the agenda of Afrikaner nationalism.
The political context of the 1970/80s
The political context of the 1970s and 80s was one of mass mobilisation and struggle against
the regime, and saw the emergence of an alternative press and other forms of media, particularly
oppositional video, funded by external donors. The state controlled the public broadcaster (the
SABC), while the press was commercial, but divided along the lines and loyalties of Afrikaans and
English capital.
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The political struggle was fired by a body of social and political theorising. At the liberal universities
it was inspired by historical materialism and the renewed Marxist theorising in British and other
Anglo universities. In terms of media theory it was a heady time, and inspiration came from the
critical intellectual work undertaken under the rubric of Cultural Studies initially at Birmingham
(Steenveld 2006). It drew on the recently translated works of Althusser and Gramsci, and then
moved from a focus on the political economy and institutional constraints to include a concern
with the politics of representation, drawing on semiotic theories. All this had a dramatic impact
on the intellectual work in the critical tradition in the field of media more generally, and concerns
with inequalities in terms of class were expanded to incorporate other structural inequalities,
notably gender and race. Simultaneously, the ideas of Brazilian Paulo Freire around education and
literacy (reading not only the word, but the world) and African theorists like Fanon and Cabral
were circulating in more radical nodes of this African location, and they proposed pedagogies
of ‘liberation’ rather than the predominant transmission mode. The critical paradigm of Cultural
Studies was one of critique and interpretation (Tomaselli 2005) and proposed an explicitly political
During the last decades of apartheid South Africa, education – including that at tertiary level –
varied in content, form and resourcing, along the lines of language and race (Prinsloo 2002). In a
trickle-down fashion along the apartheid lines of race, the learning programmes of black colleges
were paternalistically informed by Afrikaans-language curricula (Prinsloo 2002). Similarly, the
technical institutions with their vocational emphasis on skills were answerable to a centralised body
in Pretoria that ensured the apartheid ideologies of separate and, contrary to their stated position,
unequal education. The apparently neutral and skills-focused programmes were accordingly
political in their practice, for they operated according to the dominant ideological frame.
The divisions between the Afrikaans and English academies tended to be deep, to the extent that
separate disciplinary associations existed along the lines of this ostensibly language-based division
(Tomaselli 2005). If the Afrikaans academies were supported generously by the state, they also
demonstrated an allegiance to apartheid ideologies. In contrast, the English liberal universities of
Cape Town, Natal, Rhodes and the Witwatersrand defended the tradition of academic freedom and
therefore provided the space for more critical work. They generally avowed an oppositional stance
to the apartheid regime.
Journalism programmes of the 1970s and 80s
In the 1970s, a number of journalism programmes were introduced at Afrikaans universities, the
distance education University of South Africa (Unisa) and at technikons (which have subsequently
been redefined as technical universities.)
Within these institutions there has been a tendency to a functionalist approach informed by what
was termed ‘Communication Science’. In line with this positivist approach, communication was
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understood within a transmission model, drawing heavily on Shannon and Weaver’s communication
model (Tomaselli 2005) and viewing communication theory as laws (of communication). I have
suggested earlier that the focus on skills tends to be read as an apolitical approach. The focus at
these institutions has been skills based, primarily with a vocational emphasis. In this sense these
programmes, with their emphasis on decontextualised skills or on how to do journalism, served as
handmaidens to both corporate media interests and the nationalist agenda of the time.
Rhodes University’s Journalism and Media Studies – the 1980s
In contrast, the English press in South Africa had historically trained their journalists in-house and
it was only in 1970 that journalism education was introduced at an English-language university,
namely within the humanities faculty at Rhodes University. I focus on Rhodes as it is recognised
as a leading journalism education centre on the African continent. It has an extensive programme,
offering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and diplomas. Importantly, Rhodes has avoided
complacency, in terms of its teaching programmes which have been the object of constant debate.
It has, however, retained a generally progressive thrust under difficult circumstances.
The political and intellectual developments at places like Birmingham gradually travelled and took
root at Rhodes University. The form of the curriculum in the 1980s and the factors influencing
it have been described by Steenveld (2006), a lecturer there from the mid-80s. She describes
different approaches that occurred simultaneously and, interestingly, rejects the suggestion that
the divisions within the department were along the lines of theory versus practice – an explanation
that is frequently offered in journalism departments. Steenveld argues rather that the divisions
occur along political lines. This is arguably a far more insightful – and complex – way to confront
the contestations experienced at Rhodes and elsewhere, for it goes beyond the manifestation of
difference to consider the causes.
Steenveld describes how the politically engaged staff members who were working within a
critical or neo-Marxist framework posed two questions in relation to the media, to inform their
teaching. They interrogated, first, what the role of the media was in serving to sustain the apartheid
state and, second, how they could use the media for their particular political purposes, that is to
challenge the apartheid state. The first question essentially impelled an interrogation of the media
as institutions, their ownership and the interests they served. This constituted, I suggest, a political
economy approach similar to that which informed the early critical work done in British academies.
Alongside this shared political approach, and different from their northern counterparts, they also
contextualised these struggles in terms of their positioning as ‘Third’ World, and looked to theories
that critiqued imperialism and colonialism.
Their theorising of the role of the media led to a critique of the institutions and the kinds of
texts they were producing in terms of their implicit political stances. This impelled their second
question around the production of media that would do different ideological work. ‘Politically and
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pedagogically this left us with no option but to look for, and teach, alternative ways of producing
texts that could be used by people engaged in the apartheid struggle’ (Steenveld 2006: 256–257).
Thus, their critique led to an approach to ‘media practice’ that eschewed teaching the institutional
conventions and norms that tend to be recounted in journalism textbooks. The idea that the press
imparted information or informed its readers objectively was not credible, and instead teachers
of video and television production foregrounded the debates around realism and how ‘the real’
was the product of processes of selection and construction. Semiotics as an analytic approach
to investigate the politics of representation informed their teaching, in contrast to the models of
communication taught at technikons. Thus both form and content were interrogated and alongside
this, technology was similarly critiqued in relation to its ideological significance.
It is interesting that this critical cultural and media studies approach did not inform the teaching in
JMS evenly, for while it informed the teaching of visual media, it impacted unevenly on the print
production courses. Steenveld accounts for this as a result of the differing political, and consequently
theoretical, positions of the staff. In addition, she notes that the SABC was the state broadcaster and
key disseminator of visual news. It served as ‘his master’s voice’ and thus could be rejected more
straight-forwardly. In contrast, the print media were private commercial institutions and English
newspaper practitioners tended to view the press as being able to play the kind of role attributed to
the liberal media in the USA and England, of holding public figures and institutions accountable.
There has been (and continues to be) a tendency to reify ‘the industry’ and ‘industrial practice’ in
this way. However, their constructions reproduced particular versions of the ‘real’ which arguably
supported the status quo – particularly in terms of capital – and their representations and concerns
were generally distant from the lived experiences of most South Africans. Careful analysis and
critique of news routines, conventional news values and notions of objectivity were necessary to
make this evident, and this was taught by some of the print lecturers who encouraged ‘alternative’
practices (Pinnock 1991), but not by all.
Steenveld stresses that at this point in time most lecturers taught both the theoretical and practical
aspects of their courses. Their primary identity was with the academy and its social project to
produce ‘potentially critical thinking South Africans who could play a role in fighting an
illegitimate government in an oppressive state’ (2006: 259) (rather than with ‘preparing students
for industry’). It is noteworthy that in her institutional history she stresses the illegitimate state and
not the opposition to capital which was discursively present.
This was the approach at JMS at Rhodes. Other tertiary institutions were experiencing similar
contextual factors, but their approach to journalism education resulted from ‘a different political
agenda and relationship to the apartheid state’ (ibid.).
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Current discourses and journalism ‘training’
Concurrent with the shifts in power following political transformation in 1994, there have been a
number of changes in the media landscape. These comprise a shift in the composition of media
ownership to include the entry of both black and foreign owners, accompanied by changes of
staffing and management along the lines of race. Then, the alternative media have largely
disappeared with the redirection of much of their donor funding to government in order to assist
in the construction of a legitimate state, while tabloid newspapers have emerged on the scene with
very large readership figures. Further, the gradual demise of racially defined journalism associations
has led to the formation of a non-racial South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), which also
engages in debates around what constitutes journalism ‘training’ or education.
Two contextual issues need to be kept in mind: At the same time as there have been important
shifts in ownership since the apartheid regime, the continuing concentration and globalisation
of the media does not translate to more socially concerned content. In addition, an adversarial
relationship has developed between the news media and the ANC government, particularly in the
face of exposure of abuses of power by political figures. The ensuing debates have centred on
freedom of expression as enshrined in the constitution, and what counts as public and national
interest, with government spokespeople arguing that national interest should supersede public
interest (Duncan 2003). The approach has been described as being couched in a ‘development
communication paradigm’ (ibid.), a paradigm summarised as follows at the 2002 World Social
Forum by a Brazilian journalist and then incoming president of the official news agency of the
Brazilian government (RadioBras) in terms of Brazil:
At this particular historical moment in Brazil, there happens to be an unprecedented convergence
between what the people have a right to know and the information that it is in the government’s interest
to disseminate. (cited in Duncan 2003: 5)
And yet, the hegemonic discourse around journalism education has turned out to be little different
from the one that informed the conservative institutions of the past. The emphasis is on ‘training’
for ‘the industry’ (Steenveld 2006: 259) and on skills.3 This was the case in the Sanef ‘skills audit’
report in 2002, where perceived problems with journalism were reduced to a skills deficit – things
that require ‘training’ (Steyn & De Beer 2002). Similarly, at a series of small colloquia held at
Rhodes (for South African journalism teachers from institutions in the southern African region),
I was struck by the pervasiveness of voices that articulated a discourse that privileged ‘training’
and skills unquestioningly, with the exception of a small number of voices (largely those of media
studies lecturers). In these discussions, the relationship to the market was seldom or reluctantly
problematised, and as a consequence there is that sense that journalism departments should serve
as handmaidens to the media industries. The market-driven imperatives of corporate media prevail,
in line with the position that Singh was critiquing in relation to higher education generally. This
has been evident in the intellectual conflicts among academics too. The so-called Windshuttle
debate surfaced around his rejection of a Cultural Studies framework for journalism students.4
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What became evident in this debate was that the contestation is underpinned not by an opposition
between theory and practice, but between theoretical positions. More recently, in contrast to those
debates that were aired in journals, there appears to be a degree of rapprochement at least among
those academics who publish in South African scholarly journals (see De Beer & Tomaselli 2000;
Fourie 2005; Wasserman 2005).
In spite of this, the dominant approach as vocational training consequently addresses one aspect
only, namely the how of journalism, but not the why (which requires that the politics be made
explicit). The role of the media in the new dispensation is arguably not being subjected to the
same scrutiny it received during the apartheid decades. In effect, the neoliberal economic agenda
has become so effectively naturalised that its privileging of the market is rendered invisible, and
market capital in its current form is the common-sense position, rationalised also in terms of the
demise of the socialist bloc.
Rhodes University’s Journalism and Media Studies – 2009
Against this changed backdrop, the teaching programme at Rhodes JMS has demanded reexamination. By the 2000s it had expanded its course offerings and staffing, and the nature of such
expansion has meant that teachers have been appointed to teach practical specialisations for their
familiarity with work contexts and routines. At the same time, an expanded postgraduate emphasis
saw the appointment of staff theoretically located in the fields of cultural and media studies and,
more rarely, journalism studies. Thus, lecturers no longer teach both the media studies theory and
the practical components. Alongside the expansion in numbers has been an increase in the number
and range of projects that fall within the School of Journalism and Media Studies, enabled by
outside funding (primarily corporate sources including media institutions: Reuters, Independent
Newspapers, Johnnic, Pearsons), commercial and financial corporations (such as South African
Breweries, First National Bank), as well as philanthropic funding. The issue of this form of funding
for higher education raises the question of how the intellectual agenda is being set.
The curriculum has simultaneously been reviewed and overhauled since 2002. Its development
has been a site of contestation and the forms of struggle are indicative of how the individual
lecturers constitute their professional identities and politics. The primary contestation has been
consistent with the division detailed above and revolved around preparing people for ‘industry’
versus the social and political role of journalism for transformation. In spite of the tensions, the
curriculum as it has been developed retains a similarity of purpose with the 1980s intentions, for it
continues to foreground a concern with social justice. This, however, is no longer restricted to acts
of government, but seeks to address broader social inequalities pertaining to living in an African
country in the 21st century.
It is informed by Cultural Studies theories and critical pedagogy, and seeks to foster an alternative
programme to those that privilege skills in relation to a commercialised industry, and so seeks to be
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consistent with a version of higher education proposed by Singh (see above) that promotes critical
thinking, critical action and critical reflection. It does not, of course, ignore the market context nor
eschew active engagement with the media professions, but this engagement seeks to include ‘a
tradition of critical philosophical reflection’ (Reese & Cohen 2000: 221). The conceptualisation
that informed the undergraduate programme is briefly outlined below.
JMS vision
The curriculum sets out to be a coherent, conceptually based programme, rather than a collection
of topics and practical specialisations. It is informed by a particular vision that relates to issues of
social justice and specific sets of theory in relation to this. The development of the vision was a
prolonged process, for it brought to the surface the divisions in approaches to journalism education
in the department. By the time of its adoption it had buy-in from the teaching staff at the time.
The vision statement commences with its commitment to the values expressed in the South African
constitution, to ‘heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values,
social justice and fundamental human rights; [and] lay the foundations for a democratic and open
society … ’. In this way it commits itself to a concern with transformation and social justice. It then
identifies its understanding of the media by highlighting the following three points:
The media constitute one of the powerful institutions that mediate our relation to and experience of the world;
The nature of such mediation is conditioned by the media’s particular political, economic, technological and
historical contexts;
Consequently, these mediations contribute to the production and reproduction of the dominant relations of
inequality that structure social life, and are implicated in questions of gender, class, culture, race, geography,
sexuality, etc. (
These points identify the significance of the media in relation to their role as mediators of experience,
and so implicitly not as producers of reality or objectivity; they identify how such mediation is
always located and contextual, and so point to the necessity of examining the forms and content
of the mediations within the context of their production and reception. Finally, it is insistent on the
media’s role in relation to the production and reproduction of inequalities. In this way it implicitly
recognises the media as constituting a public sphere that potentially advocates democratic ways of
being – or the converse.
The final section of the statement identifies what kind of graduates JMS strives to deliver.5 It
foregrounds the qualities of critical thinking and analysis. It is not unconcerned with skills, but
this is recognised alongside thoughtfulness and creativity, and the importance of intellectual
contributions. While it recognises that the students will be media workers, it does not mention ‘the
industry’ nor use the word ‘training’, for it is concerned with graduates who are civic-minded and
thus concerned with social justice. Unlike the teaching Steenveld described in JMS in the 1980s,
the emphasis is not on opposition to the state and producing media for alternative rather than
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mainstream media houses. Instead, it seeks to produce graduates who can work with these concerns
regardless of their institutional location. Finally, it stresses its location as an African academy
that ‘seeks to make valuable intellectual contributions to the broad African media environment, to
research, and to the integrated and ongoing education of media practitioners’ (
The form the curriculum has taken is informed by critical and poststructural theories, notably
the idea of the circuit of culture which charts a process by which culture gathers meaning at four
different ‘moments’, namely production, texts, readings and lived cultures (Du Gay et al. 1997). It
advocates a holistic and multi-perspectival approach which aims at both critique and transformation.
With this conceptual framework, the challenge was for the curriculum to incorporate the theoretical
and practical dimensions in an integrated way within the constraints of the undergraduate degree
for Journalism and Media Studies, which is a major subjects alongside another major subjects and
four minor courses. It was agreed that for the curriculum to be coherent, each level would include
certain strands, namely production of media and academic work; knowledge in relation to technical
skills relating to academic and media production; histories of media (including an economic
analysis) both global and local; and theories about media texts, institutions and audiences and their
relation to practice.
If knowledge development is understood as incremental, this curriculum threads these aspects
through each year to systematically develop understandings and abilities. From the principles
above it is apparent that production is not limited to media texts, but includes learning the
conventions, expectations and limitations of the academy and academic literacy, which also needs
to be taught explicitly. It also assumes that mainstream institutional conventions need critique and
problematising in relation to the form and content of their representations. The history strand is
structured to begin with a global scope in relation to media, journalism and modernity, and then
move to the more local history of South African news media.
The pedagogical principles that informed the curricular choices were drawn from critical
pedagogical theories. Learning is understood as incremental and the need for rehearsal is built into
the courses. It advocates experiential learning strategies with an emphasis on critical reflections. As
the curriculum stands, it is the product of a prolonged complex and, at times, contentious process
on the part of the teaching staff. Unsurprisingly, it is not equally embraced by all, but rather is
generally acknowledged to be consistent with the vision statement and to provide a firm base from
which to attempt to produce critical journalists. Yet, while this approach has been consolidated
over five years, I suggest that certain issues now need to be considered to respond to the exigencies
of recent technological and cultural developments, and they might form the basis for conversations
between journalism educators of the South (such as Brazil and South Africa), to seek similarities
and differences and possible strategies to inform the way we teach about them. These are the issues
I shall conclude with, then.
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Journalism educators in southern countries, as elsewhere, need to respond to their immediate
contexts. For South Africa and Brazil, I mention two aspects: First, the new media environment
characterised by the convergence of media technologies and an emphasis on multi-media approaches
exists on the one hand, certainly, but on the other hand levels of access to technologies are so
divergent, in line with the levels of inequalities indicated by the Gini coefficient earlier. Second, as
countries where authoritarian governments previously held power, the renewed arguments on the
part of government for media in the national interest should be responded to critically.
Some commentators speak of a crisis in journalism and this can be attributed to competing news
sources, for example, on the Internet, and the perceived challenges posed by citizen journalism.
Fourie (2005) views journalism as being in crisis, as it is generally held in low esteem. He
attributes this, in part, to its lack of intellectual depth, accompanied by a reliance on the opinions
of certain intellectuals and academics. Fourie suggests shifting the focus of journalism education
towards a critical understanding of the profession that includes the ‘questioning of the Western
epistemology(ies) as the foundation of thinking about reality’ (ibid.: 154). Thus he echoes a concern
shared with several African and postcolonial scholars with ‘decolonising the mind’, but one that
easily slips into an essentialist argument.
Arguably, debates relating to journalism and epistemologies and the resulting forms, practices and
possibilities, could usefully form the central focus of the debates to be had between Brazil and
South Africa. This implies developing theory and critique pertinent to the conditions that exist
there, and to creating arguments for renewed practices that serve the purpose of social justice.
To do this, journalists need to have a sound knowledge base to work from – one that includes a
nuanced understanding of the global economy and the interests it serves, as well as of the histories
from which we, and other southern countries, emerge.
Certainly, in the South African context, the need to speak and write in indigenous languages suggests
that the knowledge base should incorporate fluency in an indigenous language, if journalists are to
move beyond largely reporting on elite places and people.
Debates between journalism educators of Brazil and South Africa would most likely result in
the recognition of the need for new approaches to aspects of curriculum. It might begin to erode
some of the positions we hold, and might call for lecturers to develop new knowledge bases and
expertise. Whatever the results might be, such dialogue can enable us to interrogate our knowledge
and practices, in order to produce knowledge pertinent to our contexts. Such interactions have the
potential to contribute to a critical practice for social justice, to fostering the kind of democracies
we desire, and to internationalising journalism studies.
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This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
On the Gini measure 0.0 means absolute equality and 1.0 means 1% of households take all income.
The figures quoted apply to 2005. See
It is noteworthy that other applied fields of study such as teaching and nursing have rejected the
term ‘training’ and insisted on ‘education’ in recognition of the fact that teaching and nursing are
not neutral practices.
Windshuttle’s selective version of cultural studies has been critiqued widely (see Ravell 1998,
Strelitz & Steenveld 1998, Tomaselli & Shepperson 2000, for example).
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Babbie, E. and J. Mouton. 2001. The practice of social research. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.
Barnett, C. 1999. The limits of media democratisation in South Africa: Politics, privatisation and
regulation. Media, Culture and Society 21: 649–671.
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library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html (accessed 10 March 2010).
De Beer, A. and K. Tomaselli. 2000. South African journalism and mass communication scholarship:
Negotiating ideological schisms. Journalism Studies 1(1): 9–33.
Du Gay, P. and S. Hall, et al. 1997. Doing Cultural Studies: The story of the Sony Walkman. London:
Duncan, J. 2003. Another journalism is possible: Critical challenges for the media in South Africa.
Harold Wolpe lecture series, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.
Du Toit, J. 2008. In search of critical engagement: A history of South African university-based journalism
education. Paper presented at the Asian Media and Information Centre Conference ‘Changing
media, changing societies’, Manila, Philippines.
Fourie, P. 2005. Journalism studies: The need to think about journalists’ thinking. Ecquid Novi 26(2):
Hallowes, D. and V. Munnik 2006. Poisoned spaces. Pietermaritzburg: GroundWork.
Medsger, B. 1996. Winds of change: Challenges confronting journalism education. Virginia: The
Freedom Forum.
Pinnock, D. 1991. Popularise, organise, educate and mobilise: Culture and communication in the 1980s.
In K. Tomaselli and E. Louw (eds), The alternative press in South Africa, 133–154. Bellville:
Prinsloo, J. 2002. Possibilities for critical literacy: An exploration of the schooled literacies in KwaZuluNatal. PhD thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
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Ravell, J. 1998. Cultural studies critics miss the point. Asia Pacific Media Educator 4: 90–95.
Reese, S. and J. Cohen. 2000. Education for journalism: The professionalism of scholarship. Journalism
Studies 1(2): 213–227.
Singh, M. 2001. Reinserting the ‘public good’ into higher education transformation. Kagisano 1(1).
CHE Education Discussion Series. Pretoria: Council on Higher Education.
Steenveld, L. 2006. Journalism education in South Africa? Context, context, context. In A. Olorunnisola
(ed), Media in South Africa after apartheid: A cross-media assessment, 253–295. Lewiston, NY:
The Edwin Mellen Press.
Steyn, E. and A.S. de Beer. 2004. The level of journalism skills in South African media: A reason for
concern within a developing democracy. Journalism Studies 5(3): 387–397.
Strelitz, L. and L. Steenveld. 1998. The fifth estate: Media theory, watchdog of journalism. Ecquid Novi
19(1): 100–110.
Tomaselli, K. 2005. Paradigm, position and partnerships: Difference in communication studies.
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Tomaselli, K. and A. Shepperson. 2000. The Australian journalism vs. cultural studies debate:
Implications for South African media studies. Communicatio: South African Journal for
Communication Theory and Research 26(1): 60–72.
Wasserman, H. 2005. Journalism education as transformative practice. Ecquid Novi 26(2): 159–174.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 200–212
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485366
Journalism/Communication graduate education in Brazil
Sérgio Mattos* 1
A general overview of Brazilian graduate courses in the field of communication and journalism is presented
from an historical perspective. The present article presents data about the development of graduate courses
throughout the country, taking into account the increasing number of undergraduate courses which are on
offer in the same area. The article also covers the academic scientific production of programmes in the
fields of journalism and communication. Up until 1991, only seven graduate programmes in communication
were available in Brazil. The number of programmes increased to 36 graduate courses in 2009, with such
programmes being distributed throughout the five regions of the country, with one in the north (Amazonas),
seven in the south, five in the north-east, 20 in the south-east, and three in the central west. Of the 36 graduate
courses, 23 offer only Master’s programmes, whereas 13 offer both PhD and Master’s programmes. According
to the 2007 Education Census data, undergraduate social communication courses had an enrolment of
221 901 students in that year. Currently, 1 810 undergraduate communication courses, as well as 558 journalism
courses are on offer in Brazil.
Key words: Brazil, communication, graduate and undergraduate courses, history, journalism education,
The current article is intended to present a general overview of journalism education in Brazil.
Though not conclusive, the article firstly describes the evolution of undergraduate journalism
courses, since their inception in the mid-1940s up until 2009. According to the 2007 Education
Census data, undergraduate courses in communication were ranked fifth nationally among those
courses with the largest enrolment of students. Of the 1 810 undergraduate courses in Social
Communication (including those focusing on Film, Editorial, Journalism, Advertising, Broadcast
– Radio and TV – and Public Relations) on offer in the country, 558 of them are in the field of
journalism. For a journalist to be professionally registered as such with the Ministry of Labour, in
order to be eligible for employment in the field of journalism, a degree in journalism has, until now,
been a legal requirement.
Secondly, the current article presents data reflecting the development of graduate courses across
the country. The Brazilian graduate system was established in the 1960s in a rather ad hoc manner.
Up until 1991 there were only seven graduate programmes in communication on offer in Brazil.
The total number of such programmes increased to 36 in 2009, distributed throughout all five
regions of the country, with one in the north (Amazonas), seven in the south, five in the northeast, 20 in the south-east, and three in the central west. Of a total of 36 graduate courses, 23 offer
only Master’s programmes, whereas 13 offer both PhD and Master’s programmes. The National
Sérgio Mattos is professor at the Federal University of Recôncavo of the Bahia (UFRB) in Brazil. Email: [email protected]
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Journalism/Communication graduate education in Brazil
System of Graduate Programmes is composed of 2 800 Master’s and PhD courses. According to
the Education Ministry’s projections, 16 918 students stand to complete their PhDs in 2010.
Thirdly, the current article describes the trajectory of the graduate programmes in communication
at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), starting with a historical overview, and providing
insight into the numerous challenges, growth and principal achievements, as well as contributions
to the development of Brazilian graduate courses. The importance of such a study lies in the fact
that the graduate programme in Bahia was the first to be established in the north-east of Brazil. This
short case study is also an example of how fast the development of a graduate course in Brazil can
take place, and how long it takes for such a course to become fully functional.
This section of the article presents a brief history of undergraduate courses in Brazil. The initial
landmark in journalism education was not President Getulio Vargas’ government decree, which
was responsible for creating a journalism course under the influence of the Philosophy Department,
but rather the formation of the journalism course which was implemented in São Paulo, in 1943, by
the journalist Vitorino Prata Castello Branco. Initially, Branco’s pioneering work received support
from the Professional Press Association of São Paulo, which authorised the use of its auditorium
for the course. However, due to strong pressure, the initial support for the course was undermined,
which led, at least in part, to the closure of the course. Branco then compiled all the material
distributed during the course, from which he published a book in 1945 entitled: Journalism course.
That book is identified as the definitive proof that a journalism course was started in 1943 in Brazil
(Mattos 1994).
Despite Vargas’ Decree No. 5480 having been published on 13 May 1943, the university course in
journalism was only officially launched in 1948. The lengthy period between the official act and the
establishment of the course was due to strong resistance to journalism education at university level
during the 1940s. Such resistance was exerted by media owners and professionals with different
educational backgrounds, who used to work for the major newspapers. The media owners were
afraid that a professional qualification could force them to hike the salaries of journalists, while the
professionals themselves were afraid of the competition. Ever since journalism education was first
initiated in Brazil, the diploma which has been awarded in the field has been continuously subject
to scrutiny. On 17 June 2009, the Brazilian Supreme Court revoked the requirement that those who
wish to work in the field of journalism first earn a degree in the field – a requirement which had
been in force since Decree No. 972 was first enacted in 1969.
