By Zama Khumalo & Nicola Haw
Pic by Belinda Huntington
Professor Jane Duncan has been appointed as new information and technology chair of Highway Africa, an annual conference held at Rhodes University. Professor Duncan says that “The Highway Africa conference is a pioneer when it comes to bringing journalists together to share information and to network around information society issues.”
Duncan’s role as chair of the project will involve the encouragement of research, teaching on information society issues, management of the Highway Africa conference and advocacy work, particularly on media freedom issues. Duncan said that even though this first year may be seen as an extended orientation for her, her vision is focused to “encourage debate, teaching and research issues on the information society from a public interest perspective.”
Professor Guy Berger, head of the school of Journalism and Media studies at Rhodes and the person responsible for the Highway Africa project, says that Duncan “will add to the conference’s role in advancing media freedom around the African continent” as she is a high profile intellectual on free speech matters.
Duncan said that the new media needs to be more accessible to engage in interactive communication, narrow the information inequality caused by high telecommunication costs and find innovative strategies to enrich more people to the practice of journalism. Even though there is no formal link between her new position at Highway Africa and her previous position as director of the Freedom of Expression Institute for the past 15 years, Duncan says that “There is a seamless relationship between the two jobs.” The position also seeks to develop innovative ways to promote indigenous language in media and develop the African voice in media.
Duncan also states that the students of Rhodes will definitely continue to benefit from Highway Africa as “it presents a unique opportunity to network with journalists from the rest of the continent.” Duncan also highlighted the importance of journalists’ high regard for their rights but cautioned student journalists on being more responsible in the publications they are producing and ask themselves, ‘What is the most critically important information that this university needs to know?’ Duncan emphasised the importance of student media, saying that it provides a training ground for journalists of tomorrow and that “Student media needs to get organised to make sure they are up to the task”.