27 July 2011
Rt. Honorable Raila Amolo Odinga, Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya
Minister for East African Community and Acting Minister for Higher Education,
Science and Technology, Hon. Professor Helen Jepkermoi Sambili
Your Excellencies, Members of the Corps Diplomatique
Chairman and Members of the Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University
Ladies and Gentlemen
As Chancellor of the Aga Khan University, I am enormously pleased to welcome you all most warmly, not only as participants in this Foundation Ceremony - but also as continuing friends of our Graduate School of Media and Communications.
That name of the School signals its place as an institution of advanced, post-graduate and professional learning. It also signals the School’s focus - not only on traditional news media - but on a broadening range of communication challenges.
We dedicate today the physical site for this School - an ideal location for the cutting-edge facilities that will be constructed here. But, beyond the physical planning, there are other Foundation stones that we also celebrate today - plans for the programmes the School will launch - the faculty and staff that will work here - the curriculum they will offer and the research they will carry out.
Let me also mention two older Foundation stones - strong pillars that have been in place for some time - which also support the creation of this School.
One, of course, is the Aga Khan University - now 27 years old and growing steadily from its base in health sciences and teacher education into new fields of learning, including new campuses and programmes here in East Africa.
The other Foundation stone is even older - an enterprise I launched here in Nairobi more than fifty years ago. I am referring of course to the Nation Media Group - now majority-owned by public shareholders, with an expanding presence throughout East Africa.
The Aga Khan Development Network thus comes to this project with useful experience both in the field of education and the disciplines of the media. We look forward now to continuing this learning experience.
The most important thing we can learn - or teach - at any School - in a world of perpetual change - is the ability to go on learning. None of us have all the answers - quite often we don’t even know what questions to ask. Nor can we discern the road ahead by looking in a rear-view mirror. Past lessons must constantly be renewed and reapplied, as we adapt to new technologies and new expectations.
The years immediately ahead will be a time of breath-taking change for Africa - and for the field of media. I believe that Africa can emerge from this transformation as the home of some of the most capable, innovative, constructive and respected media enterprises in the world.
Helping to advance that vision is what our new Media and Communications School is all about.
Even as our School builds on strong existing Foundations - it will also break new ground. Let me mention just five of the most important ways in which the School, we hope, will be truly distinctive.
In the first place, the School will work on the newest frontiers of media technology - with state-of-the-art equipment and innovative pedagogies - producing professional graduates who can not only operate across today’s multiplying media platforms, but can also help develop the media platforms of tomorrow.
This does not mean that we will ignore old skills and values. Our core concern must always be the ability of our students to think critically and creatively, to pursue the truth ethically and responsibly, and to articulate ideas clearly and vividly. Even as communicators learn new ways to “get a story out - and get it heard” we must also remember that our first obligation is to present the story correctly. At the same time, however, we want all of our students to be at home and at ease with the newest media technologies.
The second distinctive emphasis of our School will be its sharp focus on the singular challenges facing media in the developing world. This will mean exploring local and regional realities in all of their complexity. And then, instead of relying heavily, for example, on the perspective of Western news agencies for information about developing societies, our students will be better able to share an indigenous sense of these realities with audiences all around the world.
One place where this emphasis will be the most evident will be our use of the case study method - a technique that is often employed at law schools and business schools. Case studies can be wonderful teaching tools. But the key for our new School will be to prepare case studies that relate specifically to the developing world, and indeed to Africa. It occurs to me, for example, that a case study on how media cover African election processes might be of particular value. As part of the new school, we have already set up an African Case Development Centre working in close alliance with Columbia University. We look forward to cooperating with other academic institutions as our work moves forward.
A third special element of the School will be one of the first programmes in this region in the field of Media Management. In my view, the quality of media depends not only on those who produce the content - writers and artists and editors. It also depends on those who manage media enterprises - and on the proprietors who own them. Media institutions cannot play their role as responsible and independent information sources if they are economically insecure and thus vulnerable to a variety of distorting influences. And yet relatively few proprietors and managers are sufficiently prepared for their increasingly demanding roles.
Let me put this challenge into historical perspective. One of the inheritances of the African colonial period was an absence of indigenous, independent media enterprises - and, thus, of effective media entrepreneurs.
A half century later, healthy, African media companies are no longer such a rarity, but they are still in short supply. And the remedy to this situation will lie not just in more and better content producers, but in stronger media management.
The role of media owners and managers has been prominently exposed in the news this month as result of the so-called hacking controversy in the British press. It is impossible to judge the specifics of that situation from a distance. But one lesson that I would commend to you is the importance of establishing an on-going culture of responsibility within any media enterprise.
The Nation Media Group decided to address this matter, proactively, at an early date, by creating a detailed set of editorial conduct guidelines - a code that has been adopted by our shareholders, enforced by our directors, and incorporated in our training programmes. No such code – and I want to be absolutely clear on this - no such code can eliminate errors. Errors are part of every human profession. But we feel that such guidelines can help to build responsible media cultures. That objective will be an important area of emphasis for our programme in Media Management.
And here I would just divert for a moment. It was a source I think of great satisfaction in the media field when not so long ago, elections were organised in the Republic Democratic du Congo, and the UN guidelines for media behaviour during those elections were read as if they had been copied from our own guidelines. So that was a demonstration I think that we are trying to bring to Africa the best of the industry.
A fourth distinctive dimension of the Graduate School of Media and Communications will be interdisciplinary study. The new School will work closely with other faculties of the Aga Khan University so that media students can deepen their knowledge in fields such as health, economics, political science, religion, and environmental studies. Our students will learn to combine their command of effective communication skills with a more sophisticated understanding of the subjects about which they are communicating.
The pursuit of this goal is particularly important at a time when information is flooding over all of us in ever-greater quantities. Someone has said that plugging into the media today can sometimes be like trying to drink water from a high-pressure fire hose!
In such a world, effective communicators must truly be effective educators - providing background as well as foreground, the big picture as well as the close-up detail. And this will be true not only for journalists, but also for communication professionals in government, at NGO’s, in the business sector, at entertainment and cultural organisations -and with a host of civil society institutions. In brief, the School of Media and Communications is designed to serve a very wide range of constituencies - engaging a broad array of disciplines.
Fifth and finally, we like to say that our School will be demand-driven - which means that it will be flexible, evolving with the changing needs of both our students and their eventual employers. Masters degrees offerings will be central, but professional and continuing education courses will also be important. We believe this approach will attract outstanding students - and produce outstanding graduates.
We hope to enlist talented students of various ages and from many countries - helping to motivate the best and the brightest young people to enter the media professions. We also hope to involve people who are already in a mid-career situation - as well as those who would like to change careers and move into the communications arena.
These, then, are five ways in which the Graduate School of Media and Communications will seek to embrace the future. We might think of them as five new foundation stones that we will now put in place: an emphasis on new technologies, a focus on the developing world, a new programme in media management, an inter-disciplinary emphasis, and a governing perspective which is demand-driven and broadly responsive.
Allow me to conclude by mentioning one other word that I trust will permeate everything we undertake at this School - and that is the word “quality.” Above all else, when people think in years to come about the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications, I would like them to think of its dedication to uncompromising quality.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I thank you again for joining us at this moment of foundation and dedication. With your support – and management reminds me I should add the word financial - intellectual and moral - this ambitious endeavour will surely thrive - making a major impact on the quality of media - and thus the quality of life - throughout this region - and across the world.
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