The pedagogic guidelines for journalism courses were initially created in 1946 by the Ministry
of Education, which established the curricular structure concerned. At the time, the number of
cultural subjects surpassed that of technical ones. The journalism course, which was offered by
Cásper Líbero in São Paulo, was authorised by Decree No. 23087, which was enacted on 19 May
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1947, and implemented in 1948. The course was linked to the other offerings of the Philosophy
Department of The Catholic University of São Paulo. The first journalists to graduate from Cásper
Líbero did so on 21 April 1950 (Marques Melo 1994).
After that, many different university-level journalism courses sprang up across the country. On
28 April 1949, the UFBA, in the north-east, approved the establishment of a course in journalism
which started in 1950 with about 120 candidates, of whom the first 64 graduated in 1952. After a
break from 1953 to 1961, said course was once more on offer from 1962 onwards (Mattos 1994).
The year 1959 was very important for the teaching of journalism in the north-east. In that year,
the Catholic sisters of the Congregation of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes obtained authorisation to
establish a journalism course in Joao Pessoa, Paraiba. The first Bachelor’s degrees in Journalism
were awarded to those graduating from that course in 1961. In the same year, a new journalism
course was established in the north-east by the Catholic University of Pernambuco, under the
direction of Luiz Beltrão (Mattos 1994).
José Marques de Melo has classified the journalism courses in Brazilian universities in terms of
their historical context. According to him, since its conception, the teaching of journalism in Brazil
has encompassed four distinct tendencies of curricular focus: ethical–social; technical–editorial;
politico–ideological; and critic–professional. In this way, the first journalism courses, which were
offered at the end of the 1940s (by Cásper Líbero, in São Paulo, and by the University of Brazil, in
Rio de Janeiro), presented a strong tendency towards being of a deontological nature, emphasising
those ethical, juridical and philosophical aspects that could be clearly understood, given the
country’s socio-political context of 1945. Such an approach continued to influence the curricular
structure of journalism courses until 1964, after which the second phase of journalistic instruction
began under the military dictatorship that ruled the country for the next decade. Such a phase saw
the technical–editorial tendency assume predominance, during which phase the emphasis was laid
on evolving an appropriate journalistic technique set on improving related standards.
The politico-historical development undergone by Brazil then led to the implementation of the
Political Opening/Flexibility Process (Abertura Política), which inculcated a sense of hope for
the initiation of democratic practices. Such an expectation was fortified by the National Congress
election of 1974. During that period, there was a tendency to separate the process of news gathering,
codification and diffusion from the politico–ideological scene. From that moment on, courses
in communication were subject to ongoing crises, resulting from the lack of teaching quality in
such courses and the stance held by Brazilian newspaper owners in defiance of the regulation that
recognised the journalist as a university-level professional. In addition, journalists were required
to be specifically qualified to work in the mass media market. In an attempt to solve the resultant
crisis, much debate took place throughout the country.
By this time, a fourth phase had emerged: that of the critic–professional. To improve the journalism
qualifications on offer, new solutions had to be found by means of scientific investigation.
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Accordingly, an official decision (embodied in Resolution No. 3 of 1978) was enacted by
the Federal Council of Education (CFE). The resolution established a basic curriculum by
determining, in its appendix, that all journalism courses had to include access to laboratories,
to allow for experimentation by journalism students. The resolution in question determined that
those institutions offering journalism courses had to be supplied with the following facilities: a
newsroom; a design room; a typographic room; and photographic and broadcasters’ (radio and TV)
Such orders were enforced in terms of Resolution No. 2 of 1984, which had been enacted by the
CFE. Despite the fact that the journalism curriculum stipulated the participation of academics and
media owners, the resolution had not improved the study of journalism in pedagogic terms. In fact,
it worsened the polemic battle between those groups that defended a more theoretic–humanistic
foundation to the journalism course and the group that defended the need for more laboratorybased practice.
Resolution No. 2 of 1984 allowed flexibility by permitting courses either to introduce new subjects
or to extend some of the existing ones, as well as to refine existing communication courses. The
curricula for all communication (Film, Editorial, Journalism, Advertising, Broadcast – Radio and
TV – and Public Relations) courses were devised similarly, ensuring that a set number of prescribed
skills would be achieved by the end of each course. By that time, the curriculum for journalism
had been improved by both the University of São Paulo (USP) and by the University of Brasilia
(UnB). Such improvement showed that the future of journalism in the country was still open to the
adoption of more balanced approaches to curricular development.
Despite 25 years having elapsed since the enactment of that resolution, we are still in the same
quandary regarding those problems surrounding journalism education in Brazil, as well as the
need for a diploma, before one is allowed to practise journalism. During the past three decades,
however, Brazilian journalism – including journalism courses – has improved significantly. The
obligation to receive university training has, by itself, raised the intellectual standards required
of journalists. The setting of such standards has resulted in many Brazilian journalists attaining
innumerable achievements, with it being possible to attribute the high academic standing of the
graduate programmes to the improved qualifications of the professors concerned.
Communication courses became very popular in Brazil during the early 1980s. By the end of the
decade, in newspapers and television newsrooms across the country, journalists with a university
degree were being appointed to replace those who lacked such qualifications. From the mid-1990s
to the late-2000s, increasing numbers of communication and journalism courses were created
throughout the country. According to the 2007 Education Census data, the undergraduate course
in communication ranked fifth in the national ranking among students enrolled at university, with
221 901 students enrolled for courses in Social Communication. In 2007, 71 372 students completed
their courses. Of the 1 810 undergraduate communication courses on offer in Brazil in that year,
558 on journalism were on offer in the country.
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In the case of journalism, the necessity to have a degree in journalism was, from 1969 until June
2009, more than an academic option, because it had been a legal requirement for a journalist to
be so qualified in order to be allowed to register as a professional journalist with the Ministry of
Labour. As a result, more than 80 per cent of the journalists working for newspapers in São Paulo
were college graduates who had majored in journalism. According to Hersckovitz (2005):
While journalists are required by law to have a degree in communications to enter the field, very
few continued their education beyond that. They said they would like to attend more workshops and
complained that their news organisations did not allow them any free time to pursue further training or
education. Some news organisations do promote workshops and offer their employees English courses.
In order to improve the 2001 National guidelines for communication courses, the Ministry of
Education, in February 2009, nominated a National Guidelines Commission on Journalism
Courses. The commission had, in July 2009, to submit a proposal containing the new guidelines in
order for such courses to be approved by the National Council of Education.
A national discussion, which took the form of a public debate, was carried out with the participation
of professors, professionals and institutions of civil society, as well as via the Internet. In this way,
the commission gleaned many suggestions regarding curricular guidelines on journalism and, after
compiling a database of all the suggestions, the commission issued a final proposal in this regard,
which it submitted to the National Council on Education. According to José Marques de Melo,
President of the Commission, consensus was reached about the quality standards to be set for the
journalism course. Most of the suggestions received related to quality and ethics. In this sense,
the guidelines on journalism will not be considered an end in itself, but rather as a document for
the evaluation of the efficiency of journalism courses, in terms of how effectively they manage to
fulfil their mandate, while providing key insights into how to implement new courses. Marques de
Melo has also asserted that the commission is committed to supporting those principles in favour
of maintaining university autonomy as regards the organisation of their curricula, in accordance
with the constitutional ruling.
In this section of the article, the evolution of graduate courses in Brazil will be discussed. The
Brazilian graduate system was established during the 1960s in a relatively spontaneous way. The
graduate system offers courses stricto sensu of Master’s and PhD programmes, and specialised
courses lato sensu directed at specific fields of study. From the mid-1970s onwards, the system has
been guided by the principles established in the National plan for (post-graduate studies. The first
plan, which covered the period from 1975 to 1979, set out which actions should consolidate the
system by improving performance standards. The second plan was aimed at promoting graduate
course expansion during the period from 1982 to 1985. The third plan, covering the period from
1986 to 1989, established some guidelines for consolidating the institutionalisation of research
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‘emphasizing specific sums of money in university budgets, placing value on the scientific
production of professors and encouraging the production in centers and research laboratories’
(Machado 2005).
The fourth plan, issued in December 2004 and approved by the Minister of Education on 5 January
2005, established four objectives for the expansion of the system: ‘the empowerment of professors
in colleges and universities, the qualification of teachers who work in elementary schools, the
specialisation of professionals for public and state jobs and the professional development of
technicians and researchers for state and private companies’. The fourth plan also intends to
double the present number of researchers, to strengthen the technological and scientific base of
the system, to increase the professional training of new teachers at all educational levels, and to
promote academic balance among the different regions of the country. In relation to international
partnerships, the plan proposes to increase the present model of institutional partnership, to create
new programmes of scholarship exchange, and to encourage postdoctoral development.
After analysing the said four plans, Fernanda da Fonseca Sobral (2004, as quoted by Machado
2005), states the following: ‘[W]e conclude that the Brazilian graduate policy initially tried to
empower university professors; later on it became concerned with graduate system performance and
finally it focused on the development of university research, aiming at scientific and technological
research and national priorities.’
In Brazil, the first theoretical texts on journalism were produced early on in the 20th century.
However, journalism courses began to be established during the late 1940s, whereas the initial
graduate programmes in communication were only established in the mid-1960s. Until the
establishment of the graduate courses, studies in journalism were the result of individual efforts, in
the absence of a formal research environment. During the mid-1960s, the (Post) Graduate Course
in Communication was created at USP, which presented journalism as a research field. As a result,
in 1972 José Marques de Melo submitted the first Brazilian dissertation on journalism at USP. At
the time, according to Meditsch and Segala (2005),
we were already faced with the problem of legitimating journalism research, due to the introduction
of Social Communication Studies as a new discipline to which journalism became subordinate.
(…) Propagated by Unesco in the post-war years, Mass Communication – now known as Social
Communication – arrived in Brazil as a new discipline through CIESPAL and the minimum compulsory
syllabus established in the 1960s. However, differently from what occurred in other Latin American
countries, in Brazil there was not exactly a ‘loss of the object of study’ of Communication due to its
expansion. On the contrary, journalism, now an academic sub-area of a field known as Communication
Sciences, has conserved its identity in the bosom of the new area, (…) it preserves its vitality as an area
for academic production.
From the mid-1960s to 1970s, the first graduate courses in communication in Brazil were brought
into being. Among the first academic endeavours in this regard was that of the USP’s School of
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Communication and Arts in São Paulo; that of the School of Communication Studies (ECO) at
the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; and the Master’s programme of the Communication
Department at Brasília University. The UnB’s graduate programme in communication started in
1974 with a Master’s course, whereas its PhD course started only later, in 2003. The UnB’s graduate
course is a pioneer in the field of media process studies. The primary focus of the course is the
investigation of practices, processes, products, institutions and technologies in the communication
field and their relationship with politics, economics and various cultural areas. The programme
has four foci of research: journalism and society; communication policies; sound and image; and
communication and technology theory.
From the early 1990s onwards, graduate programmes in communication were systematically
introduced across the country, with the highest concentration of such programmes developing in
the south-east region. The research efforts exerted by the three universities from São Paulo – USP,
UMESP and UNICAMP – have also inspired other Brazilian universities with journalism schools.
Most recently, on 6 August 2007, the Federal University of Santa Catarina established its graduate
Master’s programme in journalism, which is the first such programme to have journalism as its
sole focus of study. The course concentrates on two key areas of research, namely journalism
fundamentals, and journalistic processes and products.
According to the data released by Coordination of Training for University-level Personnel (CAPES)
in 2007, in total 50 406 professors were involved with undergraduate and graduate courses in Brazil.
The National System of (Post) Graduate Programmes is currently composed of 2 800 Master’s and
PhD courses. In 1987, 868 students completed their PhD programmes in all areas of knowledge. In
2003, the total number of new doctorates increased to 8 094. Considering the MEC’s projections,
it is likely that 16 918 students will be completing their PhD programmes in 2010.
Brazilian academic achievements can be seen in terms of the total number of articles published in
any one year. In 2007, 19 428 articles were published in scientific journals, that being 2 556 more
than the total number of such articles published in 2006. Despite such growth, Brazil was ranked
only 15th internationally, in this respect, by Thomson Scientific. In 2007, Brazil produced only
2.02 per cent of the total international scientific production. However, according to information
released by the Minister of Education in June 2009, Brazilian scientific production increased by
56 per cent from 2007 to 2008, with Brazilian researchers publishing 30 451 scientific papers in
2008. In May 2008, as a result of such an increase in production, Brazil rose two positions in the
international ranking, to be ranked 13th in terms of international scientific production.
The National (Post) Graduate System follows the classification which was originally proposed
by CNPq, as categorised into eight major areas: Exact and Earth Sciences; Biological Sciences;
Engineering; Health Sciences; Land Sciences; Human Sciences; Linguistics, Languages and the
Arts; and Applied Social Sciences, in which (Post) Graduate Communication and Information
Science have been included. (Post) graduate courses are structured according to their areas
of concentration and fields of research. All communication courses have a specific area of
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concentration, which includes a few fields of research. Only three graduate programmes – those at
USP, at UnB and at the Federal University of Santa Catarina respectively – offer journalism as a
specific field of research. According to Marcia Benetti Machado (2005),
the absence of specific fields of journalism in other programmes has neither limited the research of
advisors nor the access of students who focus their research on journalism. However, because of
the CAPES evaluation instruments, which analyse, among other items, the ‘connection between the
fields of research and projects’, there is an ongoing effort to adapt project themes or approaches to
the guidelines for each field of research, which is always more comprehensive than the already broad
field of journalism. While such a strategy guarantees the insertion of such projects into the area of
Communication studies, it might also prejudice the development of a significant research axis, with its
own subjects and theories, such as in the case of journalism.
In addition to the above, Elias Machado (2005) argues that journalism, as a scientific object,
makes possible the establishment of a specialised field of knowledge which, while having in the
journalistic profession a legitimate object, requires the development of its own, specific methodologies
in order to be fully understood. (…) From the mid-1990s to the present time, there has been a
dissemination of journalism researchers with graduate degrees either from a Brazilian university, or
from a foreign one, throughout various states in Brazil, many of whom have been absorbed by the new
graduate programmes in communication studies outside the Rio–São Paulo area. The main research
areas developed over the course of time have been: the history of journalism; theories of journalism;
discourse analysis; news making; reception; specialised journalism; digital journalism; and narrative
Until 1991, there were only seven graduate programmes in communication in Brazil: four in São
Paulo; one in Rio de Janeiro; one in Brasília; and one in Salvador. The number of such programmes
increased to 36 by 2009, being located in the following five Brazilian regions: one in the north;
seven in the south; five in the north-east; 20 in the south-east; and three in the central west. Of the
total of 36 graduate communication courses on offer, 23 offer only Master’s programmes, whereas
13 offer both PhD and Master’s programmes. A total of 1 018 students are enrolled in Master’s
programmes, with 524 enrolled in PhD communication programmes. According to 2009 unofficial
data, approximately 520 professors were teaching graduate communication courses. In Brazil, the
average Master’s programme takes 28 months, and the average PhD programme 47 months, to
The influence exerted by both CAPES and CNPq (National Council of Technological and Scientific
Development) on the growth of such graduate programmes is undeniable. CAPES and CNPq
are federal agencies that promote research by granting scholarships and other forms of financial
assistance to professors and students. In 1976, CAPES first adopted a system of evaluation for
graduate courses in Brazil. Since then, CAPES has developed graduate courses, as well as scientific
and technological research, throughout the country. In short, CAPES has the following objectives:
to establish quality standards for the Master’s and PhD programmes; to contribute to the increasing
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efficiency of such programmes; and to create an efficiently run bank of databases to allow for the
successful monitoring of the development of graduate education throughout Brazil.
Graduate courses are subjected to annual evaluation, which is conducted by CAPES. Every three
years, the programme is graded or evaluated on a scale from 1 to 7, according to the guidelines
established by the National Council of Education (CNE) and the Ministry of Education (MEC).
Those programmes that are graded 1 or 2 are disaccredited by the MEC, whereas those PhD
programmes that maintain excellence and receive international recognition might be graded 6 or 7.
The highest grade that can be awarded a Master’s programme is 5. Each graduate course requires
authorisation as an offering, with the renewal of such authorisation depending on the results of the
CAPES also contributes to the development of graduate courses by means of the scholarships it
offers. The different official bodies offer, among others, scholarships in extension work, initial
scientific investigation and research, the latter of which may be offered to graduate students to
carry out those projects relating to specific research areas. CAPES also provides some students
who are enrolled in Master’s or PhD courses with work- or study-related scholarships. According
to 2008 data, CAPES granted scholarships to 1 015 students and 211 teachers who were linked to
18 different projects and 126 different schools.
CAPES runs programmes of international cooperation in order to develop Brazilian graduate
activities in the global context. CAPES also supports university exchange agreements in partnership
with Argentina, Chile, Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United
States and Uruguay.
CNPq, in contrast, is an agency that is linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT).
The agency, which was formed in 1951, is dedicated to the promotion of scientific and technological
research in Brazil, with whose history it is directly linked. In 1999, CNPq launched a project
known as Lattes Platform, intended to standardise the curriculum vitae of Brazilian researchers. By
means of the project, the scientific and academic research efforts of professors and students have
become accessible to all.
The current section of this article describes the trajectory of graduate programmes in communication
at UFBA, by discussing some of its history, including those challenges and instances of growth
encountered, as well as the principal contributions made to the development of Brazilian graduate
courses. Bahia’s graduate programmes, which were the first to be established in the north-east,
have made a significant contribution to the improvement of graduate education in Brazil. This
short case study exemplifies how fast the development of a graduate course can occur in Brazil,
and how long such a course can take to become fully functional. The Master’s programme in the
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Department of Communication2 at UFBA was only established in 1989, with the PhD programme
being established in 1994.
The two graduate programmes offering both a Master’s and a PhD at UFBA’s Faculty of
Communication (FACOM) are those of Communication and Contemporary Culture and the
Multidisciplinary Programme in Culture and Society. FACOM reflects the pioneering way in which
such programmes influenced the regional direction of such studies. The two graduate programmes
are part of UFBA, which was created in 1946, and which today offers 56 undergraduate courses, 46
different Master’s programmes and 23 PhD programmes. FACOM was created on 30 September
1987, after splitting from the Faculty of Library and Communication. Currently, FACOM offers
two undergraduate courses (one in the field of journalism, and the other in editorial production) and
two programmes of graduate courses stricto sensu (offering both a Master’s and a PhD). FACOM
has about 500 undergraduate and 143 graduate students. Together, the two graduate programmes
have an academic complement of 40 permanent and nine ad hoc professors.
According to Albino Rubim, the first Director of FACOM, many extension activities had to be
carried out from 1985 to 1987, prior to the implementation of the graduate programme. Salvador
first had first to be acknowledged as a source of sound communication and cultural debate. Many
seminars and courses were held in order to bring the academic staff up to date with the latest
developments in the area, and to foster the further academic development of the faculty and staff.
The debates, which started with one on the dilemma of modernity, featured prominent Brazilian
authors and cultural thinkers involved in the field of communication, and therefore contributed a
great deal to the creation of the graduate programme concerned (Mattos 2008). Such activities and
exchange programmes facilitated the identification and appointment of a select group of professors,
whose chief concern was cultural studies.
As a result, the Graduate Programme in Communication and Contemporary Culture was established
at UFBA, of which Prof. Marcos Palacios became the first coordinator. When his successor, Prof.
Albino Rubim, assumed leadership of the programme, the foci of study became post-modernity,
neo-modernity, sociability, communication and culture. At first, the programme sought to secure
common ground within the plurality of theoretical approaches which could be adopted towards
such topics of study.
The Programme in Communication and Contemporary Culture was created in 1989, together with
a Master’s course. Since its inception, the programme has been characterised as an interdisciplinary
focus of academic endeavour in the fields of communication and culture. The PhD programme
was first implemented in 1994, as not only the first such programme on offer in the north-east
region of Brazil, but also as the first such programme outside the axis formed by the academic
communities of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasília. As such, it was the seventh such course
to be established in the country. Within FACOM’s infrastructure, the new International Centre for
Multidisciplinary Studies on Culture (CULT, the Cathedral of Andrés Bello) was formed in 2003.
FACOM’s second graduate course in communication was first established in 2005, consisting of
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Sérgio Mattos
the Multidisciplinary Programme in Culture and Society, which further strengthened FACOM’s
say in graduate education throughout the north-east.
The Programme in Communication and Contemporary Culture was rated 5 by CAPES in 2001,
which acknowledged the course as one of the best in the country. The programme focuses on three
main areas of study, namely
cyber culture, which analyses the form of media convergence occurring in informatics and
telecommunication, focusing on its impact in terms of communication and technology;
the analysis of media culture products and language, which focuses attention on the analysis of
works, products and communicative languages, as well as on the elaboration of methodologies
in receptive studies; and
communication and politics.
The Multidisciplinary Programme on Culture and Society, which was rated 4 by CAPES, primarily
focuses on two main areas of research, namely
culture and development, which addresses the relationship between culture and politics, and
between culture and science; and
culture and identity, which is directed at the descriptive and discursive analysis of social forms
of identity and artistic expression.
According to August 2008 data, the Programme in Communication and Contemporary Culture
had, by that stage, already awarded 158 Master’s degrees and 51 PhDs. At that time, the enrolment
in the programme was 57 students, of whom 27 were registered with the PhD, and 30 with the
Master’s programmes. The programme also had 11 students enrolled for the Inter-Institutional PhD
programme, which was being conducted in partnership with the Federal University of Tocatins.
The Programme in Culture and Society has, so far, awarded 28 Master’s degrees, and its first PhD
in 2009. The Programme in Culture and Society, at the time of going to press, had 75 students
enrolled for its course, of whom 32 were registered for their PhDs and 43 for their Master’s. The
Master’s programme was consolidated between 1988 and 1990, with the PhD programme being
created in 1994.
Since then, the Graduate Programme in Communication and Contemporary Culture has pioneered
the incorporation of new media technologies, resulting in the establishment of the International
Centre for Studies and Research on Cyber Culture. The centre, which was first formed by Marcos
Palacios and André Lemos (who were, at the time, professors in the abovementioned programme),
was initially created as a research group (Cyber Research) in 1997. In 2000, the research group was
transformed into the international centre, with the objective of conducting studies and participating
in the emerging area of cyber culture. This soon became an internationally acknowledged centre
of excellence, due to its studies on the impact of new technologies on contemporary culture and
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Journalism/Communication graduate education in Brazil
Another pioneering activity which members of the programme engaged in, was to establish a
research group on digital journalism, with research into the topic being initiated in 1995. As a
result, the Research Group on On-Line Journalism (GJOL) was created under the directorship of
Prof. Elias Machado. According to Machado (2005), who was one of the visionaries of the project,
GJOL made such a substantial contribution as ‘to improve not only the quality of teaching, but also
the quality of the research and the digital journalism practiced in Salvador’. FACOM was one of
the first Brazilian schools to teach digital journalism as a compulsory subject in its undergraduate
journalism course, anticipating a movement that was taking place in all journalism courses.
FACOM/UFBA’s participation in graduate communication courses has been in constant evidence,
not only through its pioneering activities, but also in terms of the influence it has exerted in the north
and north-east of Brazil, in determining areas of research and forging a true academic community.
The Bahia communication group has acted as a truly invisible college, which has developed its
own characteristics and specific tendencies.
Although FACOM/UFBA is considered relatively small in the communication arena, the rapid
approval of its second Graduate Programme in Culture and Society, offering both Master’s and PhD
programmes (by CAPES in 2005) came as something of a surprise. The implementation of such
a multidisciplinary programme occurred in accordance with the new CAPES policy, which was
aimed at recognising the value of multidisciplinary courses focusing on culture. The programme
offers academic support to professors and researchers from a range of disciplines dedicated to
the study of Brazilian culture, including those of anthropology, architecture, communication,
economics, the health sciences, history, music and sociology.
The challenges, tendencies and influences of the two graduate programmes on offer at FACOM/
UFBA are similar, despite the focus of the older being solely on communication, and that of the
younger being multidisciplinary. In short, we can say that, over the past 20 years, FACOM, by
means of its two graduate programmes, has contributed to the internationally acknowledged status
of Bahia and Brazil in respect of specific studies relating to culture, communication technology and
the impact of information on media and society. The professionals graduating from such programmes
are being hired to teach the communication and journalism courses on offer in Salvador and other
cities, which has led to the enhancement of the quality of teaching at the undergraduate level.
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
The author of this article was, in 1982, the first professor with a PhD in the department. The first
student to complete his journalism-related PhD in communication with the department, under the
guidance of the author, was awarded his degree at the beginning of 1998.
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Sérgio Mattos
Beltrão, L. 1986. O ensino do Jornalismo no Nordeste (depoimento). Cadernos de Jornalismo e
Editoração (18). São Paulo: Departamento de Jornalismo editoração, ECA/USP.
Castello Branco, V.P. 1986. O primeiro curso de jornalismo em São Paulo (depoimento). Cadernos de
Jornalismo e Editoração (18). São Paulo: Departamento de Jornalismo e editoração, ECA/USP.
Hersckovitz, H. 2005. Media roles and ethics: Perceptions of Brazilian, American and French journalists.
Brazilian Journalism Research 1(1): 87–109.
Machado, E. 2005a. Pesquisa aplicada ao desenvolvimento. Observatório da Imprensa, 11/04/2005. (accessed 10 February
. 2005b. From journalism studies to journalism theories. Brazilian Journalism Research 1(1):
Machado, M.B. 2005. Data and reflections on three research environments. Brazilian Journalism
Research 1(1): 5–46.
Marques de Melo, J. [s.d.] Pedagogia da Comunicação: As Experiências Brasileiras. In Contribuições
para uma Pedagogia da Comunicação, primeiro capítulo.
. 1984. Currículo mínimo de comunicação: O soneto e as emendas. Boletim do Intercom (46):
. 1985. Jornalismo Brasileiro: A Pesquisa e a Conjuntura Política. In Comunicação: Teoria e
Política, 59–69. São Paulo: Summus.
. 1994a. Cásper Líbero, Pioneiro do Ensino de Jornalismo no Brasil. In J.M. de Melo (ed),
Transformações do Jornalismo Brasileiro: Ética e Técnica, 13–24. São Paulo: Intercom,
Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos Interdisciplinares da Comunicação.
. 1994b. Transformações do Jornalismo Brasileiro: Ética e Técnica. J.M. de Melo (ed). São Paulo:
Intercom, Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos Interdisciplinares da Comunicação.
Mattos, S. 1994. Ensino de Jornalismo: Sem a integração teoria e prática não haverá solução. In J.M.
de Melo (org.), Transformações do Jornalismo Brasileiro: Ética e Técnica, 27–38. São Paulo:
Intercom, Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos Interdisciplinares da Comunicação.
. 2008. Trajetória da Pós-Graduação em Comunicação na Bahia. Paper presented at the XXXI
Brazilian Congress of Communication Science. Intercom, Natal, September.
Meditsch, E. and M. Segala. 2005. Trends in three 2003/4 journalism academic meetings. Brazilian
Journalism Research 1(1): 47–60.
Plano Nacional de Pós Graduação (2005–2010). CAPES.
PNPG_2005_2010.pdf (accessed 30 June 2009).
