The opening plenary of Jamfest 2023 explored questions about the various roles that artificial intelligence (AI) is already playing in the civic tech and media ecosystems and discussed how governance in African countries can be improved through innovation, adaptation, preparedness, resilience and action.

The journalism and media industry is facing various challenges and is questioning the possible impacts of AI on the industry. We are not going to give up and we need to have hard conversations, said Reggy Moalusi, executive director at the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).

Moalusi was joined by Dr Towela Nyirenda-Jere head of the Economic Integration Division at the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD). The division spearheads flagship programmes and implementation frameworks that advance regional integration in line with the aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The session was moderated by Geci Karuri-Sebina, organiser of the Civic Tech Innovation Network.

“We have to acknowledge that our response to digitalisation was slow as an industry, but we need to have conversations about artificial intelligence and consider its potential benefits and challenges such as dis/misinformation,” said Moalusi. He said that as an industry it is important to outweigh the risks and benefits because as journalism rebuilds the trust between itself and audiences, AI has the potential to cause a further breakdown in trust.

Moalusi said that news organisations were faced with the challenge of having to quickly respond to digitalisation however, were concerned about revenue changes and questioned whether they were able to pay salaries solely relying on digital and online content. He said that Sanef has created a Sustainability Fund that helps news organisations to better understand financing models and how to create a sustainable business model. “Journalists need to learn how to diversify and understand that there are other forms of financing other than relying on advertising,” said Moalusi.

He added, “Journalists need to be at the forefront of owning their work and should not be shy to make people pay for that work”.

“We need to rethink how we train our journalists and young people, we need to find ways of building entrepreneurship and cultivating that culture of entrepreneurship amongst young people, ” said Jere.

“We think that everything on the internet should be free and when we are willing to pay for content, we are not willing to pay for local content, we are happy to pay for a subscription for a news publication or any other service from outside our continent but we are not willing to pay for content that is produced on the continent. We need to change that,” she said.

Jere noted the importance of media organisations making content relevant and exciting for audiences to pay for the content. She explained, “It’s a two-way street, we need to start paying for our own content but we need to be entrepreneurial regardless of which sector we are operating in”.

“There is a disconnect between technological developments and policies. We need to ensure that by the time these technologies are ready to bear, we are ready. People will need these tools but need to use them responsibly. Technology cuts across different sectors,” said Jere.

She said that a major challenge we face as a continent is that the data used to analyse Africa is from a biased perspective. Jere explained that “we have to be the ones generating data that are feeding these technological tools so they can be beneficial for us.”

Jere concluded, “There are a lot of things that can be done but cannot be done due to a lack of means and mechanisms such as cross-border movement”. Adding that “we are winning but we are struggling because we get distracted by other narratives and we don’t prioritise our own narratives. We should not lose focus on where we want to go as a continent”.



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