African media is better prepared to cover the 2010 World Cup and this is a direct result of the 2009 Highway Africa Conference, says the head of Rhodes University's School of Journalism and Media Studies, Professor Guy Berger.
Prof Berger's statement highlighted the significance of Highway Africa, a three-day African media conference hosted by Rhodes University.
The importance of the conference was also accentuated by Rhodes' Vice-Chancellor, Saleem Badat, who said: "Over the years, the conference has become a key event of Rhodes University, and its Pan-African nature gels well with our aspiration to be an outstanding African university which proudly affirms its African identity…"
Highway Africa Director, Chris Kabwato, said the conference, attended by 500 Journalists and held from 6 to 8 September, has developed into a premium annual event for African journalists.
With major sponsors such as Telkom, who have recommitted themselves to the conference, and new sponsors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, next year's edition of Highway Africa is expected to be even bigger. The 2010 conference will take place during the Fifa World Cup month.
This year's conference ran with the theme: Reporting Africa - 2010, Development and Democracy.
The robust debates, training and loads of information issued during the conference have prepared African media for the World Cup, says Berger.
"Indeed the deliberations were rich, deep and educating. The need for critical journalistic engagement featured prominently during the conference deliberations," he said.
"This should ensure that media coverage is not only focused on the glitz and glamour aspect of the World Cup, but must be extended to critical evaluation of socioeconomic consequences."
Badat was the first to caution African journalists, in his opening address, against uncritical and blunt reporting. "It seems to me that if journalists and the media seek to report on development and democracy effectively, then they need to have a good understanding of development and democracy," he said.
This view was echoed by a number of other speakers. A general concern was expressed that African media is dominated by politics at the expense of development coverage.
Two things are suppressing coverage of development issues, said Paula Fray from Inter Press Service. The media environment encourages journalists to focus on sexy subjects and there is also lack of skills.
Acting head of SABC news, Phil Molefe, said that development coverage does not necessarily equate to sunshine journalism.
The 2010 World Cup will be a media bonanza but the question is will the media cover the event properly, cautioned Badat.
Thousands of journalists and the world's media will descend on South Africa, said Badat. "Many of these will simply cover the beautiful game and the happenings on and off the pitch," he said.
Others, he added, will delve into the history, geography, economics, sociology and politics of the tournament. "As a supposedly African event, it remains to be seen how, in what ways, and to what extent the media coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will differ from that of previous World Cups".