Sobral, F. da F. 2004. O planejamento da pós-graduação brasileira. CAPES.
br/_Documentos/PNPG/Textos_apoio_PlanejamentoPosGraduacao_Brasileira. pdf (accessed 30
June 2009).
UFBA. 1982. A Biblioteconomia na Bahia: 40 Anos de Atividades.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 213–226
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485367
Looking for journalism education scholarship in some
unusual places: The case of Africa
Arnold S de Beer * 1 2
It is argued in this article that due to the ‘knowledge colonialism’ that exists in the world today, Northern (especially
American and British) academic publishing houses have become so prevailing that generations of journalism
students in English-speaking African countries have become entrapped in the Northern ‘way of doing things’. In
the field of communication studies, this is perhaps best exemplified by the way in which introductory American
textbooks on journalism have become not only the major, but more often than not, the sole published source for
journalism students in Africa, as well as in the way journals tend to consist of Northern editorial board members,
even though the research area is Africa. This situation is discussed against the background of the curtailment
on the free flow of information in Africa on the one hand, and the Northern knowledge hegemony on the other.
A North–South and South–South publishing model is suggested.
Key words: Africa, journalism, journals, North–South relations, scholarship, South–South relations
A rather unforeseen consequence of the globalisation process is that it could compel journalism
scholars and their publishers in the North to rethink their relationship with their peers in the global
South, not least in Africa. If such reconsideration is not possible from a journalistic-ethical point
of view, then at least it should make sense from an academic one (see Le Roux & Nwosu 2006).
It is argued in this article that a kind of knowledge colonialism still exists in the world today. In an
era of globalisation, Northern (especially American) academic publishing hegemony3 has become
so prevalent over the last half-century, that generations of journalism students in English-speaking
African countries have become entrapped in the American ‘way of doing things’. This is best
exemplified in the way in which introductory American textbooks on journalism have become
not only the major, but often, the sole published source for journalism students in Africa. From
Wolseley and Campbell (1959) in the 50s, Bond (1961) in the 60s, through Metz (1977), Harriss,
Leiter and Johnson (1992), to the latter authors’ updates in the 2000s, teaching American students
journalism became teaching English-speaking African students journalism.
Against the avalanche of available American journalism textbooks, precious little was produced
in English-speaking Africa in terms of journalism textbooks (an exception to the rule was, for
instance, the work done by Francis Kasoma [e.g. 1994] and different authors in South Africa [e.g.
Greer 1999; Nel 2002]). Efforts over the years to find American publishers interested in adapting
US-based textbooks (let alone giving voice to African authors) to the needs and circumstances
of African journalism teaching have come to naught – as lists of prescribed texts in journalism
AS de Beer is professor extraordinary in the Department of Journalism, Stellenbosch University, South Africa. E-mail: [email protected]
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Arnold S de Beer
schools will show. In a market where the bottom-line rules, the answer has always been easy to
predict: ‘Journalism principles and the teaching thereof (as in American textbooks) are universal,
so there is no need to cater for Africa.’
As in other fields of intellectual endeavour, the time seems ripe for journalism scholars in the South
to readjust their relationship with the North. This would include the need to take cognizance of
institutional facets in the South, such as the 21st-century role of the media, jour­nalism teaching, and
the concomitant re-aligning of media and journalism literature, not the least being the publishing of
journalism monographs and journals.
Murphy and Rodríquez (2006) discuss, in a special edition of Global Media and Communication,
how globalisation and hegemony have compelled mass communication scholars in the North to
rethink the theoretical constructs and praxis of the media industries in Latin America. In this article,
it will be argued that the same reasoning could be applied with regard to Africa. On both these
continents (as well as elsewhere in the South, e.g. Asia and Australia), there are shifts in journalism
and mass communication paradigms, education, theory and research. The conspicuous markers of
global capitalism, technology and social struggles (e.g. democratisation, conflict, racism, poverty)
are now in need of being reframed in the North within the South’s context of its ‘ … thick residue of
indigenous, colonial revolutionary, and pre-capitalist’ past (Murphy & Rodríquez 2006: 267–268).
The reality is still very different – in the opposite direction. In a book review on media images,
Iskandar (2007), for instance, bemoans the fact that ‘media research remains obsessively confined
to the press in the Western Hemisphere,’ and that this continuing asymmetry within the publishing
industry and its patterns of distribution makes it difficult to reach US libraries and North-American
Mass media and journalism researchers, scholars and publishers, like the rest of the socie­tal
institutions in the North, do not yet seem ready to re-examine questions associated with changing
political, economic and cultural contexts, in order to obtain a full grasp of the South. This especially
includes journalism monograph and journal publishing agencies in the South, which speak directly
to the issue of cultural capital and representation by way of indigenous authorship.
On the other hand, the development of a South–South relationship could lessen the impact of the
northern publishing hegemony that is presently not only defining international journalism theory
and research, but also publishing on the topic itself. This is especially important because in the age
of globalisation, English has become the dominant means of scholarly journalism communication.
An example will be noted later on, where such cooperation became possible in the field of
communication and media studies.
As one would expect, international journalism journal publishing in English (as is the case with
other social science and humanity fields) is largely based in the North, where the peer-reviewed
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Journalism Studies, and Journalism are arguably
the leaders in the field devoted to journalism studies. English-language journalism print journals in
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the South, such as the Brazilian Journalism Review in Latin America, the Australian Journalism
Review in the Pacific and Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies in Africa, are few and far
It is noteworthy to observe that what is applicable to journalism also holds true for the broader issue
of knowledge creation. As Zegeye and Vambe (2006) argue, English-medium journals – especially
in the US and the UK – largely set international paradigms and research trends. The basis for this
assumption lies, inter alia, in the way English-language journals in the North dominate important
academic citation indexes such as the Thomson Reuters ISI and IBSS on topics directly related
to other continents (see, for instance, the UK/US journals indexed on IBSS, dealing with social
science and humanity topics in Latin America and Africa, in the absence of publications from these
two continents).
In Africa, the issue of Northern publication ascendancy is perhaps more conspicuous than
elsewhere, as journalism monographs and journals are not only conduits of academic research,
but also form part of the quest for free access to information still largely confined to the North.
On a continent where journalism and its products in the form of modern media (from the printed
word to the Internet) are in a battle to overcome continuous encroachment and intervention by the
state, journalism journal publishing could be a hazardous task. A lack of resources (both human
and material, including access to the Internet) aggravate this situation, which is mainly due to
factors such as a post-colonial legacy (including restrictions on media freedom); the curtailment of
knowledge production; the extent of journalism education and publishing; and the diverse effects
of globalisation (De Beer 2006). However, the lack of journalism journal publishing might, in the
first instance, be due to the internal political situation on the continent, and not necessarily (only)
due to a Northern publishing hegemony.
Since the African decolonisation process started in the 1960s, a growing body of literature in the
North has dealt with different aspects of democratisation, or lack thereof, but strangely, not much
is said about the role of journalism. One reason might be that while the media have played a
significant role in democratising countries (for example, in Latin America), this has not happened
to the same degree in sub-Saharan Africa (with the possible exception of countries such as South
Africa and Nigeria). In this context, Hydén, Leslie and Ogundimu (2002: 25), in their overview of
the role the media played in the democratisation process in Africa, note that the interaction between
the media and democratisation ‘(…) constitutes an important and still largely unexplored territory
for researchers in the field of (…) journalism’.
Though almost all countries on the African continent have constitutional provisions guar­anteeing
freedom of expression, including legislation that safeguards it, this ‘assurance’ has not been a glaring
beacon of hope in post-colonial times. One of the conventional wisdoms about democracy is that
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it should harbour a free press and consequently freedom of speech, which would include academic
freedom and the freedom to publish journalism journals, because the media is an important element
in safeguarding the ideals of democracy. However, as Berger (2002: 21–45) argues, this is a very
limited point of view, seen from a liberal pluralist paradigm. In post-colonial Africa, the media
have instead played a political propagandist role by propping up dictators and/or ruling elites.
The media have, with clear indications of state authoritarianism, been impounded upon by the
state to play a developmental role. Also, rather than being a bastion on which to build democratic
processes and structures, it became a characteristic of weak African states that the media were
directly linked to the state apparatus and were used to promote personality cults, rather than to
serve journalistic ideals according to the liberal model (ibid.: 27). The close relationship between
African governments and the press is also seen with regard to journalism journals and academic
departments. As has been witnessed at conferences of the African Council for Communication
Education and journalism departments from Swaziland and Zimbabwe in the south, to Ethiopia in
the east and Egypt in the north, governments influence and often prescribe directly the boundaries
of journalism studies at university level.
The argument that press freedom in Africa should not, in a Northern hegemonic sense, be considered
within a liberal-democratic frame but against the needs of African society, is a counter-argument
that more and more African media scholars are putting forward. This is also the point of view
advocated by one of the continent’s foremost media scholars, Francis Nyamnjoh (2005: 2–3). He
argues that the media in Africa have become the victims of ‘ … an imposed hierarchy of (Northern)
national and world cultures’, which exclude or marginalise entire world views and cultures on the
African continent. A consequence of this is that democracy could ‘ … hardly (be) informed by
popular articulations of personhood and agency’ (ibid.; see also Wasserman 2006). Nyamnjoh’s
point of view would resonate well with that of Merrill (2006: 23, 25–26): ‘Certain soils produce
some kinds of media cultures and other soils produce quite different ones. In a modern world,
journalists (and journalism scholars) must take various cultures into consideration. It makes things
difficult for everyone, for example, if a libertarian journalist tries to insert his or her values into an
authoritarian society. It is natural to expect trouble.’
Like other African idealists, Nyamnjoh (2005) believes that the politics of belonging, which means
an emphasis on the community rather than the individual, is central to understanding democracy
in Africa and the role of the media in promoting it (also see Merrill 2004). In the same vein, Ansah
(2005: 27–29) argues that if Africa’s record on all accounts in terms of human rights is a dismal
one, then ‘ … this cannot be properly attributed to the assumption that African societies have a
completely different conception of human rights from that of the Western societies with which they
came into contact through colonialism’.
As Ansah (ibid.: 37) shows, the typical Western idea of the press being the watchdog of government
(i.e. defending the public and its individual rights, vis-à-vis that of the national interest), falls foul
of many African political leaders who want to ensure the subservience of the press, because it
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is vital to the exercise of political power (see also Merrill 2004). This has obvious and serious
implications for journalism journal publishing as a critical indicator of freedom of speech.
The argument offered for the non-watchdog approach, is that the media might propagate and
promote interests that are at variance with those defined by the national leadership. ‘It is argued that
since political institutions in developing countries are fragile and any criticism of the government
may be interpreted as a challenge of the legitimacy of the government, the media should refrain
from scrutinizing the affairs of the government too closely’ (Ansah 2005: 36).
Against the premises of a Northern view of media freedom, African media scholars then argue that
Africa has a rich history of freedom of expression in an oral context (Ansah 2005). The issue for
these scholars is then not how African media (and consequently journalism journals) can fit into a
Northern and globalised paradigm of press freedom, but rather given the enormous economic and
political problems facing many African countries, whether the promotion of human rights, such as
press freedom, should not be subordinated to the imperatives of the national interest, e.g. in the
form of economic development (see Wasserman & De Beer 2006).
Africa’s depressing colonial and post-colonial history of press freedom (see De Beer 2005) could
then be construed as either a misreading of African values through the lens of liberal-democratic
ideals, or as a yet-to-realise reconceptualisation of democracy in terms of African values, such as
that of the community (see, for instance, Esan [2004] for a description of how oppressive political
regimes in Africa stifled media freedom and how these actions possibly led to the emergence of
popular culture as a form of alternative media).
The notion that African values regarding the free flow of communication differ from those of
the North is also expounded by Taylor, Nwosu and Mutua-Kombo (2004). They argue that the
orientation of media studies as a discipline on the African continent resulted from structural forces
from Africa’s colonial past. They also ascribe to the North the present prevailing theoretical
attraction of the mass media as agents of change, which necessitated having to train university
graduates for careers in journalism, broadcasting, public relations and advertising. This education
and training model has helped to entrench the Northern paradigm of a market- and profit-driven
media freedom as the cornerstone of communication in Africa.
What is needed in the African context, with its (theoretical and historical) heritage of
communitarianism (e.g. in the form of ubuntu, see Christians 2004) and (oral) com­munication, is
journalism teaching, research and publications that shift the focus to in­tercultural and interpersonal
communication. This would facilitate human communication, instead of lingering on the issue of
whether the African press is free in terms of a Northern definition of the term.
Whichever way one views the lack of press freedom in Africa, it does not minimise the fact that
journalism still faces almost insurmountable obstacles in terms of the open flow of information. Its
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Arnold S de Beer
concomitant influence on journalism journal publishing needs the context of a free press to develop
and prosper.
One of the most serious press freedom infringements in Africa is the threat to journalists’ safety.4 As
Rønning (2005) concludes in his overview of African journalism and the struggle for democratic
media, Africa is a long way off from a social system in which respect for human rights (such as press
freedom) is considered a prerequisite for good governance. Nor is Africa ready, through democratic
processes, to fully empower the media, and thus also journalism journals. In such circumstances,
the hegemony of Northern journalism publications can only thrive because indigenous African
journalism publications are lacking and are not being made possible in a context of circumscribed
media freedom.
If African scholars can find ways and means to break through the obstacles to the free flow of
(academic) information on the continent (as described above), then the next task at hand would be
to find ways to undo the barriers of Northern knowledge production.
As in the case of press freedom, the production of knowledge hinges on power relations. As
Foucault and Marxists before him have argued, the relationship between power and knowledge has
‘ … its origin in who owns the means of material production and the technical expertise’ (Zegeye
& Vambe 2006: 333). This author would not go as far as Edward Said, who argued that Western
powers and their local agents in Third-World countries developed elaborate cultural and political
institutions where knowledge production existed with supporting vocabularies, scholarship,
imagery and doctrines to define the mental conquest of Africans (see Zegeye & Vambe 2006).
However, it is perhaps not unrealistic to assume that in the field of journal publishing, the North
(especially the US and the UK) has exercised its publishing hegemony to a great extent through the
profit motive. This serves to authorise views of science and to describe and teach those over whom
they have exercised their hegemony (see Zegeye & Vambe 2006: 333–334).
Just as in the case of press freedom, post-colonial journalism authors might well be aware that
ordinary people (also on the continent of Africa) have the power to generate their own forms of
knowledge, ‘ … which can contest, interrogate, counteract, collide’ and sometimes collude with
the paradigms produced by powerful knowledge producers in the form of international publishers
(ibid.: 333).
The reality, however, is that in order to enter the international and (increasingly) national higher
echelons of academe, individuals, just like institutions, will need to play the game according to the
hegemonic rules of the North. This process is already quite clear in South Africa where, apart from
a journal list kept by the Department of Education, journalism and media authors only receive full
research credit if they publish in one of the few journalism/media/communication journals indexed
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in the North by Thomson Reuters Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) in the US, and/or the
International Bibliography of Social Sciences (IBSS) in the UK.5
Consequently, the intellectual production of knowledge, and the infrastructure of publishing it,
are increasingly linked to US/UK knowledge producers, which has made African journalism
authors captives of Northern publishing houses, to a certain degree. As is the case with journalism
and media theories that are designed in lofty European structures to be exported to developing
countries, African journalism publishing has become an appendage of Northern publishing houses.
The result of the above is that journalism publishing in Africa is more and more construed as ‘ …
a special area that is not expected to produce knowledge, but to be a conveyer belt of information
developed as knowledge in other climates … ’. The worst part of this argument is that when
publishing is in African hands, more often than not, it first imagines its readers to be in the North:
‘It becomes African knowledge by virtue of marking its consumers as people living outside the
borders of Africa’ (ibid.: 336).
In their concluding remarks and proposals on how Africans themselves should produce knowledge
through the avenue of national and international publications, Zegeye and Vambe (ibid.: 346)
suggest that Africans need to ‘ … proliferate the number of journals as sites of knowledge
production, whilst these journals should be housed in Africa and not in the North’. This, however,
is far easier said than done. For instance, a cursory glance at journals dealing with Africa, listed by
the ISI, shows an abundance of ‘African’ journals being published in the US/UK, with non-African
editors and with editorial boards showing non-African members to be in the majority (however,
see later).
In terms of Northern hegemony, this will be a long and difficult process. The position of South
Africa as the continent’s powerhouse in the international field of journal publishing, is an indication
of just how difficult it would be for the rest of Africa to comply with Northern demands:
Table 1: South Africa’s share of world ISI publications (%) in major scientific areas
(1990–1994 and 1996–2000)
Life Sciences
Natural Sciences
Social sciences
Abstracted from Pouris 2003
Table 1 shows that South Africa, with the highest research output on the continent, barely makes
it onto the ISI charts. Of the more than 14 000 journals (overwhelmingly from the North) indexed
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Arnold S de Beer
by the ISI, only 21 are from South Africa. On the IBSS list of 400+ journals, there are 12 South
African journals (Assaf 2006).
Apart from the negative effect of limited media freedom, the serious shortage of financial resources
and the meagre infrastructure available for journal publishing in Africa opened the door (so to
speak) for Africans in the Diaspora to utilise the Northern publication sphere. From a general and
ad hoc point of view, it seems as if this advantageous position has led to greater contributions
to African journalism from Africans in the Diaspora, than Africans themselves. Even the most
cursory glance through some ‘African’ journals would highlight this point. For instance, African
and Asian Studies, a major scholarly Northern journal, leads the field in the ‘non-African stakes’
by having only one editorial board member from Africa (Botswana), while most of the rest of the
board members are based either in the US or Europe.
When the African Communications Scholar Association was founded in the late 1990s, inter alia
to publish the Journal of African Communications, the editor, associate editor, book review editor
and founding editor were all based in the US. Of the editorial board of 42 members, 13 were from
Africa, of whom at least a few have since left for America. The rest of the board was comprised of
scholars mainly from the US.
The situation is not much better in three international South African communication journals (see
Tomaselli & Teer-Tomaselli [2007], for a description). Critical Arts: A Journal of North–South
Studies, a media journal with a solid international profile, was born and bred in Africa. However,
after two decades of publishing, this journal has five associate editors from the North and only
one from Africa (from the journal’s home university). Amongst its 27-member editorial board of
consultants, there are only three scholars from Africa outside South Africa. The majority are from
the North. In the case of Communicatio: The South African Journal for Communication Theory, of
the 20 editorial board members there were only two from Africa outside South Africa. In the case
of Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, there are only five African editorial board members
from outside South Africa, with a majority of non-African members based in America and Europe.
Africa Media Review, the long-time African flagship journal for media and communication was,
for the better part of the 1980s and 90s, perhaps the most ‘continental’ media journal. Although
its record is by far the best, the journal was, until recently, not a shining example of the ability
of African scholars to manage an African journal. The editorial board of the mid-1990s shows
that of the board’s eight members, four were from the US, one was from Europe, and three were
from Kenya, consequently not showing a broad-based African character either. When publishing
special editions, such as on communication technology and African communication ethics, the
guest editors were more often than not from the North.
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Much of what is happening in the field of journalism and media journals in Africa is also applicable
to monographs. When ST Kwame Boafo, a former communications lecturer in Ghana, worked
for the African Council on Communication Education in Nairobi, Kenya, he proceeded to utilise
African scholars in the mid-1990s to contribute to works such as Communication research in
Africa, which he co-edited (Boafo & George 1992). With the exception of one article, Africans
wrote the remaining ten contributions. For reasons still to be researched, this monograph did not
set a trend to incorporate African scholars into the international journalism/media-publishing world
– quite the opposite. Recent and internationally well-received books on media, communication
and journalism in Africa show an opposite trend, much in line with what has been argued earlier
regarding the Northern hegemony in African publishing. African media authors are, by and large,
silent in English monographs published in the North about the media on their continent. As a result,
Africa shows an elaborate and rather extended body of journalism/media publications produced by
African scholars in the Diaspora. Broadly speaking, these scholars are situated at universities in the
US, and to a lesser extent in the UK and countries such as Jamaica. The face of African journalism
publication would have been grievously dismal, were it not for these scholars.
Consequently, some of the most well-received monographs on journalism and media communication
of recent years were authored by American scholars forming part of the African Diaspora. Prolific
authors on African media include Molefe Asante, Cecil Blake, Festus Eribo, Lyombe Eko, William
Jong-Ebot, ST Kwame Boafo, Andrew A Moemeka, CW Ogbondah, Folu F Ogundimu, Charles C
Okigbo, and Cornelius Pratt. They are all based in the US. A characteristic of diasporic authors is
that they tend to collaborate in general with colleagues in the North (especially in the US), rather
than in Africa, when they write about journalism/media in Africa.
Recent edited books on African media and journalism underscore the trend not to publish Africanbased authors in monographs produced in the North:
In an internationally well-received book on media and democracy in Africa (2002), the three
editors are based in America, namely Göran Hydén, Michael Leslie and Folu F Ogundimu. Of
the eight chapters, only one, by Keyan G Tomaselli, is written by a scholar working and living
in (South) Africa. The other chapters are all by authors not based in Africa;
In their edited book on development and communication in Africa (2004), the editors, Charles
Okigbo and Festus Eribo, collaborated with 22 authors outside Africa, and six in Africa, of
whom five were from South Africa;
In their chapter on sub-Saharan Africa, in Global journalism, De Beer and Merrill (2004)
followed the same trend with three main authors from America, and with a sole American
author of the chapter on North Africa;
An impressively detailed work on South Africa’s alternative press was edited by a former
South African, now living in the US, with the cooperation of five Northern co-authors and two
South Africans (Switzer 1997). This trend is also applicable to books on African media written
by single authors or co-writers:
A monograph considered for more than a decade as a standard work, Mass media in sub-
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Arnold S de Beer
Saharan Africa (1995), is by the American academic Louise M Bourgault.
Total onslaught: The South African press under attack, long regarded as a standard work in the
field of covering the media and journalism in apartheid South Africa, was written by a former
South African living in America and an American scholar (Hachten & Giffard 1984);
A later internationally well-received book on the South African press was also written by a
former South African, now an American (Jackson 1993);
The same Northern influence is found in a 2004 special edition of Ecquid Novi on African
media and conflict, edited by an American scholar, with only two articles from authors in
Africa and four from scholars based in the US.
The lack of African authors and the dearth of African scholars on the editorial board of journals
dealing with communication and journalism in Africa, might be attributed to the factors discussed
earlier in this article, being the function of globalisation and a consequent Northern hegemony of
knowledge-based publishers and publications. Post-colonial trends, such as inroads in freedom
of speech and publication, and economic hardships, might also play a significant role. What
might change this situation is rethinking the relationship between Northern publishing houses and
scholars from Africa. The next section offers such a possibility.
However, the tide described above seems to be changing, and in no small way. Since the beginning
of this decade, there has been renewed interest in publishing monographs and journals by Africans
in Africa. A prime source for this movement is Codesria, the Council for the Development of Social
Science Research in Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal. Established in 1973 as an independent PanAfrican research organisation with a primary focus on the social sciences, it is now recognised not
only as a pioneer African research organisation in West Africa, but also arguably the foremost nongovernmental centre (outside of South Africa) of social knowledge production on the continent.
Possibly the foremost African author in both English and French on African media is Francis
Nyamnjoh, former director of publications of Codesria. An example of his prolific output is Africa’s
media, democracy and the politics of belonging (2005). Though first published in the US, the latest
edition was published in South Africa. Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian by birth, and the late Francis
Kasoma, a Zimbabwean, together with the South African Keyan G Tomaselli, could perhaps be
noted as the foremost African scholars working in Africa and publishing in English on journalistic
issues and the media.
One of the media/journalism publications produced by Codesria is African Media Review, a
collaborative publication between Codesria and the African Council for Communication Education
(ACCE) based in Nairobi, Kenya. It is published three times per year, in English and in French.
Unlike the position in the mid-1990s, when the journal was solely published by the ACCE, and
when seven of the nine editorial board members were from outside Africa, the re-launched Codesria
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version of African Media Review shows a very strong base in Africa. Two of the three editors are
from African countries, as are 16 of the 20 editorial advisory board members. All five non-Africans
could be described as Africans in the Diaspora. This is a notable change in terms of Africans being
responsible for media knowledge production in Africa.
A continuation of this process can also be found in more and more monographs being published in
Africa, with the majority of authors from Africa itself. For instance, Ansu-Kyeremeh, from Ghana,
gathered for his 2005 book Indigenous communication in Africa, ten authors of whom seven
are from Africa. By way of ending this section, it should be emphatically stated that no attempt
was made to belittle the extremely important role of non-African scholars and their research on
journalism and media issues in Africa. Nor was the idea to argue that journals and monographs on
journalism and media studies in Africa should not be published outside the borders of Africa.
On the contrary: without the strong input by African scholars in the Diaspora – especially those in
the US, as well as on a smaller scale in the UK and elsewhere – and with the work of knowledgeable
non-African authors, such as Scandinavians, Helge Rønning and Ullamaija Kivikuru, the body of
African journalism and media research, as well as monograph and journal publishing, would be
dismally poor. On the other hand, there is a viable, though not always internationally visible,
national body of work in sub-Saharan African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and
especially South Africa.
Nevertheless, by emphasising the role played by authors (of African journalism and media topics)
not based in Africa, and being published mostly in the US/UK, an argument was made regarding
the stronghold of Northern hegemony on African journalism and media publishing. As to the
reasons for this, and the reasons behind the lack of publishing in Africa by Africans, a great deal
more research is needed.
The spectre of globalisation, the hegemony of Northern journalism and media publishing, and the
concomitant influence on the South need not render scholars in the South helpless. On the contrary,
the obvious negative effects of globalisation might be minimised or could even disappear, with
what Saul (2005) calls The collapse of globalism and the reinvention of the world. The publishing
hegemony of the North could become a valuable stepping-stone for the development of a viable
and vibrant journalism publishing in Africa and other continents in the South.
If one would agree that a new kind of (especially American) knowledge colonialism still exists
today, as was argued in this article, then the time is ripe to move forward to address this colonialism
of the mind. Journalism schools must find ways to deal with Northern (especially American)
academic imprints that are so prevalent in English-speaking African countries, that the ‘American
way of doing things’ has become the norm.
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Some American authors (such as John C Merrill [2004]) have led the way in showing that
journalism publishing in the South is not only needed, but also possible. For instance, Merrill is
one of very few American journalism scholars (known to the present author) who insisted (against
the general Northern norm) that one of his books with an international scope should feature native
scholars (especially those from the global South) – academics who live and work in the countries
and regions where they do their research. American publishers preferred US authors, even if these
authors might never have been to any of the countries they write about.
A two-way journalism scholarly system is thus proposed, whereby American publishers and
journalism authors take cognizance of African scholarship and publishing possibilities. African
journalism authors then ought to make their voices pro-actively heard in the field of journalism
scholarship publishing for and in Africa. To misquote a former editor of Journalism & Mass
Communication Educator, James A Croock (2001: 93): for the future of scholarship for journalism
education, one can start looking for leadership in some unusual places – such as Africa. One
Northern publisher has recently taken an important step in this direction. Routledge/Taylor &
Francis has started a journal publishing programme in cooperation with the University of South
Africa Press (, and apart from some 20 journals, two communication
journals, Critical Arts and Communicatio, were already included in this process by 2010. For the
future, this development offers much hope of finding African scholarship where it originates – in
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
The author acknowledges the financial support received from the South African National Research
Forum’s ‘Incentive Fund for Rated Researchers’ for this paper and subsequent article. Opinions
expressed and conclusions drawn are those of the author.
