Giving youth a voice in the media

Youth speak up on South African media

Forty years on, the indomitable fighting spirit exhibited by the class of 1976 has changed the course of history for many South Africans. Nonetheless, the spoils of democracy for the current generation of youth come with their own set of obstacles and challenges.

On 16 June, Media Monitoring Africa’s Youth News Agency held a focus group discussion with a group of young people in Vosloorus, (aged 18 - 30) to explore youth’s expectations of local media.  According to the group, the nuances that encompass this generation’s struggles are not taken seriously enough, often negated for special months and, generally overlooked by the media in favour of stories that sell.

The common-held assumption that youth are ignorant- if not apathetic - was also firmly rejected by this group of young people. Instead, they noted that the information they were getting from mainstream media wasn’t exactly relevant to them, but rather a recycling of conventional patterns which don’t take into account the changing nature of youth’s relationship with media and information.

Displaying a clear awareness of the country’s general societal issues and how these directly affect them, the group said that the media don’t do enough to focus on youth stories and that social networks carry out that role better, through the multiplicity of perspectives it offers them.

The group also noted that stories that lead in the media, perhaps unknowingly, tend to perpetuate stereotypes, homogeneity, racism, and otherness: “We should also celebrate being individuals (and difference) without being afraid of judgement because we look different compared to other people. The truth is that there are people still who don’t accept certain things around us,  like being gay or lesbian or being your true self and that needs to be looked deeper into” said Natalia Kuis, 25.

“I think that the contribution media makes through the stories it reports on is very significant, because through images it portrays it can be very influential  in changing the way people think”, added Sanele Msoni, 24.

An interest in issues such as education, youth development, skills programmes, financial development, corruption, history, reconciliation as well technological advancement was evident. The group said such stories needed more continuous and in-depth coverage as well as follow-up in the media.

The story of a nation isn’t complete without its people.

The common adage that “the youth are the future” rang true for all of the individuals present in the discussion. This was also the reason they believed that it is important for the media to cover youth stories extensively. They also emphasised that this cannot be done in a vacuum. They felt that a shift had to be made in line with integrating the largest population in country in the news.

Nobantu Baba, 27,  noted how the media would be able to help society proactively find solutions to problems such as drug abuse if the youth themselves were an integral part of changing that narrative, not only through the platform afforded by media but also through youth’s active participation,  “The media needs to hear our side of the story, in order to actually know what is really going on,” Nobantu said.

 “I don’t think we are the future, I believe that we are now! If media doesn’t start catering for youth stories who they are going to be selling the papers to, in the next few years?” asked Fezile Mtati, 22.

 Tumelo Khumalo added, “At the end of the day, we need our issues to be covered. The more the media puts out information for instance on the issues like Nyaope and then give the relevant help centres, they are making us aware, and at the same time that stimulates our need to be engaged in changing our own circumstances.”

Without overlooking the fact that the stories broke twitter or received vast coverage, others in the group felt that the coverage of #FeesMustFall, #RhodesMustFall while welcome, was mostly “rushed” as the stories developed, which meant that context and history were overlooked. The group also said media needed to be more discerning and critical of potential candidates moving up to the run-up of elections, so that they can give the before and after picture of promised outcomes of change. 

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