In this article, globalisation and Northern hegemony are to mean those processes by which media
scholars in the South are incorporated into the intellectual English-language publishing society of
the (especially American) North, as well as the intensification of Northern intellectual actions and
relations, which impact distant localities in the South in such a way that local media processes
are shaped by events occurring in the North (see e.g. Rantanen 2005: 6–7, referring to Giddens &
Albrow). When this occurs, journalism publishing in the South cannot escape these globalising and
hegemonic processes.
From personal experience as an examiner of graduate research papers in African countries, the
present author has witnessed the problematic of students wanting to do research and make known
their findings on politically sensitive topics, such as state corruption, bribes in the form of ‘brown
envelopes’, and child trade. These students received ominous warnings not to pursue publishing
their findings in a journalism journal.
Of all media and journalism studies journals in Africa, only Ecquid Novi: African Journalism
Studies was indexed on the ISI/SSCI at the time of writing (March 2010)
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Ansu-Kyeremeh, K. (ed). 2005. Indigenous communication in Africa: Concept, applications and
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Bourgault, L.M. 1995. Mass media in sub-Saharan Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
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De Beer, A.S. 2005. The state of African press freedom. Journalism Studies 6(4): 521–526.
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(eds), Journalism research in an age of globalization, 185–196. Oxford: Blackwell.
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production and distribution. Africa Media Review 14(1&2): 1–8.
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Metz, W. 1977. Newswriting: From lead to ‘30’. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 227–239
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485368
Challenges for the consolidation of Brazilian scientific
journals in the journalism and communication areas
Elias Machado*
In almost 45 years of the existence of scientific journals having to do with the fields of journalism and communication in Brazil, such journals have passed through four distinct stages: the first, consisting of pioneering journals
in the field (1965–1975); the second, consisting of the institutionalisation of the national project (1975–1990); the
third, consisting of mass diversification of such journals (1990–1998); and the fourth, consisting of the professionalisation of such journals (1998–2008). The dramatic improvement in the quality of such journals, which could
be observed during the period under review, can be attributed to five associated movements: (a) the creation
of public policies to support the publication of scientific journals; (b) the foundation of the Brazilian Association
of Scientific Editors; (c) the consolidation of the programmes of postgraduate studies in communication; (d) the
diversification of scientific societies in the areas of journalism and communication; and (e) the establishment
of programmes for the evaluation of scientific journals. In this article, an overview is presented of the history of
Brazilian scientific journals in the fields of journalism and communication. The article concludes by enumerating the challenges which have to be overcome, for the full integration of the journals into the global market to
take place.
Key words: Academic journals, Brazi, history, institutionalisation, professionalisation, publication standards,
quality criteria
The first Brazilian scientific journal, which was launched in 1965, was devoted to the dissemination
of academic studies related to journalism in particular, and to the communication sciences in general.
Journalist and professor, Luiz Beltrão, at the time Director of the Information Sciences Institute
(INCIFORM) at the Catholic University of Pernambuco, launched Comunicação & Problemas
(C&P) in 1965. The journal was modelled on the review Journalism Quarterly, which had been
published since 1924 by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in
the US. Until 1966, C&P was the only journal of its kind in Brazil to be exclusively devoted to the
study of the communication sciences. From March 1965 to 1969, when it ceased to exist, 12 issues of
the journal were published (Marques de Melo 1974: 44). In her article on the journal, written on the
occasion of the passing of 40 years since the first launching of C&P, Rosa Nava (2005) concluded
that the journal had had a strong impact on intellectuals and other professionals throughout the
entire country, encouraging various journalism-related institutions and communication companies
to launch similar publications. During the 15-year period from March 1965, when the first issue
of C&P was published, until 1980, 35 other scientific journals were also launched onto the scene
(Nava 2005: 6).
Elias Machado is professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Ufsc), Brazil, and CNPq (National Council for Scientific Research and Technological Development). Email: [email protected]
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Elias Machado
During the almost 45 years of the existence of scientific periodicals devoted to journalism and the
communication sciences, we can identify the following four distinct phases of development:
The first phase (1965–1975) consisted of pioneering isolated initiatives, which were generic in
nature, and lasted only a short time;
The second phase (1975–1990) consisted of first initiatives which were carried out in
association with scientific or academic institutions of national standing;
A massive expansion (1990–1998) then took place, resulting from a rapid increase in the
number of related postgraduate programmes;
The culminating phase (1998–2009) consisted of the professionalisation of scientific
journals. The development during this phase encompassed the defining of evaluative criteria,
the creation of governmental procedures for the financing of scientific magazines, and the
improved delimitation of publishing projects. Such progress came about partly as a result of
an increase in the number of scientific societies related to the subareas of the communication
sciences, and partly in line with the requirements of those agencies that evaluate scientific and
technological production in Brazil.
Rather than merely revealing the linear progress made in terms of such development (since several
of the aspects encountered in such development were common to all the phases concerned), it is
the intention of the current study to identify the predominant characteristics in each such phase.
Both the nature and diversification of the scientific journals were linked to paradigmatic researchers,
academic or scientific institutions, on the one hand, and to the development of culture and the related
postgraduate programme, on the other. Two landmarks mark the increasing professionalisation of
Brazilian scientific periodicals: the first such landmark relates to the definition of government
policies directed towards the financing of scientific journals by those agencies which were founded
in the early 1980s to support science and technology. The two chief agencies concerned were the
National Research Council (CNPq), founded in 1983, and the São Paulo State Foundation for
Support of Research (FAPESP), founded in 1985 (Barradas 2004). The second such landmark
consisted of the development, in 1998, of criteria (Qualis) for evaluating such publications.
In the latest survey conducted by the Catálogo de Revistas Acadêmicas em Comunicação (the
Catalogue of Academic Journals in the Communication Area) of the Federal University of Rio
Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in 2008, it was found that 61 academic journals were being actively
published in Brazil. Of such journals, four were recorded as being specifically related to the field
of journalistic research. In the current article, we shall first provide an overview of each of the four
phases indicated above. We shall then identify specific aspects of those journals that specialise in
the coverage of the field of journalism. Finally, we shall highlight the main challenges which must
be overcome to conform with the international standards set for scientific journals devoted to the
fields of journalism and communication.
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Initially, scientific periodicals of an academic nature originated in line with the expectations of
teaching institutions, and followed the precedent set by existing journalistic or trade periodicals,
which were directed toward the training of professionals already in practice (Stumpf 1998). As
we have seen, the first scientific periodical was C&P, edited by Luiz Beltrão and published by
INCIFORM at the Catholic University of Pernambuco from 1965 to 1969. At the time, universitylevel journalism courses were only offered at São Paulo (as from 1947), Rio de Janeiro (as from
1948), Bahia (as from 1949), Porto Alegre (as from 1952) and Recife (as from 1961).
Table 1: Pioneering journals (1965–1975)
Comunicação & Problemas
Cadernos de Jornalismo (Journalism
Newspaper Jornal do
Bloch Comunicação
Bloch Editores
Cadernos de Jornalismo (Journalism
Newspaper Jornal do Brasil
Cadernos de Jornalismo (Journalism
Newspaper A Tribuna
Revista Brasileira de Comunicação
(Brazilian Communication Review)
University of Brasília (UnB)
Pontifical Catholic
University of Rio Grande do
Sul (PUC-RS)
Temas de Comunicação
(Communication Topics)
Cadernos de Comunicação
(Communication Notebooks)
Casper Líbero Faculty
Communication and Arts
School – University of São
Paulo (ECA-USP)
Comunicações & Artes
Cadernos de Jornalismo e Editoração
(Journalism and Editing Notebooks)
Communication and Arts
School – University of São
Paulo (ECA-USP)
Cadernos PROAL (PROAL Notebooks)
Significação (Signification)
University of São Paulo
Aldeia Global (Global Village)
Rede Globo (Globo
Compiled from NAVA (2005)
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Elias Machado
The launching of C&P had immediate repercussions throughout Brazil, and encouraged the
appearance of various other journals between 1965 and 1975. Many such journals were linked to
communication companies, and focused on disseminating information about technical topics, in
language that was accessible to practising professionals. According to Nava (2005), the journals
concerned included Cadernos de Jornalismo (Journalism Notebooks), which was first launched
by the newspaper Jornal do Commercio in Recife in 1967; Cadernos de Jornalismo (Journalism
Notebooks), which was first launched by the newspaper Jornal do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro in
1968; Comunicação – Cadernos de Jornalismo e Comunicação de Massa (Journalism and Mass
Communication), which was first launched by the newspaper A Tribuna in Santos in 1968; Bloch
Comunicação, which was first launched by the publisher Bloch Editores in 1967; Cadernos PROAL
(PROAL Notebooks), which was first launched by the publisher Editora PROAL in 1971; and
Aldeia Global (Global Village), which was first launched by the Globo Television Network in 1974.
Various other journals which were launched at the time were of a more academic nature, such as
the Revista Brasileira de Comunicação (Brazilian Communication Review) of the Communication
Faculty of the University of Brasília (UnB); Cadernos de Temas de Comunicação Social (Social
Communication Topics Notebooks) of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul
(PUC-RS); Cadernos de Ciências da Comunicação (Communication Sciences Notebook) of the
Casper Líbero Faculty, which were all first launched in 1968. Both the Comunicação & Artes of
the Communication and Arts School at the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP) and the Cadernos
de Jornalismo e Editoração (Journalism and Editing Notebooks) of the ECA-USP were first
launched in 1970. The final two of note in this respect are the Revista de Comunicação Social
(Social Communication Review) of the Federal University of Ceará, which was first launched in
1971 and the Significação (Signification) of the University of São Paulo (USP), which was first
launched in 1973.
During the first period, the journalism and communication journals (which were intended for
dissemination to the scientific or journalistic community) were marked by their dependence on
such paradigmatic researchers as Luiz Beltrão, José Marques de Melo, Alberto Dines, Nelly de
Camargo, Sara Chucid daViá, Juarez Bahia, Adisia Sá and Francisco Gaudencio Torquato do Rego,
among others. In addition, due to such dependence, the publication of such journals tended to
be somewhat erratic, as it was likely to be subject to interruption whenever a founder or editor
in charge transferred to another teaching institution or communication company, or when the
publisher responsible for the magazine changed his or her business outlook. With the exception of
Significação – Brazilian Semiotics Review, which specialises in the field of communication and
semiotics, none of the 13 magazines launched during the first phase of publication (as shown in
Table 1) has survived to the present.
Of those abovementioned journals, the two longest-standing were Cadernos de Jornalismo e
Editoração and Comunicação & Artes, which were both produced by the ECA-USP. Whereas the
former took the form of 12 issues from 1970 to 1983, the latter took the form of 32 issues from
1970 to 1997 (Nava 2005; Stumpf 2003). The continuity of the two projects was probably due
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to the infrastructure provided by ECA-USP, which was the main centre of scientific production
and training of communication professionals and researchers in Brazil until the beginning of the
1990s. Although the historical importance of such periodicals is undeniable, with the exception
of Comunicação & Artes, no other from the first phase became an obligatory national reference
for the researchers in the said area of study, apart from the aforementioned Significação (Stumpf
The national institutionalisation of those projects relating to scientific journals took place as a
consequence of three types of complementary actions: (a) the founding of national scientific
societies; (b) the development of the postgraduate programme in Brazil; and (c) the creation of
public policies in support of scientific journals. Until 1975, each researcher or institution acted on
his/its own, since in Brazil there were no scientific congresses or specialised scientific societies
to bring together specialists in the area of journalism or the communication sciences. The first
attempt to hold a national assembly of communication professors, as articulated by Luiz Beltrão in
1968 during the time of military dictatorship, was frustrated due to the military leaders’ removal of
Beltrão from the position he had held at UnB.
Beltrão’s project could only be carried out four years later, in 1972, when the Brazilian Association
of Communication Researchers (ABEPEC) was founded at the ECA-USP. Three years later, in
1975, the first periodical to be published by a scientific society, the Revista da ABEPEC (ABEPEC
Review), was launched. According to Nava (2005: 12), six issues of the journal were published,
only four of which appeared under that name, during the first and second semesters of 1975, as well
as in June 1977 and June 1978. The first two issues contained research studies and essays in the
communication field. The last two issues consisted of monographs on the field of communication
in Brazil. Another issue of the journal disseminated information regarding an ABEPEC research
project that was being conducted into Brazilian television. During the second and last phase,
when the journal was published in João Pessoa, its title was altered to Cadernos de Comunicação
(Communication Notebooks), with only two issues being published in 1979 (ibid.), after which
both the journal and ABEPEC itself closed down.
During the second phase, six scientific magazines were launched, which are still in existence
today. At least three of them – INTERCOM, Comunicação e Espaço Público (Communication
and Public Area) and Comunicação e Sociedade (Communication and Society) – have maintained
their position as some of the most highly-regarded Brazilian scientific publications in the area of
communications.2 The oldest such journal, Comunicação e Sociedade, was launched in 1978 by
the Master’s in Communication Programme of the then Methodist Institute for Higher Learning
(IMESP) in the São Paulo satellite city of São Bernardo do Campo. The journal was published
under the directorship of José Marques de Melo, who had been dismissed from the University of
São Paulo by the military government. The other five journals are Comunicarte (first launched in
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1982), which is published by the Catholic University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and was directed
for almost a decade by Professor Mario Erbolato, who died in 1990; Comunicação & Política
(Communication and Politics), which was first launched in 1983 by the Brazilian Centre for
Latin-American Studies (CEBELA); Revista Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação (Brazilian
Communication Sciences Review), which has been published since 1984 by the Brazilian Society
for Interdisciplinary Studies of Communication (INTERCOM), and was founded in 1977, making
it the oldest Brazilian scientific entity in the area of the communication sciences; Comunicação
e Espaço Público, which has been published by the UnB since 1985; and Verso e Reverso (Two
Sides – Front and Back), which has been published by Unisinos University since 1986. Of the
six journals in question, the INTERCOM review is the most prestigious, as it is run by the most
representative and internationally recognised editorial body in Brazil.
Table 2: Institutionalisation of the journals (1975–1990)
Revista da ABEPEC (ABEPEC Review)
scientific society
Comunicação & Sociedade
(Communication & Society)
postgraduate programme
Pontifical Catholic University of
Comunicação & Política
(Communication & Politics)
Brazilian Centre for LatinAmerican Studies (CEBELA)
Revista Brasileira de Ciências
da Comunicação (Brazilian
Communication Sciences Review)
scientific society
Comunicação e Espaço Público
(Communication and Public Area)
postgraduate programme
Verso e Reverso (Two Sides – Front and
UNISINOS University
Compiled from Catalogue of Academic Reviews of Communication (UFRGS 2001)
In addition to the activity of the scientific societies, as well as that of such institutions as ECA-USP,
IMESP, UnB, CEBELA, PUC-CAMPINAS and UNISINOS, two other factors contributed to the
national consolidation of the above-mentioned Brazilian scientific journals. First, the postgraduate
programme, which was initiated at the end of the 1960s by UnB and ran throughout the 1970s,
conferred the first PhD in Communication on Luiz Beltrão in 1967. Similarly, the postgraduate
programme at ECA-USP conferred the first PhD in Journalism on José Marques de Melo in 1972.
Both of the special teacher training programmes were expanded with the inauguration of the formal
postgraduate programmes, which included the Master’s in Communication, which was offered by
ECA-USP from 1972, as well as by the Communication School of the Federal University of Rio
de Janeiro (ECO-UFRJ) from 1972 onwards and by UnB from 1974 onwards. Other postgraduate
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programmes included the Master’s programme at IMESP (which was inaugurated in 1978); the
Master’s and doctoral programmes which were offered by PUC-São Paulo (the former from
1970 onwards and the later from 1978 onwards); the doctoral programme offered by ECA-USP
from 1980 onwards; the doctoral programme offered by ECO-UFRJ from 1983 onwards; and the
Master’s programme offered by UNICAMP from 1986 onwards. Second, the systematic support
which has been provided on the national level by such research development agencies as the CNPq
and the Research Project Financing Fund (FINEP) since 1980 and by FAPESP on the state level
since 1985 has facilitated the publication of such scientific journals (Barradas 2004; Schwartzmann
The inauguration of the Master’s in Communication and Contemporary Culture by the
Communication Faculty (POSCOM) of the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) in 1990, which
was the first such programme to be introduced in Brazil outside the Rio de Janeiro–São Paulo–
Brasília axis, represented a landmark in the expansion of the postgraduate programme in the area of
communications and in the diversification of the publication of scientific magazines in the areas of
journalism and communication. The burgeoning of the industry also partly came about in the form
of the publication of the POSCOM-UFBA journal, Textos de Cultura e Comunicação (Culture and
Communication Texts), which was published until the start of 2000. This journal, amongst others,
gained considerable prestige with those researchers who were involved with the postgraduate
programmes (Stumpf 2003).
By the beginning of the 1990s there were 188 communication courses on offer in Brazil. Of such
courses, 68 were in the field of journalism; 50 in advertising and publicity; 48 in public relations;
17 in radio and television broadcasting; and five in cinema. According to SOARES (1994), in total
approximately 14 614 students were enrolled in such courses in any one year, with the number of
graduates being approximately 6 654 at the time. With the liberalisation of the educational market
policy, which was implemented during the administration of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso,
starting in 1994, the number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses grew at breakneck pace.
The result was a rapid increase in the total number of journals which were published in the area of
journalism and communication (Kunsch 2007).
From the fewer than ten scientific journals which had been regularly published before the end of
the 1980s, due to the closure of corporate publications and the erratic nature of publication of those
journals originating within an institutional setting, the emergence of a total of 20 new titles could be
identified from 1990 to 1998. The first evaluation of such scientific journals was undertaken by the
Coordination of Training for University-level Personnel (CAPES), resulting in the publication of
the Catalogue of Brazilian Academic Reviews of Communication by the Postgraduate Programme
in Communication (PPGCOM) at UFRGS. Of the 20 titles concerned, 11 related to the new
postgraduate programmes in communication, with the other nine being published by researchers
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affiliated to various faculties or courses in the field of journalism or communications (Caparelli
& Stumpf 2001). The growth of such publications served simultaneously as a response by the
scientific community to the increased need for the appointment of professors who would assume
responsibility for the postgraduate programmes, and as a measure of the inclusion of the new
publishers of scientific magazines in the area of communications. Since the beginning of the 1990s,
in order to continue as a permanent professor in the postgraduate programmes, each researcher
concerned had to publish at least two scientific articles a year.
Table 3: Launch of new journals (1990–1998)
Year launched
No. of new journals
Compiled from Catalogue of Academic Reviews of Communication (Caparelli & Stumpf 2001)
On the one hand, the diversification and rapid increase in the number of scientific journals both
opened up access to the scientific publications market, which enabled young researchers to
disseminate reports on their research, and facilitated the launching of new periodicals. On the
other hand, such diversification added to a lack of standardisation in the quality of such journals.
Consequently, such publications ranged from locally published periodicals, which were produced
by young researchers in the form of individual initiatives without any institutional support; to
reviews, which were linked to postgraduate programmes; and to scientific journals, which were
considered to be more prestigious, as they were published by scientific societies of national
importance (Teixeira 2006).
In the light of such mass expansion and varying quality standards, in 1998 CAPES decided to create
Qualis, consisting of an assemblage of procedures which were to be followed for standardising the
quality of scientific journals. Table 3 above reflects the steady growth of new periodicals, which
peaked in 1977 with seven new publications, followed by the next highest number, four, in 1998.
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The growing professionalisation of the publication of Brazilian scientific journals has, as its basic
landmarks, five different complementary actions: (1) the creation of government policies for
the support of scientific periodicals; (2) the founding of the Brazilian Association of Scientific
Publishers (ABEC); (3) the consolidation of the postgraduate programme in communication; (4)
the diversification of the scientific societies in the area of communications; and (5) the creation of
programmes for the evaluation of scientific periodicals.
C&P, the first scientific journal in the communication field failed, in part, due to the lack of
institutional financing, which has since become available from the Programme for Support of
Scientific Publications, as maintained by the CNPq, in partnership with the FINEP, since 1980. The
programme, in addition to providing much-needed financial resources to defray the costs of the
production and circulation of Brazilian scientific periodicals, has exerted ongoing effort to assess
the nature of the problems and priorities which impact on such publications, to identify the most
important options available, to encourage and stimulate the production of such periodicals, and to
establish how to avoid the major pitfalls along the way (Schwartzmann 1984).
In addition to the efforts of CNPq and FINEP, from the start of the second half of the 1980s, the
foundations for the support of research of the states of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande
do Sul, have initiated studies into the adoption of a policy geared towards financing the publication
of scientific journals (Stumpf 1998). The Foundation for the Support of Research of the State of
São Paulo (FAPESP), which began, during the 1970s, to back the publication of such journals,
in 1985 launched the Programme for Support of Scientific Publications. From 1995 to 2001, 399
periodicals applied for funding from the programme. Since 2001, both CNPq and CAPES have
announced their funding of scientific magazines, in terms of which they have made available a
total of $US 3.07 million, with each agency being responsible for supplying half of the total. In
2008, three magazines, namely Significação – Revista Brasileira de Semiótica, Revista Brasileira
de Ciências da Comunicação and Studium, of the Arts and Multimedia Department at UNICAMP,
have received funding from the programme. The first two journals are among the oldest in the
communications field, being founded in 1973 and 1984 respectively.
The founding of ABEC in 1985, which can largely be credited to the Programme for the Support
of Scientific Publications of CPNq-FINEP, should also be taken into consideration. ABEC,
which brings together individuals and companies that are interested in developing and improving
the publication standards of techno-scientific periodicals, improving the communication and
dissemination of information, maintaining the interchange of ideas, debating problems, and
protecting matters of common interest, participates in the management of the programme, as well
as in the management of FAPESP’s publishing programme and of the Scielo Virtual Library. At
its annual meetings, ABEC debates those issues of primary concern to its members, and promotes
training courses for the publishers of scientific journals. According to Barradas (2004), ABEC
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currently has 291 members, of which 132 are individuals and 159 are institutions. A total of 240
scientific journals also belong to APEC.
A third factor which contributed to the professionalisation of the scientific journals, was the
amplification and diversification of postgraduate programmes in the field of communications. On
the postgraduate level alone, from the seven courses in existence at the beginning of the 1980s,
about double the number of programmes were in existence by the end of the 1990s. In addition, 374
theses and 1 215 dissertations were produced from 1992 to 1999, totalling 1 589 works in the space
of eight years (Stumpf 2003). At the beginning of the millennium, the momentum of publication
only served to confirm the trend recorded at the close of the last century. Currently, Brazil has
36 stricto sensu postgraduate programmes on offer, of which 23 are Master’s degrees and 13 are
doctorates in communication, one of which is specifically offered in the field of journalism by the
Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). The growth of scholarship in this area of study is
obvious, considering that, whereas there were eight programmes in 1996, there were 20 in 2004.
According to CAPES data, the average number of postgraduate degrees awarded each year in the
field of communications is 473 (Machado 2008).
A fourth decisive contributor to the professionalisation of periodicals was the appearance and
diversification of scientific and academic societies in the field of communication. Since the
formation of the first such society, ABEPEC, in 1972 (which closed its doors at the end of the
1970s), the following new organisations have been created: INTERCOM (1977); the Brazilian
Society for Cinema and Audiovisual Studies (1996); the Folk Communication Studies and
Research Network (1998); the Alfredo de Carvalho Media History Network (2003); the Brazilian
Association of Journalism Researchers (2003); the Latin-American Union for Political Economy
of Communication, Culture and Information (2005); the Brazilian Association of Researchers in
Organisational Communication and Public Relations (2007); the National Forum of Journalism
Professors (2007); and the Brazilian Association of Cyber Culture Researchers (2008).
A fifth and final aspect which led to the greater professionalisation of scientific periodicals was the
implementation of Qualis (quality criteria for the evaluation of scientific periodicals), which was
created by CAPES in 1998, and evaluates more than 5 300 Brazilian scientific periodicals on an
ongoing basis. Qualis criteria are developed by peer groups from each distinct scientific area, who
establish the minimum desired standards to be attained by periodicals published in Brazil. Qualis
has already undergone three alterations since its formation – one in 2005, another in 2006, and a
third in 2008. Until 2008, the journals were rated in categories indicating their quality (whether
A, B or C) and their range of circulation (whether local, national or international). From 2008
onwards, they have been classified according to set levels which are indicative of their quality,
with A1 being the highest, and ranging through A-2; B-1; B-2; B-3; B-4; B-5 and C, with the latter
having zero weight.
According to the most recent Qualis evaluation, which was undertaken in 2008 and analysed
periodicals published in the year 2007, no journal in the fields of journalism or communication
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attained the highest level of quality, including the longest-standing periodicals such as Significação,
Revista Brasileira de Comunicação and Comunicação e Sociedade. Those Brazilian journals that
achieved the best evaluations only managed to attain a B-2 rating, with such journals consisting
of Brazilian Journalism Research (BJR), Contracampo, Comunicação, Mídia e Consumo,
E-Compós, Educação & Sociedade, Revista Brasileira de Comunicação, and Significação. Of such
journals, three, namely the BJR, E-Compós and INTERCOM, are published by scientific societies
or academic units and four by postgraduate programmes. Two of them, Significação and Revista
Brasileira de Ciências da Comunicação, were noted as receiving support from the CNPq–CAPES–
FINEP scientific publications programme.
During the almost 40 years that scientific journals have been produced in Brazil in the area of
communications, eight periodicals have been identified as specialising in the field of journalism:
Cadernos de Jornalismo e Editoração (Journalism and Editing Notebooks), which was launched in
1970 by ECA-USP; Pauta Geral – Revista Brasileira de Jornalismo (General Agenda – Brazilian
Journalism Review), which has been published since 1993 under the editorial guidance of the
well-known researchers, Elias Machado and Sergio Gadini; Anuário de Jornalismo (Journalism
Yearbook), which was first launched in 1991 by ECA-USP; Anuário de Jornalismo, under the
direction of Cásper Líbero from 1999 to 2004; Jornalismo e Mídia (Journalism and Media), founded
by the Journalism Postgraduate Programme at UFSC in 2004; Pensamento Jornalístico Brasileiro
– PJ:Br (Brazilian Journalistic Thinking), which was linked to the Department of Journalism at
ECA-USP; Brazilian Journalism Research, founded by the Brazilian Association of Journalism
Researchers in 2005; and Revista Brasileira de Ensino de Jornalismo – REBEJ (Brazilian
Journalism Teaching Review), which has been published by the National Forum of Journalism
Professors since 2007. With the exception of Cadernos de Jornalismo and the yearbooks of both
ECA-USP and Casper Líbero, which were closed down in 1984, 1992 and 2004 respectively, all
the other journals (Brazilian Journalism Research, Pauta Geral, Jornalismo e Mídia, PJ:Br and
REBEJ) are still published regularly, being made available only in online format, to which there is
free access.
Of the abovementioned journals, the one with the most prestige and international importance
is Brazilian Journalism Research (BJR), which is published by the Brazilian Association of
Journalism Researchers. The association is a scientific society with more than 360 members, of
whom 160 hold doctorates. Having been published entirely in English since the very first issue,
such a publication signified the resounding cultural change among Brazilian researchers, being the
first scientific magazine in the fields of journalism and communication to be published in English
in Brazil. In addition to the language that it employs, the editorial board of the BJR includes some
of the most important researchers in the field of journalism from around the world, including Luis
Ramiro Beltran, Raúl Trejo Delarbre, François Demers, José Carlos Lozano, Michael Mathien,
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Elias Machado
Dennis Ruellan, Ramón Salaverría, Nelson Traquina, Kevin G. Barnhurst, Michael Bromley,
Albert Chillón, James Curran, Peter Dahlgren, Robert Franklin, Darío Klein, Kaarle Nordenstreng
and Jorge Pedro Sousa. In the eight issues of the journal that have been published so far, BJR has
included some of the work of such influential researchers in the field of international journalism
as Barbie Zelizer, Thomaz Hanitzsch, James Curran, Frank Esser, Stephen Reese, Dennis Ruellan,
Javier Diaz Noci and Nelson Traquina.
In the almost 45 years of the existence of scientific journals in the fields of journalism and
communication in Brazil, such publications have gone through four distinct phases: (1) the first
phase (1965–1975) was marked by the initiation of pioneering projects; (2) the second phase
(1975–1990) was marked by the national institutionalisation of such projects; (3) the third phase
(1990–1998) was marked by mass expansion and diversification; and (4) the fourth phase (1998–
2008) was marked by the professionalisation of scientific journals. Five types of complementary
action contributed to the significant improvement in quality which was observed throughout the
abovementioned period: (1) the creation of government policies in support of the publication of
scientific periodicals; (2) the founding of ABEC: (3) the consolidation of the system of postgraduate
programmes in communication; (4) the diversification of scientific societies in the communication
area; and (5) the creation of programmes for the evaluation of scientific periodicals.
To date, the scientific journals have succeeded, in most cases, in attaining such essential objectives
as the maintenance of periodicity and the dissemination of freely available online content. One of
the journals concerned, namely BJR, has excelled in publishing its entire contents in English and
in convening an internationally based editorial board. The main challenges to the consolidation of
scientific journals in the fields of journalism and communication in the near future are perceived
as being: (1) the improvement of evaluation by QUALIS, the CAPES national system for ranking
publications; (2) the indexing of international databases; (3) the internationalisation of the editorial
boards; (4) the internationalisation of the team of collaborators; (5) the greater penetration of the
international community by researchers in the field of journalism; (6) the obligatory referencing
of such sources by the Brazilian research community; and (7) an increase in the number of annual
issues from two to at least four per year.
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
During the second period, the journalism-oriented Review of Communication (Revista de
Comunicação) was founded by Alfredo Belmont Pessoa and Mario de Moraes in 1985. The Review
was published until 2000, with the support of the Brazilian Association of Retailers of Coca-Cola.
In 2009, the magazine released a trial version online that can be found on Revcom Portal at http://
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Barradas, M.M. 2004. O papel da ABEC no cenário das revistas científicas brasileiras [ABEC´s role
in the scenario of the Brazilian scientific magazines]. Lecture at the IIIrd Workshop of Scientific
Publishers. Recife: Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).
arquivos/P3_Maria_Mercia_Barradas.pdf (accessed 5 June 2009).
Caparelli, S. and I. Stumpf. 2001. Catálogo de revistas acadêmicas de comunicação [Catalogue of
academic magazines in the communication area]. Porto Alegre: Federal University of Rio Grande
do Sul (UFRGS).
De Souza, D.C. Periódicos brasileiros de Comunicação no Qualis/CAPES [Brazilian communication
periodicals in Qualis/CAPES]. Verso e reverso (Two sides, Front and Back), Unisinos, São
Leopoldo. (accessed 5 June
Kunsch, M. 2007. Ensino de comunicação: Qualidade na formação acadêmico-profissional [Teaching
of communication: Quality in professional academic training]. ECA-USP: INTERCOM.
Machado, J. 2008. Journalism in the Communication Area [O Jornalismo na Área de Comunicação].
Paper presented at the Sixth National Meeting of the Brazilian Association of Researchers in
Journalism (SBPJor), São Bernardo do Campo, SP: UMESP, November.
Marques de Melo, J. 1974. Contribuições para uma pedagogia da comunicação [Contributions to a
communications pedagogy]. São Paulo: Paulinas.
. 2008. Teoria do jornalismo [Theory of journalism]. São Paulo: Paulus.
Nava, R. 2005. 40 anos da revista pioneira das ciências da comunicação no Brasil: Comunicações &
Problemas [40 years of the pioneering magazine of communication sciences in Brazil]. Work
presented at the History of Mediology Working Group, Novo Hamburgo, Third National Meeting
of the Alfredo de Carvalho Network.
rosanava.doc (accessed 20 May 2009).
Schwartzmann, S. 1984. A política brasileira de publicações científicas e técnicas: Reflexões. [The
Brazilian policy for scientific and technical publications: Reflections] Revista Brasileira de
Tecnologia 15(3): 25–32. (accessed 17 May
Soares, D. 1994. Pesquisa para implantação de cursos de Pós-graduação em Comunicação [Research
for implementation of postgraduate courses in Communication]. Rio de Janeiro: Communication
Department, Universidade Federal Fluminense, 1994.
pesq.htm (accessed 7 June 2009).
Stumpf, I. 1998. Reflexões sobre as revistas científicas [Reflections on scientific magazines]. Intexto
1(3): 1–10.
. 2003. Avaliação das revistas de comunicação pela comunidade acadêmica da área [Evaluation of
the communication magazines by the academic community of the area]. Em Questão 9(1): 25–38.
Teixeira, T. 2006. O impacto da Pauta Geral em três revistas científicas de jornalismo [Pauta Geral’s
impact on three scientific journalism magazines]. Pauta Geral 8: 183–194.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 240–251
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485369
Political journalism in South Africa as a developing
democracy – understanding media freedom and
Herman Wasserman* 1
As an emerging democracy in Africa, the political communication system of South Africa has undergone
major shifts since the early 1990s. Democracy brought greater and constitutionally protected freedom of the
media. This freedom was, however, seen as linked to certain responsibilities for the media to fulfil as democratic
institutions. Ongoing clashes between the media, politicians and the government have made it clear that
there is no consensus about what media freedom and responsibility mean in the context of a new democracy.
In order to assess the political communication system within South Africa, against the background of the
new wave of democracy that has swept the globe since the early 1990s, a structural analysis of the political
economic, regulatory and policy conditions underpinning the political communication system is not sufficient.
Attention should also be paid to the dynamic, cultural dimensions of political communication – the attitudes,
value frameworks and mutual expectations of role-players in the system. Drawing on approximately 30 semistructured interviews with journalists, politicians and political intermediaries in South Africa as part of a multicountry comparative study, this article explores how values like freedom of speech, media responsibility and
the democratic role of the media are understood by these various role-players in the political communication
process. The aim is to identify emerging themes in the discourse around freedom and responsibility, in order to
gain a better understanding of how these interpretations inform the sometimes strained relationship between
the media, intermediaries and politicians in these emerging democracies.
Key words: Freedom, new democracies, political communication, responsibility, South Africa
Like Brazil, South Africa can be considered an emerging democracy in the global South – both these
countries have emerged from first colonial rule, and then an authoritarian government supported by
a strong military, and are now establishing themselves as regional economic powers, yet still have
persisting vast socio-economic inequalities. The role that the media play in facilitating political
communication in these countries can, therefore, be seen to be influenced by legacies of the past,
as well as new challenges brought on by rapid social change in a globalised era.
South Africa formally became a democracy with the first election of a majority government in
1994, following a process of negotiation that started with the unbanning of liberation movements
and the release of political prisoners. This negotiated transition, after decades of bitter struggle for
liberation from white minority rule, has often been seen as part of a global trend of democratisation
after the Cold War (Blankson 2007: 19; Von Lieres 2005: 22).
Herman Wasserman is professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Rhodes University, South Africa. Email: [email protected]
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Political journalism in South Africa as a developing democracy ...
As part of the transition from apartheid to a constitutional democracy, the South African media
landscape underwent major structural shifts in terms of ownership, editorial staffing and the
regulatory environment. Linked to the new political freedoms in the country after apartheid, the
media’s democratic role was formally acknowledged by enshrining press freedom in the new
constitution. This freedom was seen as entailing certain responsibilities, and the media entered into
a system of self-regulation governed by ethical codes.
From a number of clashes between the media and politicians, it has become clear that not all actors
in the political communication process share the same view on the extent of the freedom the media
should enjoy in the new democracy, or how that freedom should be applied responsibly.
The greater freedom enjoyed by media in new democracies (although the transition process is
far from uniform, as Sparks 2009 points out) usually brings with it an expectation of media as
performing a ‘watchdog’ function, while governments often prefer media to support them in
achieving national and developmental goals (Gurevitch & Blumler 2004: 338; McQuail 2005:
178; Voltmer 2006: 4). Media with fresh memories of authoritarian rule are often sceptical about
the way in which the notion of responsibility may be abused to protect powerful interests from
media insults (Blankson 2007: 24). From the opposite perspective, it seems ironic that new media
freedom would be used for unfettered profit-seeking (Yin 2008: 20).
When journalism’s role in a new democracy is investigated, the structural dimension of ownership,
regulation and policy is just as important as the dynamic dimension of values, attitudes and
expectations (Pfetsch 2004). This article aims to focus on the latter aspect, by exploring some of
the main themes in the discourse around media freedom and responsibility, as expressed by actors
in the political communication process.
The interrelationship of discourses of the free market, democratisation and a pluralised and
independent commercial global media, suggests that political communication in new democracies
should ideally be approached from a comparative perspective, which includes both the structural
aspects of institutional histories, economic systems and ideologies, but also the more flexible and
dynamic cultural dimension of how every nation’s citizens respond differently to structural changes
(Murphy 2007: 8). This is indeed the approach followed in this article, which stems from a larger
study of political communication in new democracies conducted in eight countries, including Brazil
(in Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, Poland; in Latin America: Brazil, Chile; in South East Asia: South
Korea, Taiwan; and in Africa: Namibia, South Africa). The interaction, relationships, expectations,
values and norms of three sets of actors – politicians, political journalists and intermediaries like
spokespeople, lobbyists and extra-parliamentary activists – were compared on the basis of around
25 to 30 semi-structured interviews per country. This article is based on responses from a selection
of interviewees on questions involving their understanding of press freedom and responsibility.
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The findings of this study are not meant to be conclusive or generalisable evidence of the political
communication process in these countries. Instead, the findings offer an overview of some of the
main themes or tropes that emerged from the interviews, and as such provide the first contours of
a debate about press freedom and responsibility in South Africa from a comparative perspective.
The advent of democracy had a significant impact on journalism in South Africa, both in terms
of structural aspects such as media policy, regulation and ownership, as well as on the cultural
dimension of media practice, such as normative discourses and professional practice. The
political communication system initially opened up as a result of greater media freedoms, but has
subsequently come under pressure as politicians and government clashed with private media, or
interfered with the governance and editorial processes at the public broadcaster.
The South African media underwent significant shifts in ownership and staffing, in an attempt
to transform the industry in terms of race, politics and economics (Berger 2001: 151). Of central
importance for this transformation were changes in ownership and control of the press and the
public broadcaster. In the press, ownership of important newspaper titles was transferred to black
empowerment consortia (and to foreign investors like Independent and Pearson Plc), an agency
was set up to develop community media, community radio stations were established and black
journalists were appointed to senior editorial positions. But the alternative, grassroots media of
the apartheid era also dwindled due to the withdrawal of funding. In broadcasting, an independent
licensing body, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (later taken up in the larger Independent
Communications Authority, Icasa) would award licences, although the government retained
the right to make political appointments and remained the sole shareholder of the corporatised
SABC, where public service functions became increasingly blunted by commercial priorities and
government intervention (see Banda 2009; Berger 2001; FXI 2008; Sparks 2009; Tomaselli 2002,
New policy frameworks and normative expectations have also been formulated. After the
authoritarian control of the media during the apartheid era, the new negotiated constitution,
adopted in 1996, includes a bill of rights which safeguards freedom of expression – including
freedom of the press. At the same time, the highly legalised media environment of apartheid made
way for a self-regulatory system in which media institutions subscribed to ethical codes. A new
non-racial professional body (the South African National Editors’ Forum, Sanef) was established
and members of the public were given recourse to formal complaint mechanisms (although the
ruling party has argued for the establishment of a statutory media tribunal, because it perceives
self-regulation as failing to protect people’s dignity and human rights [Louw 2007]). These formal
guarantees notwithstanding, the relationship between the independent as well as public media and
the government has been marked by interventions and conflicts since early in the new democratic
era (see Berger 2009; Fourie 2002; Hadland 2007; Jacobs 1999; Louw 2007 for examples). It
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has become clear that normative values such as freedom of expression, the public interest and
social responsibility, are all but self-evident in the new democracy (Shepperson & Tomaselli
2002; Wasserman 2006). While notions of media freedom and responsibility feature in both
political attacks on the media and in vigorous defences of them, these concepts have seldom been
subjected to critical consideration to establish the meanings and values attached to them by various
actors. The responses by interviewees representing various actors in the South African political
communication process should, therefore, be read as attempts to render explicit the expectations
and value frameworks underpinning the use of these concepts against the background of these
ongoing tensions.
Changes in freedom of expression
There was wide agreement among journalists, politicians and intermediaries that the South
African media today enjoy much greater freedom than under apartheid. Formal safeguards were
seen as protecting the right to express political opinion, and made it possible to contest unfair
publication in a court of law. The freer flow of information was noticeable not only domestically,
but also transnationally. One journalist typified this situation as a move away from a South African
‘tribalism’, a parochial view on world news:
I hope that in our generalism we have become less tribalised. Let’s take a less provincial view also
on world affairs. I mean, I think South African media was very (…) parochial, that’s the word I was
looking for. South African media was very parochial and is less so now.
The role of press freedom and a range of watchdog organisations in defending these constitutional
freedoms was also highlighted.
Despite formal guarantees, journalists and intermediaries often expressed the fear that press freedom
is under pressure. This ranged from pressures being brought to bear on journalists by politicians
(‘bullying’ or ‘heavy-handedness’, especially towards black journalists who were expected to ‘toe
the line’, as one journalist put it) to economic pressures preventing the media from fulfilling their
investigative watchdog function as well as they should. The public broadcaster, the SABC, was
singled out as one media institution where press freedom is being threatened by the increased
meddling by government or the presenting of biased news, and was seen as being on the way to
becoming a state broadcaster.
When freedom of expression was defined more broadly than the formal constitutional changes
brought about by democratisation, the outlook was less positive. Measured in terms of people’s
ability to voice their concerns or as a qualitative dimension of media practice, freedom of expression
was seen, mostly by intermediaries on the left, as not making a real difference in the lives of the poor
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majority of South Africans. Because the exercise of freedom of expression is dependent on access
to information and to channels of communication that have been increasingly commodified and
commercialised in the new dispensation, this freedom is all but out of reach of the poor majority.
Media freedom, more specifically, in this view is seen as hampered by commercial interests, leading
to a narrow conception of the public and its interests, and to a form of self-censorship.
Main threats to freedom of expression and press freedom today
Several respondents, from various positions in the political spectrum, pointed to new threats to press
freedom emerging in the post-apartheid era. These threats came in various forms – direct political
threats, economic threats (which resulted in processes like the juniorisation of the newsroom and
the demise of investigative journalism) and threats associated with a narrow understanding of
media freedom.
Political threats
Mention was often made of new political threats against freedom of expression and press freedom.
Sometimes these were experienced as direct threats, for example, the ruling ANC’s proposal that
a media tribunal be established to replace the self-regulation by the Press Ombudsman, or the
proposal of new laws that could make pre-publication censorship possible). Other threats identified
by respondents seemed more implicit, like perceived government influence in the editorial content
of the public broadcaster or behind-the-scenes politicking on the board of the SABC.
Economic threats
The end of apartheid brought about a shift towards the increased commercialisation of the South
African media. The erstwhile vibrant alternative media (Switzer & Adhikari 2000) disappeared,
as funding from overseas donors dwindled or was redirected elsewhere; foreign capital moved
into the country (for example, the Independent Group taking over large sections of the Englishlanguage press); the Afrikaans media house Naspers became a global player; media houses
‘unbundled’ their holdings and sold parts off to Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) firms, which
led to the rise of new conglomerates. One of the biggest commercial successes in the print media
sphere has been new tabloid newspapers whose runaway circulation figures have overtaken their
broadsheet counterparts by far. Although attempts have been made by government to intervene
in the marketplace in order to support community media, these have met with mixed success.
As part of this commercialisation process, and in some cases (for instance, the Afrikaans media)
as a result of the purging of newsrooms of journalists associated with the previous regime, a
widespread juniorisation of the media has taken place (De Beer & Steyn 2002) – something which
was mentioned by several journalists as having a detrimental impact on investigative reporting.
Several journalists lamented the self-censorship brought about by commercialisation and ‘dumbing
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down’. Intermediaries on the left of the political spectrum pointed out that the media’s drive for
profits make them beholden to the demands and interests of a social and political elite. Linked
to this commercialisation was the criticism that the South African media market is increasingly
monopolised by a few big players, even if they produce a wide variety of media titles and outlets.
Some respondents bemoaned the demise of alternative media and the lack of viable, grassroots
community media.
Lack of investigative journalism
Although there have been examples of excellent and far-reaching investigative work being done
by a newspaper like the Mail & Guardian or the Sunday Times, the media in general stood accused
of favouring entertainment and diversion in the form of ‘infotainment’. This is not a unique
complaint about contemporary media (see Thussu 2007 for a discussion of how this process plays
out globally), but was seen by respondents as particularly problematic in a new democracy, where
the media should contribute to the strengthening of democratic institutions and root out corruption.
In the South African context, the lack of investigative journalism in the post-apartheid era was
seen as particularly ironic or unfortunate, given the fact that media are now freer to embark on
such reporting than they ever were under apartheid. In other words, the hard-won freedom was
seen to be squandered for short-term commercial benefit. Some commentators linked the lack of
investigative journalism to the preference for glamorous (‘sexy’) news stories of interest to an
elite, and, conversely, the marginalisation of issues of relevance to the poor majority which require
greater effort on the part of reporters.
Again, this situation was seen to be exacerbated by the juniorisation of newsrooms, brought on by
increased commercial pressures. These problems are connected as follows by an intermediary at a
social movement:
(T)he groups that I’m concerned with, one of the problems we have is the quality of journalism and
reporting and that’s got to do with juniorization of the newsroom and lack of investment in serious
investigative journalism. And also to prioritize the issues of the poor, they are not sexy, and I think that
is our problem with all the bourgeois media in my mind, I mean poverty is not sexy, in fact there are
some guys who don’t have water in some rural Transkei, really, I mean, you know what I’m saying,
and part of our democratization processes because of such a compromised process of democratization
which does not address the issues of historical injustice was to create what I call the ‘stupefaction
of a nation,’ so we are all into these bullshit things of the celebrity’s and the gossip and of course
glamorizing this sort of mindlessness and of course also selling products.
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Media responsibility
Responsibility as a corollary of freedom
Although there was wide acknowledgement that press freedom entailed certain responsibilities,
there was also some resistance against the idea of media responsibility when this was understood
as a kind of self-censorship. Among those who saw responsibility as a corollary of press freedom,
there were mixed opinions as to whether the media succeeds in acting responsibly. Some of the
general terms associated with media responsibility were ‘transparency’, ‘accountability’, ‘accuracy’
to people’s ‘dignity and reputation’ or the avoidance of incitement to violence and harm: ‘the fact
that you cannot extend your freedom to harm that of another’.
Understandably, in the light of South Africa’s history, stereotyping – especially regarding racism
and xenophobia – and the constitutional injunction against hate speech were singled out by a
number of respondents as an area where restraint on press freedom was important. The avoidance
of racial stereotypes is a common feature in media ethical codes in the country, but the interviews
also took place shortly after a wave of xenophobic violence swept the country, which could
have contributed to the salience of this aspect in interviewee responses. The juniorisation of
the newsroom (mentioned above) was seen by one intermediary as a contributing factor to the
inadequate reporting on the conflict (and incitement of xenophobic attacks) erupting across South
Africa in 2008.
It would, therefore, seem as if there is an acceptance – if not consensus – among journalists that
some restraint on press freedom is necessary or desirable. A negotiation of the strong liberaldemocratic normative ideals of independence and freedom seems to be taking place, and the fact
that this restraint is often described in terms of concepts such as ‘dignity’, ‘avoidance of harm’,
‘protection of (human) rights’ or the ‘social well-being’ of ‘a community’ seems to indicate that
such negotiation is informed by South Africa’s history, where these normative values have often
been violated in the political process. The importance of a historical influence for the normative
theory of journalists was expressed as follows by a newspaper journalist:
I think also that, unlike other parts of the world, where journalist may be … I don’t know how to put
this … but we have a certain history. Our history is not the same as many other countries. So when we
write we have to sort of keep that at the back of our minds. We don’t have to continuously remind …
people. But now and then, based on our history, depending on what the issue is, we have to remind in
our reporting, also state the fact that we don’t need to have that type of situation again, we need to also
educate our readers that the people, especially the young people of today, that many of them are fully
sympathetic to what happens there so we need to educate them in what they do ... that they have is
because of our history … our struggle … people who have struggled to where we are today ….
For these critics, media claims to ‘objectivity’ and ‘balance’ were belied by stereotypical news
frames representing elite prejudices. For instance, a social movement intermediary referred to the
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‘criminal’ frame that the media imposed on shack-dwellers protesting a lack of social delivery. In
their view, the way the media reported on these events also meant that they forsook their information
and education function, because members of the public were not sufficiently informed about the
reasons and context for such protests:
The way the media reported that, you know (…) made it like a crime scene you know. Then for people
that do not have a clear understanding of the issues of people from (the shack community of) Joe Slovo
and what also lead them to barricade the N2 (highway) you know, then there were not that much of
that education side of their reality you know, of what was the cause of the situation you know. Few
has been reported about the facts of the situation you know but then also like apart from that then the
only side that has been promoted you know, then is the governmental side of the story you know. Then
you’ll find out then someone who does not live at Joe Slovo you know, now that person will not be
able like to, to be fully informed you know, by what the person is reading from the newspapers. Then
from that particular person, then he will see what was taking place at Joe Slovo like as a criminal act
or a something or as an act that was unnecessary because the media played like to play a vital role you
Standard normative concepts like ‘accuracy’, ‘truthtelling’, ‘balance’ and ‘objectivity’ were used
by journalists to describe their responsibility. However, even as far as press responsibility is
concerned, commercialisation held sway for some, like a journalist who was of the opinion that
irresponsible journalism will eventually be ‘punished’ by the market, since credible journalism has
commodity value.
Journalists themselves were, however, less inclined to see themselves as in cahoots with the
government. In fact, when journalists engage in introspection on their responsibility, the implied
question is usually whether they take a strong enough adversarial stance against the government.
The ideal role, from journalists’ point of view, seems to be that of detachment and balance. One
journalist saw it as a good sign when politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition
criticised them, because it proved they were ‘on the right track’.
Responsibility as a smokescreen for control
There was another side to the normative debates that demand responsibility from the media, as
part of the freedom they enjoy. Some respondents – mostly journalists, but also intermediaries and
opposition politicians – warned that the notion of ‘responsibility’ may become a smokescreen for
government to get the media to toe the line. When used in this way, the demand for ‘responsibility’
becomes a form of pressure to get journalists to self-censor their work. For this reason, journalists
sometimes were reluctant to put too fine a definition on ‘responsibility’, preferring to stay with the
legal circumscription of press freedom, for instance, not to incite violence.
This view was shared, albeit from a different position on the political spectrum, by some social
movement intermediaries who saw claims of ‘responsible journalism’ as a way of sidelining
political firebrands who provide radical critiques of the political status quo.
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The media as opposition
An important perspective that emerged on media freedom in post-apartheid South Africa, was that
the media have now become political players in their own right. Several respondents described
the media’s traditional ‘watchdog’ role in terms that liken it to an opposition political party. In the
absence of a major opposition party to the ruling ANC,2 the media have emerged as an ‘alternative
power centre’ to the government (Blankson 2007: 20). This role was described as follows by a
journalist (reference):
I think generally speaking in the absence of any serious political opposition I think the media is one of
the organizations – and I say this being from the media side of the fence – it’s one of the sort of crucial
things that basically shines a spotlight on things and it’s become almost a quicker way than the official
methods for trying to get justice done. You know if you haven’t got the house you’re supposed to get
or this or that you phone a radio station or you write to the Sowetan or even the Daily Sun and you get
yourself on the front page and something happens as a result so I think the media’s played quite a role
in ensuring freedom.
Journalists were described as having become ‘embedded’ with opposing factions within the ruling
party, and find themselves ‘being used as pawns in very unseemly political fights’, sometimes even
leading to being hired as spin-doctors.
Some politicians supported the view that the media are influenced by political motives in their own
understanding of their responsibility, although what the media’s supposed political position was,
differed according to the politician’s own orientation.
The contested understanding of the media’s role in a new democracy like South Africa’s raises the
question whether it would ever be justified to restrict the media, if they fail to act responsibly or in
line with the spirit of the constitution that safeguards their freedom.
In general, respondents agreed with the constitutional restraints preventing the media from engaging
in hate speech or inciting anyone to violence. These limitations were understood against the history
of institutionalised racism in the country. However, some historical remnants from the apartheid
era have been controversial. While libel laws or the controversial section 205 of the Criminal
Procedure Act (which makes it possible for journalists to be subpoenaed to testify in court) have
been hotly debated in journalistic circles, not all journalists interviewed in this study saw these
measures as unfair. Overall, media freedom was seen as relative to their responsibility in terms of
providing truthful and accurate information in the interest of the public, broadly conceived. Yet
fears were also expressed that even legitimate limitations on media freedom could represent the
start of a slippery slope, where the government could seek to counter criticism by silencing the
media. The example of Zimbabwe was held up as a warning in this regard.
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The future of journalism in the developed world is all but certain, and cause for much debate and
punditry. In a new democracy like South Africa (and, in similar ways, Brazil), the context within
which journalism is practised is different in many regards, yet its norms, values and practices are
also subject to much contestation and negotiation. The role that political journalism should play
in consolidating the democratic gains made and in ensuring a democratic future for the country is
debated against a history of state repression under apartheid, and amidst fears that the future might
hold further threats to freedom of speech. At the same time there is the recognition that journalism
carries a certain social responsibility. The relation between freedom and responsibility is less
certain. While journalists are often criticised for abusing the notion of ‘freedom’ for commercial
gain, without regard for the quality, breadth or depth of perspective, politicians are mistrusted for
using the notion of ‘responsibility’ to exercise control over a vigilant media.
Perhaps the fact that journalism is the topic of so much debate and criticism is a recognition of its
importance for democracy in this developing country, and as such a positive sign for the future of
journalism in South Africa.
The assistance of Josh Ogada with the interview and transcription process and Dr Sarah Qian
Gong with coding of the transcripts is gratefully acknowledged. This article forms part of a larger,
comparative transnational study on political communication, funded by the British Academy
(LRG-45511), which covered Southern Africa (Namibia, South Africa), East Asia (Taiwan, South
Korea), Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Poland) and Latin America (Brazil, Chile).
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
The ANC split in 2009 to form another opposition party, the Congress of the People (Cope), but the
interviews took place before this split. Cope did not register significant enough support in the 2009
general elections to pose a challenge to the ANC.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 252–264
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485372
Political journalism in Brazil as a developing democracy:
The relationship between government and the media
Antonio Hohlfeldt* 1
This article deals with the Brazilian desire to know and voice an opinion about everything which might be
regarded as a true reflection of the facts. This need arises from a long history of informational and democratic
exclusion. In asserting the public’s right to be heard, it is argued that patience is a virtue. The author describes
the different stages in the democratisation of communication in Brazil, which might serve as a way to effectively
obtain our ultimate goal: the free and fair expression of opinion in all the different forms of media.
Key words: Brazil, citizenship, democratisation, Latin America, media, panopticon, politics
Since the beginning of the movements for the re-democratisation of Brazil in the 1970s, the
growing overlapping of the fields of politics and communication has become increasingly evident.
The process of re-democratisation has extended the possibilities of such a relationship, opening
up the way for a type of press which, though it has become increasingly commercial in nature,
has nevertheless managed to remain sensitive to issues of relevance to the average citizen. The
extensive amount of research undertaken from 1984 to 2002 into the leading newspapers in
the country highlighted the fact that the level of popular participation in political processes has
increased substantially, although such participation is not directly related to the activity of the
different political parties. In general, the media have been sensitive to such civil action, as well as
open to recording associated thinking and expression. The ongoing re-democratisation of Brazil has
run parallel with the changes occurring in the national media. Such processes are complementary,
despite their being subject to occasional confrontations and ongoing challenges, resulting from the
tendency towards personalisation in the new communication media (especially television), and
from some decisions which have been made by the judiciary regarding freedom of expression and
information. In contrast, some decision-making, such as the Supreme Federal Court’s revocation of
the Press Law, has been reminiscent of that which characterised the period of dictatorship. Despite
the legal vacuum that such a revocation has caused, such action has led to significant progress
towards attaining full freedom of expression and opinion.
Another challenge which is posed in Brazil, in common with the rest of Latin America, is that
of the concentration of media ownership (in the form of newspapers or television channels) in
the hands of only a few families. Such a phenomenon is also exacerbated by the tendency of
Antonio Hohlfeldt is professor in the Graduate Programme in Social Communication at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Email: [email protected]
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many companies to have become media conglomerates. In contrast, the advent of information
and communication technologies has opened up the way for community radio stations, which are
relatively free from legislative control. In addition, the varying levels of electronic governance
which are in place have significantly changed the level of civil participation in the large-scale
public debate. The dissemination of information by the different levels of public administration
has increased substantially in Brazil. Executives in the federal, state and municipal spheres of
government, as well as legislators and the judiciary, have their own radio and television channels
which enable them to produce their own programmes, and to utilise specific spaces to explain their
different ways of functioning and general characteristics. In addition, civil entities have significantly
increased their online presence on websites and blogs, which cover the most diverse levels of
information. Brazil is currently a democracy, which allows for the circulation of a wide diversity
of opinions. Ultimately, however, the interpretation of such opinions can only be facilitated by
enhancing the standard of education that is available.
Politics and communication deal with a common force: the imaginary. It is the conquest of such a
force that politicians seek, as well as what interests the media, in so far as they have influence over
it. The relationship between communication and politics is also a relationship of power, because
a common agenda exists between them. To politicians, it is fundamental that the media record
and publicise their actions, whereas the media live off what they can report. As a result, politics is
becoming more dramatic by the day (Esteves 2003: 109) – a fact that has already been pointed out
by both Guy Débord and Roger-Gérard Schartzenberg. Such a relationship, according to Esteves, is
becoming more intense, because it depends on what transpires in the arena of public debate, which
is fundamental to politics, and also because both its dimension and its extension are markedly
increased by communication.
Only a few decades ago, the most promising communication strategy used by politicians was
approaching the voter and citizen around the time of an electoral campaign or inauguration.
Nowadays, increasingly, politicians tend to be viewed by the average citizen from the latter’s role
as a spectator, especially of television. Television, accordingly, has become the leading vehicle
for either the promotion or condemnation of a politician. A somewhat extreme view of the media
is asserted by some researchers, who affirm that in Brazil television either elects or deposes
presidents. In fact, television was the channel of communication to grow the most in Brazil when it
was under the sway of a military dictatorship, from 1964 to 1984 (Lattmann-Weltmann 2003: 134).
The same type of growth has occurred more recently in the case of the Internet, which justifies its
popularity among politicians. Television by itself earns more than half of the advertising budget
of the entire country (ibid.: 136). Nowadays, the same official inaugurations, which all politicians
attend, serve less to manifest their physical presence than to fix their image in the mind of the
public, by means of the attendant television coverage. Such coverage allows politicians – and
especially the President of the Republic – to enter the homes of citizens and voters every night, to
speak directly to them, and to become ‘close’ to them, similar to the way in which soap opera stars
or Hollywood film stars grow closer to their admirers (Barba 2003: 29). Some strategists assert
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that nowadays the main communication resource that a government has, is the President of the
Republic himself (Izurieta, Perina & Arterton 2003: 206).
One of the consequences of this new situation is that, just as the public is coming to depend more
on the media to be informed about politics, politics is becoming increasingly depoliticised (Barba
2003: 45). For many radical critics of the media such a reality is deplorable; for other critics it
is just a new form of reality to which politicians need to adapt, because, after all, the number of
voters has grown exponentially in all countries that are recognised as true democracies.2 Such
growth has meant the loss of direct and permanent contact of the nation’s major political leaders
with their electorate and citizenship. As a result, nowadays it is through such media as newspapers,
television and the Internet that the messages of political personalities are collectively transmitted.3
It is through the media that politicians still seek to elicit information – especially by means of polls
and surveys – about what is happening around them. However, in contrast to a few decades ago,
politicians no longer have to maintain direct contact with all their potential groups of supporters
and the electorate (ibid.: 25–27).
The personalisation of politics, as various scholars have emphasised (Rúas 2003: 68–69), is
probably the most evident consequence of such a process, due to the current growing ideological
and partisan lack of definition of such a field. To summarise: the electorate no longer decide for
which candidate to vote based on familiar loyalties, regional relationships or ideological affinity.
Instead, their vote is based on the best projects, the most trustworthy images, and the expectations
that the respective candidates are capable of arousing in them, by way of their skilful exploitation
of the media. The history of the four attempts by the former union leader, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva,
representing the Workers Party (PT), to be elected to the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil is a
good example of such manipulation of the media. Lula was defeated by Collor de Mello in the first
democratic elections after the military dictatorship came to an end in 1989. During the electoral
campaign concerned, TV Globo deliberately set out to attempt to manipulate the public in the way
that it presented the lies of the candidate, who claimed to be, among other flattering designations,
the ‘Maharajah’s hunter’.4 However, the truth was reflected in a debate aired on television, and
which was later edited in such a way as to indicate what had actually transpired. That debate was
decisive in determining the final electoral count.5
The media serve to concretise the practise of citizenship (Izurieta, Perina & Arterton 2003: 203;
Lattmann-Weltmann 2003: 129–130). In the contemporary climate, a politician must be able to
communicate effectively. No government can currently make decisions without first consulting the
general electorate. Such consultation occurs through polls and opinion surveys, which are reported
on by the media (Barba 2003: 34). In contrast, governments have the obligation to inform, and give
account of their actions to, their citizenry. Such information can be conveyed by means of the media
– especially by means of either collective interviews or exclusive meetings between the authorities
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concerned, and a journalist assigned to cover such matters. Such openness of communication allows
for transparency, and the recognition of public responsibility, which is frequently translated as
being a measure of accountability. Such recognition is a key issue in modern democratic practice,
‘because it refers to the real functioning of the institutions and to the revenue they bring, or [might]
not [bring], to those who [would] submit the system to their sovereignty and interest’ (LattmannWeltmann 2003: 149).
The production and dissemination of information makes possible the existence of checks and
balances, which are considered primary characteristics of the most firmly established democracies
(ibid.: 151, 153, 155).6 Having discussed the theoretical premises on which such an argument
is based, it is necessary to consider certain historical issues of relevance to the current context.
Carolina Matos was responsible for coordinating a research study that involved evaluating some
Brazilian newspapers, such as Folha de São Paulo and O Estado de São Paulo, from São Paulo, and
O Globo, from Rio de Janeiro, in addition to such periodicals as Istoé and Veja. The study took as a
reference point some newsworthy political events that had transpired recently in Brazil,7 including
the process of ‘Direct-now’. Such a process entailed the mobilisation of all Brazilian society in
favour of the constitutional amendment which had been proposed by the Federal Deputy Dante de
Oliveira, with respect to the reinstitution of direct elections, at all levels of government, throughout
the country.8 Although such a reinstitution was not approved due to the level of pressure exerted by
the administration of the last general in power, President Figueiredo, such mass mobilisation was
one of the most significant ever obtained on a national level, especially in light of the open stance
taken by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo in favour of such a democratic proposition (Matos
The 1989 elections, in which Collor de Mello was elected president of the country, follows the
abovementioned political action in importance as reflecting the truly democratic process in which
the nation had participated. Following on the analysis of such elections is an overview of the 1994
presidential elections, during which (after the institution of ‘Plano Real’, which transformed the
Brazilian system of currency and launched a new financial and economic plan for the country) the
sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso completed his first mandate.10 Lula was victorious in the
2002 elections. For the first time in the history of Brazil, his election to office represented the rise
of the worker and blue-collar class to the highest authority in the nation.11
The period in question has been subject to much contradictory assessment, due to the field of
Brazilian journalism, especially in the 1990s, becoming more commercial (Matos 2008: 10),
though, simultaneously, it was able to continue functioning as a mediator in respect of the political
debate in the country from 1994 to 2002 (ibid.: 11, 298, 301–302). Such duality was possible
especially because there was a strong cross-section of civil society, which exerted a great deal of
pressure on the governors in general, as well as on the re-institutionalised political structures.
Matos confirms that the media have a central role to play in the mediation and promotion of
political debate (2008: 12, 13). She holds that the advance of the professionalisation of Brazilian
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journalism (ibid.: 13; Lattmann-Weltmann 2003: 133), due to the openness that governmental
structures have provided to the market (Matos 2008: 20), has enabled the focus to fall on the most
prominent of the range of concerns of the citizenship (ibid.: 22–24). ‘According to the National
Association of Newspapers (ANJ), created by 126 journalistic societies and representatives of
the media industry, 529 out of 2 464 newspapers are published daily. In 2002, the circulation was
of 6.9 million newspapers daily, a very small amount if we take into consideration that there are
approximately 180 million people in Brazil’ (ibid.: 35).
To reach such levels of circulation, the successive governments had to face some resistance from the
Brazilian left-wing parties, even during the time of Lula’s administration. Lula’s party, the PT, has
always been strongly criticised by the big media groups – especially TV Globo. For instance, there
has been much criticism of the breaking of the government’s monopoly on telecommunications
which, however, has facilitated the rapid implementation of the mobile phone system (currently,
both quantitatively and qualitatively, one of the most developed in the world). Such a process
culminated in the realisation of a National Congress of Communications, with representative
entities in all governmental areas, throughout the three levels (federal, state and municipal) of
government, and across the different powers of state (including the executive, legislative and the
judiciary). The National Congress also includes participation by professional entities, the workers,
representatives of communication companies, and various civil society organisations. The congress
was boycotted by the big media groups, which accused the left-wing parties and popular movements
of instrumentalising the initiative. However, the event had widespread repercussions, and resulted
in the mobilisation of a significant level of public opinion, especially due to the participation of
small communication groups. Above all, the Superior Federal Court decided, on 30 April 2009, in
a moment which was considered historical, to rescind the so-called Press Law (a remnant of the
dictatorial period) (Correio do Povo 1 May 2009: 2). For many people such a decision seemed
ominous, as it appeared that it would leave a judicial gap in regard to certain practical situations,
such as in the case of the right to reply. Others, again, regard the Civil Code as providing enough of
a solution in such cases. The most significant fact in this regard is that the last document remaining
from the period prior to the democraticisation of the country was ultimately excluded from the
current legislative setup.
Soon after rescinding the Press Law, the Superior Federal Court decided to do away with the
existing requirement of a diploma in journalism to work as a journalist. Such a move generated a
strong reaction from FENAJ, as well as from many other sectors of Brazilian society. Currently, the
journalist corporation and other leftist groups are trying to reinstate such legislation by means of the
promulgation of a new bill, the passing of which is subject to the vote of the National Congress.12
According to Carolina Matos (2008), this progress is the result of such pioneering attitudes as those
of Folha de São Paulo which, in 1984, supported the ‘Direct-now’ campaign. Such modifications
took effect in the newspaper O Globo which, until then, had been seen as a partner of the generals,
just as in the case of the other Globo organisations. With the assumption of the editorship of O
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Globo by the experienced journalist Evandro Carlos de Andrade in 1972, the newspaper adopted a
new image, resulting, during the 1990s, in major graphic and editorial changes. The tempo of such
changes increased further when the newspaper adopted strategies similar to those of the New York
Times, which led to the former becoming one of the leading referential newspapers in the country.
The magazine Realidade, which was published by Abril Publishing in as early as the 1960s, opened
up a new path for literary journalism of the highest quality. When its publication was interrupted
by the promulgation of Institutional Act No. 5 in December 1968 (which led to a dramatic increase
in the level of censorship practised, and to the imprisonment of a number of journalists), a new
alternative was found in the form of Veja magazine, directed by Mino Carta. That same professional
would later, by revitalising Istoé magazine, lend continuity to the rebirth of weekly magazines
which, until then, had been nonexistent after the closure of O Cruzeiro in the early 1960s.
How journalists participated in the re-democratisation and, later, the extension of the democratic
basis in Brazilian society, requires consideration. According to Matos (2008: 255), their participation
in the political process was attained by their maintaining a distance from the proscriptions of
militant journalism,13 as well as by their adoption of the practise of a truly professional form of
journalism, which proactively seeks out information and makes itself accessible to all sectors of
society. Such a process is slow and ongoing, as the journalists concerned have become increasingly
capable of incarnating ‘multiple journalistic identities’ and, therefore, of representing the different
social sectors (ibid.: 256).
At the same time, the growth and continuous nature of the ever-increasing democratisation of the
country has resulted in the media becoming increasingly complex (ibid.: 283). Journalists have
come to play an expanding dualistic role in contemporary society, sometimes as facilitators of
information, and sometimes as promoters of public debate (ibid.: 287). What chiefly characterises
current journalism, from the author’s perspective, is its analytical approach, which allows for the
same type of in-depth coverage of issues as was originally achieved only through radio broadcasts.
A substantive contribution has been made to such debate by the promotion of critical discussion
about the media in general, by the different websites concerned, such as those of the ‘Observatório
da imprensa’ (Press Observer), ‘Alberto Dines’ (, and
‘Comuniquese’ (Communicate) (, all of which are known to support
the maintenance of a sense of balance and ethics in journalism (Matos 2008: 293).
Matos (ibid.: 302) summarises her observations regarding the evolution of journalism in the
following statement:
(a) the commercial media (market press) has contributed to the progress of democracy, acting as a
mediator of the public debate and as an instrument of political contestation, although a number of
political and economic factors have prevented the accomplishment of still greater progress; (b) the
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journalists concerned have participated in different ways, by assuming a role of social responsibility, by
adopting a progressive professional reading, and even by engaging in democratic militancy; (c) though
the interests of larger segments of the population (civil society) have been included within the scope of
the public media, such inclusion should be deepened and extended still further, in order to include less
privileged segments of the Brazilian society; (d) the state has abandoned its past authoritarian approved
and has made progress towards the full-scale implementation of a system of liberal socio-democracy,
which, though still quite fragile, is starting to release its hold on the press, showing growing potential
in exercising a role that is more inclusive and which is focused on providing a public service both for
the media and for the entire Brazilian society.
Regarding the 1988 constitution, the only chapter about which consensus has not yet been reached
and about which, consequently, no final report has yet been written, is that relating to the field of
social communication. Such inconclusiveness is due, on the one hand, to the intense debate that
has taken place within the lobby of the Brazilian Association of Radio and Television (ABERT),
and, on the other hand, to the debate that has taken place between civil society and those who
defend the need for greater interference by the state in this regard. Despite 20 years elapsing since
the promulgation of the constitution in question, none of the attendant pressure has decreased. In
fact, recent incidents relating to the digitalisation of television and the current debate regarding the
expansion of telephone companies into the arena of the provision of Internet services and television
images, have made such a conflict of interest even more evident.
The democratisation of Brazilian society has even had direct consequences for such a quasimonopolistic setting. It is no longer possible to imagine an incident taking place, similar to that
of PROCONSULT, in which it was claimed that TV Globo was involved in the attempt to prevent
Leonel Brizola from becoming the state governor of Rio de Janeiro (Lattmann-Weltmann 2003:
142).14 The over-dramatisation of such incidents as the death of a potential president (that of
Tancredo Neves, who, on passing away suddenly, had to be replaced by his Vice-President, José
Sarney15), or of a political campaign, such as that of Fernando Collor, in which the different media
clearly took sides, has become commonplace.
In contrast, over the years outstanding examples of civil resistance, such as that of the ‘Direct-now’
campaign (initiated by the same Folha de São Paulo) or that of opposition to the then president,
Collor de Mello, resulting in the scandalous unveiling of PC Farias, have been brought to the
much-needed attention of the public. The newspaper concerned shared with at least two weekly
magazines, Veja and Istoé, extensive in-depth coverage of the impeachment and resignation from
office of the president, as well as publicising of the well-known movement of young Brazilian
students, called the ‘painted faces’.16
The same media that supported the ‘Plano Real’ neither covered up the internal crisis lived out by
president Cardoso towards the end of his second mandate,17 nor the fact that Lula could increasingly
be seen to stand as an unbeatable candidate in his fourth attempt to attain the presidency of Brazil.
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More recently, the debate about the implementation of quotas for black people and indigenous
Indinas has received extensive coverage in the media.18 Some of the major referential newspapers in
Brazil have transformed the ongoing debate about quotas into a symbolic fight, which is embraced
by different social actors whose voices have attained full-scale legitimacy in the media (Balocco
2007: 277).
In both Fernando Henrique and Lula’s administrations, a series of denunciations, which later turned
into scandals, were carefully followed and documented by the media.19 As a result, first Fernando
Henrique, and later Lula, considered submitting a bill to the National Congress forbidding all
public employees – including the police and the judiciary – from passing on information to the
media. The passing of the so-called ‘Gag Law’ was, however, successfully resisted by the Superior
Federal Court (Lattmann-Weltmann 2003: 166; Matos 2008: 224). Similarly, Lula renounced his
intention to modify the Audiovisual Law, which was at that time considered to pose a potential
threat to freedom of creation (ibid.: 226), as well as his intention to create the National Council
of Journalism, in consensus with the Journalist National Federation (Santos 2008: 45). One of the
initial difficulties that Lula encountered with the media was that relating to his depiction by the US
journalist, Larry Rother (a correspondent for The New York Times) as an alcoholic.
Two major challenges still remain as obstacles to full freedom of expression and the full-scale
dissemination of ideas throughout the country. On the one hand, many of the current judiciary have
imposed sentences directly involving the limitation of freedom of expression and information.
Those cases involving the publication of a book by the journalist Fernando Morais and a biography
about the singer Roberto Carlos, among others, have put the defenders of fundamental civil rights
on alert (Mattos 2008: 236).
On the other hand, the tendency towards what Lattmann-Weltmann calls ‘denunciationism’ (2003:
159) has involved issues ranging from allegations of the Minister of Health’s alleged irregular
acquisition of bicycles for public health agents, to various episodes in which the media have
made denunciations, as well as expanding on, judging and condemning, de facto, the defendant
concerned. Such coverage has, in effect, negated any possibility of mounting a proper defence.
Federal deputies, senators and state secretaries have, in the past, all fallen foul of such deprecatory
All institutions, including the media, ultimately show how they function, so that their extremes
can be countered by more balanced forces. Though Brazil has now, as a nation, gained a fullblooded voice, the challenge still lies in the field of communication, in what the audience has to
say, and to whom it is prepared to listen. Let us conclude with the analogy employed by LattmannWeltmann (2003: 173) in his study of the media: we do not know of a more appropriate metaphor
to characterise this desire [the desire that the Brazilian society has to know and control everything]
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than the Benthamian concept of panopticon (or pan-optic): an architectonic construction idealised
to serve institutions that are closed to the public and where, thanks to an ingenious disposition of
cells and a sort of control tower, a relatively large group of interns can be easily controlled – better,
potentially controlled – by a single observer who sees them without being seen.
Perhaps such an analogy is somewhat unfair. However, the Brazilian desire to know and voice an
opinion about everything might be regarded as a true reflection of the facts, arising from a long
history of informational and democratic exclusion. In asserting our right to be heard, we ought,
however, to be patient. We need to be aware of the different stages in the democratisation of
communication, so that we can master each effectively in order to attain our ultimate goal: the free
and fair expression of opinion in all the different forms of media.
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
In Brazil, voting is mandatory, with each voter’s participation in the electoral process being checked
up on afterwards – in order to receive their salary, each voter, worker and public employee must
present a document proving that they have voted to their employer. Such control, which is only
intended to ensure that each and every voter does, in fact, take part in the election, does not entail
control over the vote that is cast, over which candidate or party the citizen chooses to vote for, or their
potential casting of blank votes, or their annulling of their vote. Any absence from the process must
be justified by the voter concerned through his or her completion of a set form made available at post
offices throughout the country on election day. Brazil, however, in contrast to the voting practices of
some other countries, does not allow voters who are abroad at the time of the election to cast a vote,
be it through its embassies or by mail.
In respect of the 2010 elections for the Presidency of the Republic, the Senate, Federal Legislature,
State Legislature, and State Governors, the National Congress has decided to allow the electoral
campaign to be conducted over the Internet.
The first democratic election to take place in Brazil after a dictatorship assumed control over the
country in 1964, was in 1989. Some of the candidates were: The current President of Brazil, Lula,
who stood for the newly founded PT, and Fernando Collor de Melo, who stood for a small party
created especially to enable his participation in the elections. Collor de Mello’s project had the
evident support of most of the media, due to Lula’s allegedly radical leftist discourse. The former
politician, who had previously been the Governor of the state of Alagoas, saw to it that his campaign
assistants developed an image of youth and modernity which was, above all, strongly combative of
corruption. His adoption of such a stance led to his nickname as ‘Maharajah’s hunter’. The use of
the term ‘maharajahs’, in common parlance, refers to those public political workers, employees and
elected politicians who are accused of corruption and who, as a result of such corruption, receive high
monthly salaries.
Among other charges, Collor de Mello accused Lula of not having recognised his own illegitimate
daughter (a teenager at the time) from a previous relationship. Such a fact severely destabilised Lula’s
campaign, as Brazilian society is strongly moralist and conservative by nature.
Some experts are concerned about the situation because, in their opinion, the Brazilian media tend to
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report on, and criticise, such political actions as those that promote the denunciation of misconduct,
the trial process and the attendant sentencing, often without the necessary care that a responsible
journalist should take. Those cases involving Escola Base and the Brazilian Minister of Health,
Alceni Guerra, are paradigmatic examples of such coverage.
In the former case, the directors of an elementary school in São Paulo were accused of sexual
misconduct towards some learners at the school. The school was the closed, with those allegedly
responsible for such misconduct being arrested, though later they were cleared of all such charges,
when it was discovered that the entire incident had been a fabrication involving both police officials
and journalists. With regard to the second incident, TV Globo, which has shares in the insurance
company Golden Cross, accused the minister (at the time) of embezzlement, involving his purchase
of bicycles to be used by public health workers for visiting the residences of poor citizens in major
cities. Though the minister concerned resigned (which had a negative effect on his family), after
proper investigation it was proved that he, in fact, had not been guilty of misconduct in this regard.
The media, however, after the scandal was over, only announced the innocence of the minister
concerned in small print on the inside pages of the newspapers concerned, or in short news broadcast
inserts on radio and television.
Folha de São Paulo was created in 1960, as a result of the amalgamation of three different newspapers
which had been founded from 1921 onwards. The amalgamated newspaper promoted a true graphic
revolution from 1970 to 1980 in Brazil. A Província de São Paulo, which had republican tendencies,
was launched in 1875. In 1890, the newspaper was renamed O Estado de São Paulo, after the advent
of the republic. As the newspaper has always defended freedom of the press, it suffered during the
dictatorships of the Estado Novo in 1937, as well as after 1964. The newspaper O Globo was created
in 1925 by Irineu Marinho, on his selling of A Noite, which he had successfully published since 1911.
In 1944 Roberto Marinho, his son and successor, acquired the first radio station of the current group,
launching TV Globo in 1965. Currently, the mediatic conglomerate is the largest in the country.
The magazine Istoé, which originated in the defection of the journalist Mino Carta, its director at
that time, to join Domingo Alzugaray, from Editora Três, in May 1976, was published monthly.
Around 1988, Istoé amalgamated with the magazine Senhor, becoming Istoé/Senhor, a weekly
publication, until March 1992, when it reverted to its original title of Istoé. The magazine Veja started
its circulation on 11 September 1968, a few months after Institutional Act No. 5 was promulgated.
As from 12 December, the magazine radicalised the tendency towards dictatorship and censorship
that was prevalent in the country. The project was an extremely bold one for Brazil at the time, being
personally sponsored by Victor Civita, an Italian residing in Brazil, who had started publishing Walt
Disney’s magazines during the 1940s.
The movement called ‘Direct-now’ was the last unsuccessful attempt by those parties opposing the
military, to stage the 1964 coup to restore Brazil to democracy in 1984. Although the project gained
the majority vote in the National Congress, it did not reach the quorum required by the government
to change the constitution of the country.
Members of the board of the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, who were concerned about the loss of
readership, took the opportunity to use the civic and political campaign to approach young people,
whom they saw as potential readers, and to enlist them as subscribers. The campaign, which was
initiated by Folha, not only helped to ward off attempts at intimidation that were made by Collor de
Melo’s government against the newspaper (by helping to promote federal tax diligences), but also
served to promote the campaign opposing Collor de Melo and his campaign treasurer and assistant
at the presidency, Paulo César Farias. Such an approach also helped guarantee a significant increase
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in the number of subscriptions, especially by young readers, in both the short and medium term.
10 In June 1994, Lula, who was running for the second time for the Presidency of the Republic, had
practically 50 per cent of the vote intentions, according to the polls at the time. After good results
had been achieved with the valorisation of the Brazilian currency – the real – and the inflation spiral
had been interrupted, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, then Minister of Finances of the President, Itamar
Franco, became an unbeatable candidate. As a vice-president, the latter had become president after
Collor de Melo resigned, as a result of being accused of corruption and suffering impeachment by
the National Congress, Cardoso had already won the elections in the first term, without the need for
a second term, meaning he won more than half of the valid votes, according to the Brazilian electoral
11 Lula was running for the fourth time for the Presidency of the Republic, since Fernando Henrique
Cardoso had been re-elected, as predetermined by the Brazilian electoral legislation. PT used an
extensive political marketing project for the candidate, which transformed both his presentation and
the party discourse. Lula had, as Cardoso’s vice-president, become one of the most conservative and
respected Brazilian entrepreneurs, and, together with José de Alencar constituted the same team that,
in 2006, was also re-elected to the federal government, thus fulfilling their mandate, which is due to
conclude at the end of 2010.
12 Brazilian journalists have to be unionised. Each state has such a union, and FENAJ – the National
Federation of Journalists – binds together all the journalist unions in the country. FENAJ initiated
the idea of a National Council of Journalists – something which encountered strong resistance from
the big media groups, as well as from public opinion, during Lula’s first administration. The idea has
recently been reintroduced at the National Congress of Communication, at which congress it met with
approval as one of the suggestions to be addressed to the Presidency of the Republic.
13 In this way, it is a movement contrary to the tendency towards advocacy journalism or citizen
journalism, which has prevailed in the last few years, especially in the United States.
14 Already during the time of military dictatorship, though starting to open up to the gradual and slow
return to the democratic process, the federal government had authorised free elections for the state
administrations which, until then, had been directly appointed by the military. Leonel Braziola, exgovernor of Rio Grande do Sul, linked up with the former party of Getúlio Vargas and João Goulart,
the latter of whom had been overthrown by the military coup in 1964, to run for the governorship of
the state of Rio de Janeiro. TV Globo had, apparently, led a movement of falsification of the counting
of votes, by means of the company PROCONSULT, in order to avoid the election of Brizola, a leftwing populist leader. Brizola, after denouncing the fraud, was elected governor of Rio de Janeiro.
PROCONSULT was charged with counting the votes. It was the last time the country had a election
system like this. Brazil has since adopted a mechanical voting system.
15 Having been elected to office, Tancredo Neves died after a hospitalisation that lasted almost a month.
His death was announced on 21 April, which is a national date of commemoration of the martyrdom
of the first Brazilian independence fighter, Tiradentes, who opposed Portuguese colonialism during
the 18th century. The announcement took place on ‘Jornal Nacional’ on TV Globo, during the
national television news which, at the time, reached almost 100 per cent of the Brazilian television
audience throughout the entire country. In a similar way to that in which Tiradentes had given his life
for the sake of the emancipation of Brazil from colonial rule, with his execution being carried out
by the Portuguese authorities, Tancredo Neves would have given his life for the sake of democracy
in modern-day Brazil. Such heroism led to him hiding the fact of his terminal illness in order to
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guarantee the victory of democracy in the elections, bringing the dictatorial period (initiated in 1964)
to its definitive conclusion.
The participation of Brazilian students in the event by way of their representative organisations
was shown by them painting their faces in the green and yellow colours of the Brazilian flag, and
embarking on mass countrywide street protests against the then President of the Republic, Fernando
Collor de Mello.
Worldwide, there was an overwhelming level of economic and financial instability. The possibility
that Lula might be elected, led the major international finance groups to anticipate unparalleled
levels of inflation for Brazil, with a possible withdrawal of international capital. At the same
time, Cardoso no longer held the majority in the National Congress and, having been accused of
corruption and of selling several government companies to private groups, lacked the backing of
national public opinion. Such denunciations were mainly voiced by PT and other leftist parties
opposing the government.
Lula’s government implemented social inclusion policies, of which one involved the creation of
quotas set to guarantee the presence of American Indian and African-American descendents at public
universities throughout the country.
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 265–275
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485374
Digital journalism and online public spheres in South
Tanja Bosch* 1
This article explores and evaluates the growth of digital journalism in South Africa, within the context of increased
use of online social media in the field. Increasingly, local activists are using mobile and online social networking
to promote their events and causes, and reach their constituencies. Similarly, journalists are using digital media
to practise their craft, reach new audiences, and sometimes even to change the notion of who practises
journalism, as in the case of citizen journalism. South African journalists, via community media and sometimes
even tabloid newspapers, have long embraced the notion of civic or community journalism, framing news
‘in a way that facilitates people thinking about solutions, not just problems and conflict’ (Hoyt 1995). With the
rise of Web 2.0 and increased access to the Internet, digital journalism in South Africa has spread to include
a strong focus on user-generated content, with traditional news media using Twitter and other social media
to generate reader feedback. Similarly, the Mail & Guardian ‘Thoughtleader’ blog, originally designed for socalled J-bloggers, is another example of the ‘convergence’ between journalism and social media. The article
provides an overview of emerging trends and theories in the South African context, focusing particularly on the
public sphere created by bloggers, the citizen journalism of and journalists’ engagement with
online social media. Furthermore, the article reflects on the possibility that online news sites and blogs may
represent a space for the creation of online public spheres in South Africa.
Key words: Citizen journalism, digital journalism, social media, Twitter, Web 2.0
The term ‘digital journalism’ is quite broad, and can be used and interpreted in many ways.
One definition of digital journalism is ‘the use of digital technologies to research, produce and
deliver (or make accessible) news and information to an increasingly computer-literate audience’
(Kawamoto 2003: 4). Kawamoto (2003) further highlights several additional characteristics of
digital journalism, including hypertextuality, interactivity, nonlinearity, the use of multimedia,
convergence, customisation and personalisation. In many ways, digital journalism is not a new
phenomenon and has been practised in South Africa for some time. Journalists have always
used digital technologies in the practise of their craft, though it is only in recent years that these
technologies have allowed for a softening of the boundaries of professional journalism, with the
increased involvement of a more active audience. In South Africa, online or digital journalism is
often a supplement (and not a complement) to print and broadcast news media (Scott 2005).
While specific to trends in the United States (US), the rise of Internet journalism, as articulated
by Scott (ibid.), has some parallels with the South African situation. There, in the 1990s, there
was a decline in more costly practices such as ‘investigative reporting, foreign correspondence,
Tanja Bosch is senior lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Email: [email protected]
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maintaining a large and diverse staff of reporters and performing as the watchdog of the political
and economic seats of power’ (ibid: 3). Similarly, in a local context, traditional print media have
faced the challenges of the increasing juniorisation of newsrooms, and over-reliance on press
releases and stories from the news wires, as a result of economic imperatives. While these reasons
were not the primary motivations for print newspapers to move online, the rise of digital journalism
in South Africa is tied to global trends to move newspapers online.
In general, the use of new media has led to new storytelling techniques that engage the audience in
more navigable ways (Pavlik 2001). For example, the local news site,
run by Primedia Broadcasting and linked to Talk Radio 702 and Cape Talk 567MW news, provides
several multimedia versions of posted stories. Readers have the option of subscribing to the RSS
feed and receiving updates, reading the text versions of stories heard on the radio, or linking to
multimedia versions of stories that include still photographs or video television-style packages.
Here we see how readers navigate the pages in a more rhizomatic or non-linear way, clicking
on stories which interest them most, and then following the links, demonstrating a paradigmatic
shift in visual storytelling (ibid.). This non-linearity of the new media is a key feature of digital
journalism, and all online news sites give readers the opportunity to access digital archives of
stories, at no cost.
This article considers the following forms of digital journalism: the move from traditional print to
online newspapers; the news blogs associated with these news media; the rise of citizen journalism
(using the Internet and cell phones); and the use of popular online social networking media by
journalists, and by citizens for journalists. But first: an examination of how newspapers have made
the move towards digital journalism.
A few South African newspapers, such as the Mail & Guardian and the Financial Mail, went
online in the mid-1990s. They were followed by a wave of online publishing between 1995 and
2000, though this soon crashed, primarily because initially newspapers merely transferred content
online with text-heavy sites, and advertisers did not recognise the value of Internet audiences
(Berger 2004). In terms of the current South African online media landscape, Buckland (2008)
mentions two media companies that stand out positively: The Times Online has an aggressive
multimedia and blog strategy; and M-Net and DStv have strong interactive websites that add value
to television shows. In line with global trends, South African news sites also demonstrate a new
form of journalism that places stories in a much richer historical and cultural context (Pavlik 2001),
as hyperlinks give readers access to all stories on a particular subject, allowing them to recall
similar stories or the context of a story at the click of a mouse button.
One of the main ways in which digital journalism is practised in South Africa, is thus in tandem with
the traditional print and broadcast media. Many traditional print newspapers have online versions
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which offer either additional content and links to related sites or, more often, opportunities for
readers to comment and links to blogs and other opinion sites. However, the most common option
is for newspapers to replicate content from the newspaper online, with little user interactivity.
In terms of the mainstream news content of most newspapers’ websites, the majority of online
news content is what Scott (2005) refers to as ‘shovelware’, i.e. the reproduction of content that
originally appears in a news organisation’s primary distribution channels. According to Kovach and
Rosenstiel (2001: 141) ‘[t]he paradox is that news organizations are expanding technology to chase
not more stories but fewer’. Moreover, all of these online newspapers are published in English (with
a few in Afrikaans), consolidating the dominance of English in the traditional newspaper industry.
No online newspapers (or news blogs) were found in any of the indigenous African languages,
raising issues about linguistic and cultural barriers to the consumption of these online media by
the majority of the population. The Internet is consolidating the barriers historically imposed
on non-English-speaking people, described by Crystal (1997) as the ultimate act of intellectual
colonialism. Malila (2005) writes that not enough African-language speakers have access to the
Internet to create a demand for indigenous language news media online. However, there have been
some examples of online African language media: the first Zulu website was an online version of
the newspaper Isolezwe.
By 1996, most newspapers were produced on desktop publishing systems (Drijfhout 2005) and
despite the move to online, newspaper circulation in South Africa is on the increase. Despite the
Internet boom in the 1990s, City Press doubled its circulation to 266 717 copies between 1992
and 1996, and the tabloid, the Daily Sun, made history by moving beyond 300 000 daily sales
(Drifjhout 2005). This raises the issue that only a small percentage of the South African population
is connected to the Internet. The online audience has grown by 121 per cent over the past two
years, with around four million users online, with English the predominant language of users
(South African Yearbook 2008), but this still represents a small percentage of the total population,
and there is a great degree of uneven access to technology across the country, and across rural–
urban divides. Despite low numbers of connected South Africans, online news site
experienced a record 1 452 209 unique domestic browsers during the month in which Jacob Zuma
was elected president, partly as a result of its creation of a stand-alone elections section featuring
news, videos and citizens’ views on election issues. The site also compiled user SMSes, tweets and
email contributions, together with a live comments facility ( Increasingly, people are
accessing the mobile Internet using their cell phones.
Similar to international trends, South African online news content also reflects a kind of
‘colonization’ (Riley 2008), where there are few links to other news sites, and where there is
sometimes an extreme focus on the local. Moreover, some sites have used the tools of the new
technologies more effectively than others, with sites such as Indymedia struggling to reconcile the
principle of maximum openness with the need to control the quality of content, while other sites
have exercised gate-keeping controls to the point where their collaborative processes are more
similar to the mainstream news industry’s modes of content production (Bruns 2008).
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Habermas’ (1989) conceptualization of the public sphere consisted of political discussion between
the press, institutions of political discussion such as parliament and literary salons, and other
public spaces. The public sphere was a space where ordinary people could meet and deliberate,
constituted as a public, and free from interference from the state and church. And most important
in Habermas’ conceptualisation was that anyone could participate in this public sphere. This notion
in particular has flagged the idea of the Internet as a place in which a modern political public sphere
might emerge.
Poor (2005) argues that ‘the possibility for multiple public spheres is relevant … given the large
number of people who use the Internet [and] it is doubtful that a single public sphere could consist
of millions of people and still function, since deliberation would be difficult. Allowing for multiple
publics, with different interest, allows for smaller and thus workable, yet still global, public spheres
through the Internet’ (ibid.). Of course there are also many critiques of this notion of the Internet as
a potential public sphere, also noted by Poor (2005):
Although the Internet allows for great amounts of information storage, access and literacy are likely
to be unequal. Second, although people around the world can communicate with each other far more
easily with Internet technologies than with previous technologies, there may be audience fragmenting
…. The third issue, essentially, is that any online public spheres will face the problems of Habermas’
bourgeois public sphere, and become corrupted by commercialism.
These concerns are valid, and become particularly relevant within the context of the digital divide
in South Africa. Internet access and computer literacy may be limiting factors, though Habermas’
requirements are present. The Internet is a space for mediated discourse, and it does, in principle,
allow for democratic participation. There is frequent discussion of political issues, and these are
judged by the merit of the argument and not the standing of the speaker (Poor 2005). The increase
in mobile social networking applications and smartphones may be one way to widen participation.
Social networking sites have become increasingly popular globally, with the rise of Web 2.0, the
so-called second generation of web-based communities, with increased collaboration and sharing
between users through applications like wikis, blogs and podcasts, RSS feeds etc. The online social
networking site Facebook has become particularly popular, with an estimated 30 million users
worldwide, and of those who have publicly shared their location, there are approximately 157 000
Facebook users registered on the South African network. Local usage is fairly widespread, and
South African users can add headlines from major South African news sites, and access Facebook
mobile using their cell phones – a feature often used to update users’ status messages. Journalists
around the world are increasingly using social networking sites, with news agency Reuters even
opening an office in the virtual world of Second Life. Journalists use these online social media for
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research and also for social networking. For example, the National Union of Journalists has one of
the biggest union groups on Facebook in the world. The Professional Journalists Association for
working journalists in South Africa has been using Facebook to lobby and recruit new members.
In South Africa, citizens and journalists alike are embracing the new social media. In fact, delegates
to the World Economic Forum in Cape Town broke their own news on the popular online social
networking forum even before journalists had a chance to write the story. As one Mail & Guardian
reporter writes: ‘I raced back to the media room at the Cape Town International Convention Centre
afterwards to find that the newsmakers – including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Western
Cape Premier Helen Zille and World Cup chief Danny Jordaan – had already broken their own
news on Twitter’ (Mail & Guardian 2009). Recently, the newsgathering power of the service was
demonstrated abroad when a passenger on a plane that crashed outside Denver was able to send
real-time updates on the story as it developed.
Citizen journalism is probably the most striking manifestation of digital journalism in South Africa.
Participatory journalism, as it is also known, is defined by Bowman and Willis (2003: 10) as:
The act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting,
analysing and disseminating news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide
independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.
Participatory journalism is a bottom-up, emergent phenomenon in which there is little or no editorial
oversight or formal journalistic work­flow dictating the decisions of a staff. Instead, it is the result of
many simultaneous, distributed conversations that either blossom or quickly atrophy in the Web’s
social network.
In short, participatory or citizen journalism is the practice of journalism – normally practised
by ‘professional journalists’ – to collect information relevant to a citizen or a community and to
objectively report on that information for dissemination to citizens, using any number of tools of
transmission. Citizen journalism is part of a broader convergence culture sweeping across media
industries globally, which comprises more direct engagement with audiences as both consumers
and producers of content (Deuze et al. 2007).
There are two notable examples of digital citizen journalism in South Africa. The
website was set up by Johncom digital in January 2006, with about 20 part-time newsroom staff
to assist ‘reporters’ with their stories and do fact checking. The site allows ordinary readers to
submit stories and photographs, with the possibility of being paid for stories that are published
in mainstream newspapers. The local website, launched in March 2007, is another
example of citizen or participatory journalism. Zoopy is South Africa’s first online and mobile
social media community, where users upload videos, audio, photos and notes. Zoopy TV was later
created as a separate platform, offering interviews with newsmakers, interviews with citizens to
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gauge public opinion, and entertainment news. Much like YouTube, this is an example of how
technology has been appropriated in a local context. International NGOs are increasingly offering
training programmes in South Africa designed to equip local communities to use cell phones and
the Internet for citizen journalism.
The main challenge to citizen journalism, however, is its reliance on the mainstream press
‘whose output it debates, critiques, recombines, and debunks by harnessing large and distributed
communities of users’ (Deuze et al. 2007: 335). It is thus largely reactionary, but often also
dependent on traditional outlets for content delivery.
Increasingly, community newspapers are also turning to the Internet as an extension of their
practice. For example, Tshwane News ( is Pretoria’s online
community newspaper, while Fever Publications ( in KwaZuluNatal and the Eastern Cape provide news and blogs. Such online sites are increasing in number,
and invite readers and community members to submit stories and photographs, though much of the
content appears to be rather mainstream and traditional in structure.
Similarly, Cape Town-based community radio station, Bush Radio, posts news items on its
blogspot, which users can subscribe to via RSS, while also providing ‘tweets’ of top news items via
Twitter. While it is the only local radio station making use of the new technologies, there is no user
interactivity and nearly all of the news items are repetitious of mainstream print news items, with
no evidence of any civic journalism or direct engagement with community members. Community
journalists are attempting to engage with the new technology, but not yet managing to do so in
meaningful ways. Berger and Mgwili-Sibanda (2006) have demonstrated how small-scale print
media across the continent have failed to effectively use ICTs and have not realised their potential
to contribute African news content to global cyberspace. Moreover, in considering the provision
of local news via online platforms, we should keep in mind that ‘the adequacy of news for local
communities is also largely dependent on assumptions of homogeneity amongst local audiences
who are increasingly fragmented into vertical interest groups rather than horizontal affiliations
with local civil society’ (Maher 2006: 8).
In South Africa, not only the mainstream commercial media and small-scale local media are using
digital media to practise journalism: smaller, non-profit organisations and community media are
also increasingly tapping into digital technologies, particularly online social media. Local media
activists are increasingly using online social networking sites such as Facebook to further their
causes. For example, Amandla! People’s Media uses the group to recruit members and direct them
to its print publications, radio and TV items and events, while the Social Justice Coalition Facebook
group similarly uses the space to invite online members to their events and to raise awareness of
the issues around which their campaigns run. This is a good example of the glocalisation of digital
news. For the sociologist, Roland Robertson, who is often credited with popularising the term,
‘glocalization means the simultaneity – the co-presence – of both universalizing and particularizing
tendencies’ (1997: 4).
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Politically, blogs have played an important role in the US as forms of citizen journalism. Drezner
and Farrel (2004: 2) have shown how blogs can socially construct an agenda or interpretive frame
that acts as a focal point for mainstream media, shaping and constraining the larger political debate.
Similarly, Kerbel and Bloom (2005) note that political bloggers have become so influential in the
early 21st century that politicians followed their lead and began blogging to reach a politically aware
audience. They write that ‘the Internet is emerging as a vehicle for enhanced civic involvement
with the potential to counteract the negative effects of television on the political process’. During
the US elections in 2004, blog coverage was perceived as more credible than the mainstream
media (Carlson, 2007). Internationally, there has been a growing increase of weblogs by journalists
(Robinson 2006; Singer 2005; Tremayne et al. 2006; Wall 2005) – as well as the use of blogs as
sources by journalists (Lowrey 2006; Yang 2006).
Case study 1: The Mail & Guardian’s Thoughtleader blogs
The M&G online was launched in early 1994 as the first South African newspaper on the Internet,
and is still one of the country’s top three biggest news sites. The Thoughtleader and Sportsleader
blog sites feature opinion and analysis, allowing readers to submit their own contributions and to
comment on others.
While cell phones are increasingly important in the South African context, it is the Internet in
particular that has led to new types of participation and democratic possibilities (Poster 1997). was originally intended as a space for J-bloggers, i.e. journalists who blog, but
then later widened to include any individual who could provide high-quality critical commentary
on their areas of expertise, and it was by invitation only. It is an editorial group blog providing
commentary and analysis, and aims
to provide a platform for thought-provoking opinion from M&G journalists and columnists, as well as
other writers, commentators, intellectuals and opinion makers across various industries and political
spectrums. Thoughtleader is all about debate, offering readers the opportunity to comment and discuss
issues raised by contributors. (
Thoughtleader can be delivered directly to your email inbox, accessed via your cell phone, or you
can follow it on Twitter. More recently, the site introduced the Reader Blog, once-off contributions
by readers, meaning that in this case invitations to blog regularly, are not required. Thoughtleader
is one example of the extension of digital journalism, as journalists and other members of society
engage in debate and discussion, creating a kind of online public sphere. What is interesting
here is that the majority of blog posts form some kind of political commentary, with extensive
reader debate. What is particularly interesting in the case of is the degree of
engagement between the readers and the authors of the blog posts. Blogging is one example of
digital journalism which collapses the traditional boundaries between sender and receiver (Maher
2006). Bloggers often react to readers’ comments, and bloggers also refer to blog posts authored by
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others. Thoughtleader has also engaged in a great degree of self-reflexivity, engaging in discussions
with readers about the gender and racial composition of bloggers and other policy issues, via
Vincent Maher’s blog (Maher is the M&G’s online digital strategist).
This is an extension of the usual forms of interactivity found on the traditional news sites. One can
argue, as Scott (2005) does in an American context, that these forms of interactivity are weak or
fake symbolic forms of the true interactive potential of the technology. Journalists rarely respond
to emails from readers and the commentary sections of online newspapers are not moderated,
resulting in what one critic calls ‘barroom brawl’-type interaction (Sorid 2002) versus the kind
of reasoned debate that is required for the creation of a true public sphere (Habermas 1989). ‘If
online news organizations were serious about fostering community interaction, they would have
to abandon the shopping mall mentality of how to organize a site and discover the virtues of the
digital community’ (Scott 2005: 34).
Here we see an emergent tension between traditional online news sites and news blogs such
as The latter engage more deeply with the audience in a sustained debate,
creating conditions for the development of a democratic public sphere – even if it is only the digital
citizenry who participate. In South Africa’s new democracy there has generally been increased
citizen participation in the political public sphere, though democratisation may not always lead to a
politicised society (Lee 2002). The role of participatory online journalism can thus be key to offering
an alternate space to host public discussion and debate, and for the formation of public opinion. The
extension of digital journalism to the blogosphere raises its potential for online discussions to play
a role in the development of South Africa’s deliberative democracy. One concern, however, is that
besides the Thoughtleader blog posts, only a small percentage of those who use the blogosphere do
so in ways that pertain to the public sphere (Dahlgren 2001).
Case study 2:
MyNews24, which is located at, is a citizen journalism website which
attracts the most local users of any content-driven website in South Africa (Reece 2009). The
MyNews24 website was launched within the mainstream, commercial news site News24. It is
not marketed or run as a separate website, and traffic is predominantly generated by featuring
MyNews24 content on the News24 homepage. This was not only a strategic branding decision
(in an attempt to introduce the MyNews24 brand on the back of the popularity and established
reputation of News24) but also because of severe technical limitations that required MyNews24
to be linked to the same content management system (CMS) that News24 uses currently (ibid.).
As with many other online news sites, MyNews24 encourages a large degree of interactivity
between users with a comments facility below each story or item of user-generated content. As far
as this facility is open to all users, it might be considered a kind of online public sphere. Moreover,
most of the stories and discussions deal with political issues, with news articles contributing over
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48 per cent of all article page impressions (Reece 2009). However, as Reece (2009) points out in
her case study, one disadvantage is that the discourse around each article only exists for as long
as users are able to comment on articles. When a new article is published, the direction of the
discourse, and public sphere discussion, is ultimately redirected.
Political blogs and citizen journalism sites occupy an interesting space of authority and credibility in
the online landscape, alongside more traditional online news outlets. The bloggers on Thoughtleader
position themselves discursively to claim authoritative positions in the field of social commentary,
and in doing so attempt to move their political discussions towards informal kinds of consensus.
On the other hand, the citizen journalism and interaction on MyNews24 results in an even more
structured quasi-public sphere, with deliberation on political matters, even if this does not lead to
the formation of public opinion.
Moreover, an examination of these two sites reveals their use by citizens to participate locally in
global online spaces. The introduction of glocalisation has been a first attempt to strengthen the
importance of the local and place, but its unavoidable emphasis on the global (as a starting point
of analysis) nevertheless generates a one-sided perspective. For this reason, globalisation needs
to be complemented by an inverse analytical approach, in which the local is taken as the point
of departure, and the global is added as a second component. In this way, glocalisation gains a
mirror image called ‘translocalisation’ (Appadurai 1995), which allows one to focus more on the
dynamics of the local and the global, using the local as a starting point.
In the translocal, a diverse mixture of media is used to fulfil the communicative needs of an evenly
diverse group of communities (not just individuals). Although the emphasis is often on new media,
both old and new media can be (and are) combined to facilitate these communities to represent
themselves, and to participate in local and global public spaces and democracies. Civil society
uses of online media and citizen journalism present interesting cases in the merging of old and
new media to build campaigns and communities of practice, while mainstream online media often
consider local content to be fairly homogenous, without consideration for the great diversity within
so-called ‘local’ communities.
Other issues to consider include how changes in the way we report also raise issues about how
the nature of journalism education should change as a result; issues concerning the regulation of
digital content; economic challenges to the development of digital journalism; and differential
levels of access to technology among the newsrooms and the citizenry of the country. Digital
journalism is well established in South Africa, where the technology has been appropriated toward
the development of a democratic public sphere via the promotion of local news. What remains are
challenges with regard to media content and the role of the media (old and new) in strengthening
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This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
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Mail & Guardian. 2009. Newsmakers spread their own soundbites. (accessed 18 June 2009).
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Malila, V. 2005. Language is culture. Rhodes Journalism Review 25.
no25/Language_culture.pdf (accessed 18 June 2009).
Pavlik, J. 2001. Journalism and new media. New York: Columbia University Press.
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June 2009).
Poster, M. 1997. Cyberdemocracy: The internet and the public sphere. In D. Porter (ed), Internet culture,
201–217. New York and London: Routledge.
Reece, C. 2009. The digital divide in South Africa. Unpublished MA thesis, University of Cape Town.
Riley, P., et al. 2008. Community or colony: The case of online newspapers and the web. JCMC 4(1). (accessed 18 June 2009).
Robertson, R. 1997. Comments on the ‘global triad’ and glocalisation. In N. Inoue (ed), Globalisation
and indigenous culture, 217–225. Japan: Kokugakuin University Institute for Japanese Cultural
Scott, B. 2005. A contemporary history of digital journalism. Television and New Media 6(1): 89–126.
Sorid, D. 2002. Political chat becomes barroom brawl on the web, 14 April.
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South Africa Yearbook. 2007/2008. South Africa: Government Communication and Information Service
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COMMUNICATIO Volume 36 (2) 2010 pp. 276–287
Copyright: Unisa Press ISSN 0250-0167/Online 1753-5379
DOI: 10.1080/02500167.2010.485377
Positioning yet another idea under the glocalisation
umbrella: Reader participation and audience
communities as market strategies in globalised online
Marcos Palacios* 1
The creation of a globalised network of information has led researchers to direct their attention to several
trends detected in the area of media and journalism. Glocalisation is one such umbrella notion. The current
article positions readers’ participation and audience communities as market strategies in terms of globalised
online journalism. Systematic glocalisation involves making extensive changes to the production process (in
terms of production routines), in such a way as to incorporate human resources and expertise in enlarging,
contextualising and enriching the news with a local focus. In the absence of such a move, there is likely to be
an increasing measure of homogeneity in the news coverage conducted in the mainstream media in Brazil, as
information is almost exclusively produced by the national and international news agencies concerned. In this
article I suggest that, instead of using systematic local treatment and contextualisation as forms of audience
targeting, two other less costly forms of capturing and maintaining audiences are comprehensively employed
as marketing strategies in mainstream online newspapers: readers’ participation mechanisms (which generate
a sense of co-production and complicity) and incentives to form audience communities (which generate
a sense of belonging and identity). In order to illustrate how such strategies work, I present the case of four
mainstream Brazilian online newspapers.
Key words: Brazil, glocalisation, Internet, readers’ participation, web journalism
The creation of a globalised network of information has led researchers to direct their attention
to several trends detected in the area of media and journalism. According to Cottle (2009),
‘[w]e live in a world that has become radically interconnected, interdependent and communicated
in the complex formations and flows of news journalism.’ Such interconnectedness has generated a
range of academic analyses intent on treating the evolving situation from a diversity of angles and
theoretical frameworks, but which have also generated some all-embracing concepts and notions.
Glocalisation is one such over-arching notion. In the current article, I shall try to position yet
another idea in the inviting shade of such an umbrella-like notion: the role of reader participation
and audience communities in market strategising, within the ambit of globalised online journalism.
Glocalisation as an academic notion – and I prefer to use this more fuzzy word instead of the
more precise word concept – ‘reminds us that the global consists of interconnected localities,
which in turn are formed with respect to global processes’ (Reese 2008). The term ‘glocalisation’
Marcos Palacios is professor of Journalism at the Universidade Federal da Bahia, Brazil. Email: [email protected]
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has been used in the social sciences since at least 1995, in which year Robertson’s article on
time–space and homogeneity–heterogeneity first appeared. According to Khonder (2004), ‘[t]he
term was modelled on the Japanese word dochakuka, which originally meant adapting a farming
technique to one’s own local conditions. In the business world, the idea was adopted to refer
to global localisation.’ Nowadays, ‘glocalisation’ has become an umbrella term with widespread
implications. The term is used in many areas of research and across many different subject areas,
with a correspondingly large range of specific meanings and theoretical tonalities. A search through
the Sage Periodicals database returned 371 articles (in all the fields of investigation covered by
Sage periodicals, including those of business, the humanities, the social sciences, technology and
medicine) in which the word ‘glocalisation’ was found. The combined expression ‘glocalisation +
journalism’, when input to retrieve all relevant articles from the same database, returned a total of
37 articles.2
The term ‘glocalisation’ has been used in different contexts to qualify flows of journalistic
information around the world. The most customary idea associated with glocalisation is that of a
type of ‘translation’ of the global news at the local level, entailing the use of a particular mode of
framing which encompasses the inclusion of local voices and points of view, resulting in ‘glocalized
journalistic practices’ (Rao 2009). Such practices are generally seen as antidotes, or reactions, to
the overwhelming homogenising tendencies of the otherwise globalised press.
In multilingual countries – such as India and South Africa – a proliferation of vernacular language
newspapers and journalistic sites might be interpreted as a sign of glocalisation (Wasserman & Rao
2008: 166). The decrease in the cost of production and circulation, resulting from the spread of
digital technologies, has made space for smaller publications, using local languages and dialects,
which are directed at specific local groups and which, therefore, operate as a type of ‘double
translation’ of both linguistic and ethnic aspects. Both such phenomena (i.e. local framing and
linguistic translation) are aimed, ultimately, at capturing and maintaining the loyalty and fidelity of
audiences, in a situation that is dominated by the hyper-abundance of information, which is readily
available by means of navigating or ‘zapping’ the Internet.
In contrast, with the acceleration of contents production on the Internet, which has been brought
about by user-friendly and low-cost online content management tools, such as blogs and easy-toedit sites, ‘journalism has become part of a holistic mix of media elements that intentionally or
unintentionally provide people with varied glimpses of the world around them’ (Berkovitz 2009).
In such a context, mainstream media companies have been forced to reposition themselves in
the market, as journalism no longer dominates the mediascape and competition for attention has
increasingly become a matter of survival for the industrial media. According to Bucher (2002),
some authors even argue that a paradigm shift is underway, from one which was dominated by the
communicator to one which is dominated by the audience.
In the case of Brazil, the multilingual nature of the glocalisation phenomenon is not decisive, as the
country is, de facto, that of ‘one language’.3 Throughout the world, some measure of translation,
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nationalisation or localisation seems to be employed in the cultural sphere (Sedda 2008). As a
result, some degree of glocalisation is detectable concerning the presentation of international news
in national newspapers, even if such glocalisation takes the form of selection and/or framing alone.
Such glocalisation, according to Ruigrok and Atteveldt (2006), especially tends to hold sway in the
arena of such major events as terrorist attacks or global climate change. In contrast, it is fair to state
that the systematic treatment of global news with a localised/national and/or regional/local focus is
a demanding and costly process, as it involves the local production of original journalistic material,
if consistent contextualisation and anchorage are to be maintained.
The effective systematic ‘glocalisation’ of journalistic material involves making considerable
changes to production processes (productive routines), incorporating human resources and
expertise to enlarge, contextualise and enrich the news with a local focus. Even with a certain
measure of ‘anchorage’, a large measure of homogeneity in news coverage in the mainstream
media seems to be inevitable.
Brazil is no exception in the globalised scenario: large chunks of information in the mainstream
press are produced by national and international news agencies, simply being used more or less
as received, with the inevitable homogenising effects that have been observed by other authors in
several different countries (Bockowski & De Santos 2007; Wasserman & Rao 2008). Furthermore,
with digital online distribution, the process of news production is increasingly characterised by
self-reference (Fausto Neto 2008), with the globalised, interconnected, freely accessible press
environment becoming the main source of news in a process of continuous feedback, making it
inevitably subject to homogenising effects. Continuous monitoring of all media in most newspaper
newsrooms, in a 24/7 mode of operation, has done away with the traditional idea of the scoop or
has, at least, reduced such a phenomenon to a short-lived advantage, with little significance in
market terms, as the ‘latest news’ tends to spread in a matter of minutes throughout the globalised
system of news distribution.
The creation of spaces for reader participation in mainstream journalism is generally interpreted
as being a response by media companies to the growing tide of so-called grassroots or citizen
In this article I shall neither discuss the terminology that is relevant to, nor address the everrecurring question of ‘Is citizen journalism really journalism?’. In order to limit the scope of this
article to the desired length, I shall, instead, accept as a premise the fact that we are witnessing
the emergence of new models of journalistic practices and that increased reader/user participation
forms an implicit part of such a transition scenario. User-generated content (UGC) on the Internet
is a phenomenon of such proportions that it can no longer be ignored by the mainstream media, nor
treated as some kind of fleeting fashion.
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By contrast, I have chosen to take a slightly different stance from that which is usually adopted
in terms of a dominant viewpoint that considers the absorption of UGC in mainstream media
to be part of a shift towards a genuinely ‘more conversational’ type of journalism, as has been
defended by Gillmor (2004) and like-minded analysts.4 I propose the more provocative idea that
the integration of UGC into the mainstream media and the creation of communities of readers
are being appropriated by the mainstream media much more as commercially inspired strategies,
aimed at attracting and maintaining audiences in a world marked by new forms of competition in
the (online) newspaper industry, than as genuine efforts to empower the readership.
According to some authors, the participation of readers in the news-making process is being
introduced slowly and in a ‘rather static’ form, due to the ‘innate conservatism of big media
companies’ (Gillmor 2004; Matheson 2004). It could also be suggested that the ‘if you can’t beat
them, join them’ strategy is being adopted by such big media enterprises.
Do readers want to have a voice? Do they want to write news? Do they long to show their cell phone
pictures and videos? Do they feel like playing games like ‘do it yourself journalism’ or ‘photo-reporter
for a day’? Well, they don’t have to look elsewhere; we’ll set nice playgrounds for them in our
newspaper … And continue feeding them our products, which are basically the same our competitors
are offering.
Along less cynical lines, I wish to suggest that participatory strategies make strong sense in a
situation of globalised – largely homogenised, and therefore scarcely ‘glocal’ – production of news
by mainstream online newspapers. Homogenisation is not a new phenomenon, as the presence of
such a phenomenon could already be detected in the print media well before the appearance of
the Internet and globalised news systems. The scenario in which (online) newspapers compete
for attention and audience fidelity is, however, new. Replacing or complementing the more costly
work of effective ‘glocalisation’, in the sense of a large-scale professional ‘anchoring’ and local
contextualisation, the strategies of reader participation and community formation might prove to
be efficient market mechanisms for attracting and retaining audiences in a situation in which the
following conditions tend to prevail:
The physical location of the newspapers’ readers is no longer of relevance;
Distribution is digital, instantaneous and universally ‘free’, with no direct charges being made
for access to most online newspapers;
News production – worldwide – is increasingly a self-referential activity;
All other newspapers – and therefore competitors – are located a mere click away from the
In this article I suggest that, alongside differing degrees of the systematic and professionally
conducted local framing and the contextualisation of news as forms of audience targeting and
glocalisation, are two other, less costly, forms of capturing and maintaining audiences. The
following are in use as the marketing strategies of mainstream online newspapers that are intent on
counteracting the effects of a flatland-shaped globalised journalistic environment:
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Reader participation mechanisms, which aim to generate a sense of co-production and
Incentives to form audience communities, which aim to generate a sense of belonging and
In order to illustrate how such strategies work, I briefly present the case of four mainstream
Brazilian online newspapers: Estadão (São Paulo); Correio Brasiliense (Brasilia); O Globo (Rio
de Janeiro); and A Tarde (Bahia). The four newspapers are all traditional, well-established ‘quality
newspapers’ in their respective geographical areas, being the four largest cities in Brazil. All four
also have considerable regional and national penetration, both in terms of their print and online
Figure 1: Geographic location of selected newspapers
All four Brazilian newspapers selected provide mechanisms for reader participation, with three of
them publishing reader-generated contents (in the form of articles, photographs and cartoons), with
two of them maintaining some kind of ‘community of readers’.
Table 1: Participation, user-generated content and communities
My newspaper
on news
on blogs
of readers
O Globo
Braziliense Yes
A Tarde
Encouraging readers to comment on news and on blog postings is standard practice for the four
newspapers concerned, with three of the newspapers allowing for discussion forums on selected
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themes. O Globo, Estadão and Correio Braziliense also invite their readers to evaluate the quality
of the news they publish, in terms of a grading system from 1 to 5; A Tarde also uses a similar
grading system, but with only three different points. All four newspapers allow their readers to
print out material from the newspaper, to email their news reports, and to select news reports for
indexing by such social networks as or Digg.
The two largest of the four newspapers (Estadão and O Globo) provide space for communities of
readers (in the form of Limão,5 in the case of Estadão, and in the form of GloboOnliners,6 in the
case of O Globo). Such spaces are available to those readers who wish to interact with one another
and who wish to access special services. Limão is a readers’ community that is maintained by the
same group which produces Estadão and is specifically aimed at teenagers and younger readers.
Globo Online, which is directed towards a more general audience, is currently being redesigned.
Both communities offer a wide range of ‘exclusive services’ for their users, including photo album
facilities, games, chat rooms, e-mail services with anti-spam protection, and wikisites.
Personalisation/customisation facilities (My newspaper) in Estadão and O Globo (Meu Estadão
and Meu Globo) offer tools which allow individual readers to create a customised menu of news
focused on their own interests, in line with which the latest news is displayed (see Figures 2 and
3). Estadão also offers the possibility of maintaining a personal archive (Arquivo Virtual) for
news clippings. Although the available news reports are also supplied in the ‘standard version’,
customisation mechanisms are aimed at creating a differential which allows the menu of news
to be adjusted to suit personal tastes and sets of interest. Though no ‘glocalisation’ is involved in
such repackaging of news, by providing a space for the collection and storage of news and options
of alternative designs, the personalised pages created in this way help reinforce the ‘feeling of
belonging’ (My newspaper). Such pages, therefore, potentially foster audience loyalty in the arena
of online press coverage, which is otherwise subject to a considerable degree of homogeneity.
Figure 2: Standard home page in Estadão (5 June 2009, 16:30)
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Figure 3: Customised home page in Estadão (5 June 2009, 16:35)
Of the four abovementioned newspapers, Correio Braziliense is the only one not to publish UGC.
However, it does offer an option for readers to submit suggestions for possible news reporting
(Sugestões de Pautas).
A few issues require consideration: Do such participatory strategies and the way they are used
produce a ‘conversational journalism’? Are such tools being adopted in order to produce such a
form of journalism? What role do such strategies play – if any – in the process of glocalisation?
An overview of the way in which such tools function raises some thought-provoking questions,
which I shall now consider. To start, I suggest that such tools can be classified as belonging to one
of three different types:
Conversational tools;
Reader community and customisation tools;
Users’ comments on news, even when numerous (and some news topics on O Globo and Estadão
receive well over 1 000 comments), do not comprise true ‘conversation’, as all such comments are
editorially reviewed before publication (to prevent the inclusion of libellous or pornographic items,
or items that reflect racist, sexist or homophobic positions, etc.). Such comments, then, seem more
akin to soliloquies than to dialogues or conversations. Apart from the readers’ comments being
filtered prior to public online posting, no response from the journalists or editors concerned is
added, and little debate actually takes place, even among the readers themselves.
The dominant pattern in news comments is a sequence of individual items, which is presented
merely in the form of footnotes to the news. The same applies to comments that are posted on blogs.
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As such comments are pre-moderated (i.e. they must be approved by a staff member prior to online
publication), many of them are simply not published, or else might be subject to extensive delay,
as queues for moderation are inevitable when a news topic attracts a large number of comments.
By contrast, the incorporation of comments – even when they are in the form of a soliloquy – may
be effective as an audience maintenance strategy, as those readers who have submitted comments
might return to the relevant webpage to check whether their comments have been included, and
whether their comments might have received any responses. To ‘have a voice’ – even one with
relatively little or no resonance – might supply some form of ‘gratification’ and reinforce a sense
of identification with the newspaper concerned, as well as with its readership.
Other conversational tools, such as chat rooms and forums, do generate some degree of debate.
However, editorial control still remains firmly in the hands of the newspaper staff, as the topics
are pre-defined and any debate takes place in ‘appropriate’ spaces, with pre-moderation of
the contributions made. Given the characteristics (in the form of set topics and more qualified
participation) of such conversational tools, they could be classified as niche tools. In this respect,
one could suggest that they also represent strategies for attracting and maintaining audiences.
Reader communities, I suggest, are used to produce a space in which users are encouraged to
interact with one another, so producing a ‘feeling of belonging’ to the newspaper ‘community’
and thereby acting as an additional motivation to return to the newspaper site concerned. Many
non-journalistic services (games, downloads of utilities, personalised horoscopes, prizes, etc.) are
offered to such communities as ways of stimulating the growth of such audiences and fostering
their loyalty. Such customisation strategies as My Estadão and My Globo are used in a similar way,
being aimed at individual readers and designed to create a sense of belonging and identification
which, the newspapers involved hope, will be translated into the fidelity and loyalty of their users.
It is in the third group of tools – UGC – that one finds the potentially more powerful mechanisms
for glocalisation in the case of globalised mainstream online newspapers. In fact, if much material
of acceptable journalistic quality were to be submitted by the users concerned and used by the
newspaper, some measure of glocalisation would inevitably take place, as such material would
introduce increasing coverage of ‘local views’, and help to produce anchorage of global facts.
Indeed, attempts to use such material as a source of ‘local colour’ have already been made by news
editors, especially in relation to major news topics.
The recent Air France aeroplane crash, which occurred in Brazil, is a case in point. The national
newspapers requested and printed reports that were submitted by readers in response to such
teasers as ‘Did you know any of the passengers?’ In a blog, which was created by Estadão after the
accident, readers were invited to describe their experiences related to the crash (with some of their
responses being titled ‘I almost embarked on that plane’; ‘How I heard of the accident’; and ‘My
cousin missed the plane’). A Tarde also invited readers to contribute any of their personal views and
experiences that could add a sense of ‘proximity’ to news about the crash.
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I suggest that user content should be placed in a realistic perspective, as far as the production of
the newspaper is concerned, and as far as the impact of such content as news pieces is concerned.
Usually, user stories are confined to specific editorial spaces, which are clearly labelled ‘readers’
pages’ (Figure 4). Seldom is a reader’s story blended with main pressroom news. In other words,
a separate procedure is established for dealing with UGC, which is ultimately ghettoised in a
‘special’ section, which usually forms a poorly articulated mosaic of hyper-local information,
lacking in contextualisation and unlinked to the editorial material present on the rest of the website.
Figure 4: Eu Reporter – user-generated content in O Globo
Whether such participative sections as Eu Reporter or Foto-Reporter (Figures 4 and 5) aim at
transforming journalism into a ‘conversation’ or a ‘collaborative form of news production’ is
debatable. I suggest that it is more realistic to see them as strategies which encourage the audience
to return to the relevant sections, which they can see as a reflection of their own concerns, serving
as a form of ‘vanity press’ in which they can take pride, and by means of which they can attain a
personal sense of achievement.
Estadão, in fact, pays for user-produced photographs, if they are used outside the Foto Reporter
page or sold by the O Estado News Agency. However, such photographs are seldom published
outside the page concerned. Foto Reporter items tend, rather, to be published in an ‘appropriate
space’, which is isolated from the rest of the editorial material. It is also true that, under certain
circumstances, UGC can complement and enrich editorial material. However, once again there
seems to be little systematic tapping of such a ‘collective intelligence’ resource in standard
journalistic production in the Brazilian mainstream press.
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As a rule, UGC in the Brazilian mainstream press costs nothing for the relevant newspaper in terms
of copyright. The reader–contributor agrees to pass on to the newspaper – free of charge – any
rights over the material submitted for publication. For example, those readers who submit material
to Eu Reporter or O Globo are required to agree to a contract in terms of which they accept that ‘all
copyrights are transferred, free of charge, exclusively, universally and permanently to Infoglobo
Comunicações’ and that Infoglobo ‘may use, transfer and exercise full rights over the material in
any media’.7
The inclusion of UGC may not be the most effective form of glocalising and anchoring the news
in order to create proximity to it, but it, nevertheless, serves as a low-cost strategy, with the extra
dividends to be gained from added audience fidelity.
Figure 5: Reader-produced photos appearing in Estadão
To produce the effects of anchorage, glocalisation and a sizable ‘translation’ of global news to
the local/regional/national levels, considerable professional expertise has to be mobilised, work
routines have to be revised and modified, and a significant amount of investment is necessary. As a
consequence – and in the absence of such decisions – one confronts a panorama of extensive news
homogenisation in the Brazilian mainstream online press.
UGC aggregation, the participation of readers, and other forms of audience involvement may offer
surrogate strategies to the more costly reform of the news production process, in order to produce
some local anchorage and diversity. Actual production and editorial routines have, as yet, only
been marginally affected by reader participation, with little or no integration of UGC in the main
body of news in such newspapers. Very little ‘conversation’ can be said to actually occur, with
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UGC tending to be insulated and clearly demarcated in terms of such origin in the ‘special sections’
designed for this purpose.
Whether the strategies of reader inclusion have a measurable effect on the local anchorage of news
in those mainstream media vehicles operating within the globalised production system is debatable.
Certainly they do have some effect, as they produce at least a minimum of ‘local voices’ or ‘local
colour’, in a news landscape of reduced diversity, which has been brought about by globalisation.
Such local anchorage, though produced at minimum cost, also helps to create and foster the loyalty
of a wider audience than might otherwise be achieved. Together with the communities of readers
and customisation, UGC tends to reinforce the feeling of belonging to a wider community, while
also helping to bring readers back to the same newspaper site at a later stage. Loyalty is encouraged
in such a way, despite the extremely competitive environment in which online newspapers operate.
This article is based on a paper read at the first Conference of the Brazil–South African Journalism
Research Initiative, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, 23 and 24 June 2009.
The relevant Internet search was conducted on 3 June 2009.
Monolingualism is a de facto and legal situation in Brazil, despite the fact that hundreds of
‘native languages’ still survive, as such languages are in danger of permanent extinction. For a
contemporary overview of the current linguistic situation in Brazil, see: UNESCO Interactive atlas
of the world’s languages in danger, available online at:
php?pg=00206 (accessed 3 June 2009).
In the case of Brazil, most studies on participatory journalism also tend to highlight the ‘collaborative’
and ‘symbiotic’ aspects of a news network in which citizen participation and news production
complement and/or exert pressure on, or are vigilant in respect of, the mainstream media. For an
overview of research conducted in the field of participatory journalism in Brazil, see Palacios et al.
O Globo, termos de uso, last accessed at: on 15 June
Berkowitz, D. 2009. Journalism in the broader cultural mediascape. Journalism 10(3): 290–292.
Bockowski, P. and M. de Santos. 2007. When more media equals less news: Patterns of content
homogenization in Argentina’s leading print and online newspapers. Political Communication
24(2): 167–180.
Bucher, H.-J. 2002. The power of the audience. In F. Sudweeks and C. Ess (eds), Cultural attitudes
towards computer and communication, 3–14.
mitarbeiter/Bucher-Power-of-the-audience.pdf (accessed 3 May 2009).
Cottle, S. 2009. Journalism studies: Coming of (global) age? Journalism 10(3): 309–311.
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Fausto Neto, A. 2008. Fragmentos de uma ‘analítica’ da midiatização. Matrizes 1(2).
matrizes/MATRIZes_01_02_por.php (accessed 5 June 2009).
Gillmor, D. 2004. We the media. (accessed 3 June 2009).
Khondker, H. 2004. Glocalization as globalization: Evolution of a sociological concept. Bangladesh
e-Journal of Sociology 1(2) (July).
ejournal%20Paper%20GlobalizationHHK,%20PDF.pdf (accessed 3 June 2009).
Matheson, D. 2004. Weblogs and the epistemology of news: Some trends in online journalism. New
Media & Society 6(4): 443–468.
Palacios, M. et al. 2008. Research methods in participatory journalism. In M. Palacios and J. Diaz
Noci (eds), Online journalism research methods: A multidisciplinary approach in comparative
perspective. Bilbao: Servicio Editorial de la Universidad del País Vasco. http://www.argitalpenak.
pdf (accessed 30 May 2009).
Rao, S. 2009. Glocalization of Indian journalism. Journalism Studies 10(4): 474–488.
Reese, S. 2008. Theorizing a globalized journalism. In M. Loeffelholz and D. Weaver (eds), Global
journalism research: Theories, methods, findings, future, 240–252. London: Blackwell.
Robertson, R. 1997. Glocalization: Time–space and homogeneity–heterogeneity. In M. Featherstone, S.
Lash and R. Robertson (eds), Global modernities, 25–43, London: Sage.
Ruigrok, N. and W. van Attenveld. 2006. Global angling with a local angling: How US, British and
Dutch newspapers frame global and local terrorist attacks.
pdf (accessed 29 May 2009).
Sedda, F. 2008. Reflexões acerca do glocal com base no estudo semiótico da cultura. Matrizes 2(1). (accessed 5 June 2009).
Thurman, N. 2008. Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by
online news media. New Media & Society 10(1): 139–157.
Wasserman, H. and S. Rao. 2008. The glocalization of journalism ethics. Journalism 9(2): 163–181.
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• Media Studies: Content, Audiences and
and Issues Production
The department offers the following postgraduate degrees:
• BA Honours (Communication Science)
• Master of Arts in Communication Science
• D.Litt. et Phil. (Communication Science)
Certificate courses
• Certificate in Community Journalism for Beginners
• Certificate in On-line Public Relations
• Certificate in Film Theory, Criticism and Appreciation
For more information contact us at 012-429-6565/e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our website at or Unisa’s website and register online: http://www.unisa.
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Please return form to:
Prof. Bhekimpilo Sibanda
c/o Department of Applied Communication
University of Fort Hare
Tel: +27 40 602 2353
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 4058
Please PRINT your details as you want them to appear on
your membership information.
Membership fees (tick where appropriate):
Full members: R300.00*
Affiliate members: R300.00*
Student members: R100.00*
* A one-time entrance fee of R30.00 is levied for
new members. This fee does not apply to student
Name ____________________________________________
Cheques payable to SACOMM (No VAT).
Occupation _______________________________________
SACOMM bank account details
Bank: ABSA
Branch: Hatfield
Account number: 405-656-0218
Institution ________________________________________
Address __________________________________________
City _____________________ Postal Code ______________
Phone ___________________ Fax ____________________
For international payments
International branch code: 632005
Please return this completed form with details of payment
via e-mail, fax or mail.
Cell phone ________________________________________
E-mail ___________________________________________
Tel: +27 40 602 2353
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 4058
E-mail: [email protected]
For students only. Student members refer to full-time
unemployed students.
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Signature _________________________________________
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Date _____________________________________________
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Editor: Prof. Pieter J Fourie
Department of Communication Science,
University of South Africa (Unisa)
Volume 36, 2010 • Three issues per year
Print ISSN: 0250-0167
Online ISSN: 1753-5379
Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research is the
oldest journal in the field of communication studies in South Africa. The journal is accredited
by the South African Department of Education as a research journal and affiliated with the South
African Communication Association (SACOMM).
Communicatio focuses on and seeks to publish original research articles of the highest standard
and of special interest on South African and African communication contexts in the field of:
communication theory and philosophy
media and culture studies
organisational and management communication
visual communication
intercultural communication
advertising and marketing
developmental communication
political communication
new media (policy and social implications)
international communication.
Prof. Fackson Banda
Rhodes University, South Africa
Prof. Johannes Bardoel
University of Amsterdam/Radboud
University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Prof. Jean-Claude Burgelman
Bureau of European Policy Advisors
European Commission/Free University
of Brussels
Dr. Monica Chibita
University of Makerere, Uganda
Prof. Arnold S de Beer
University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Prof. Fanie de Beer
University of Pretoria, South Africa
Prof. Johann C de Wet
University of the Free State, South Africa
Prof. Wolfgang Donsbach
Technische Universitat Dresden,
Dr. Jane Duncan
Freedom of Expression Institute
Prof. Getruida M du Plooy
University of South Africa
Prof. Robin Mansell
London School of Economics and
Political Science, UK
Dr. Fred Mwilima
University of Namibia
The Editors of Communicatio are now inviting submissions.
Prof. Caroline Pauwels
Free University of Brussels, Belgium
Communicatio adheres to a strict policy of publishing only peer-reviewed articles, all reviewed
by at least two anonymous reviewers.
Prof Andrei Richter
University of Moscow
All submissions for articles should be made online at the Communicatio Manuscript Central
site. You can access the site by clicking on the link or copying and pasting the following: http://
Prof. Jan Servaes
University of Massachusetts, Amherst,
New users should first create an account. Once logged onto the site submissions should be made
via the Author Centre.
Communicatio accepts for consideration original articles which are not under consideration by
another publication at the time of submission. Articles emailed to the editor or editorial staff will
not be considered for publication.
Visit the Communicatio website to read the full instructions for authors:
Prof. Larry Strelitz
Rhodes University, South Africa
Prof. Keyan G Tomaselli
University of Kwazulu-Natal,
South Africa
Prof. Leo van Audenhove
Free University of Brussels, Belgium
Prof. Kobus van Rooyen
Independent Communications Authority
of South Africa/Broadcasting Complaints
Commission of South Africa
Prof. Herman Wasserman
University of Sheffield, UK
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