We are Your Audiences and Your Future: Youth Speak in Africa

“We are your audiences and your future. We have plenty to say, and plenty to give. In an interactive multi-media world, there is no excuse for excluding us.” This was the essence of the message that fired up young activists, presented to UN and government officials, senior TV executives, academics and development agencies at the 5th World Summit on Media for Children (5WSMC). This Summit, which gathers once every three years, occurred most recently on March 24-28th in Johannesburg, South Africa bringing together over 1,000 producers, media regulators, researchers and youth media experts. Over 300 young people from over 90 countries were active 5WSMC participants.
The vision of 5WSMC was to produce a global, interactive conference with discussion and debate on issues involving children and media leading to tangible, workable and sustainable outcomes. Youth media professionals and organizations offered workshops to help young people acquire various media skills. These young people took on visible leadership roles in advocating for access to, and participation in, mainstream media outlets.
“Children should hear, see and express themselves, their culture, their language and their life experiences, through the electronic media which affirms their sense of self, community and place,” a tenet from the African Charter which characterizes the synergy harnessed at 5WSMC between youth and youth media practitioners. The 300 young people (ages 13-16) who attended the 5WSMC made films, produced a daily newspaper, and demonstrated other media-related talents. The excitement and importance of this work was palpable. Clearly, the presence of youth eager to learn higher order media skills and develop an active voice in the mainstream media should be captured, learned from, and followed in the future.
Youth media professionals and organizations used 5WSMC as an opportunity to teach local African youth media skills and emphasize the importance of youth-led technology to their peers amongst a broader, more mainstream audience. In addition to advocating for electronic media to strengthen youth development and sense of self, 5WSMC provided a nexus for professionals in the youth media field to meet and discuss best practices. The gathering featured skilled practitioners working to ensure that children’s voices are heard and that youth have learning opportunities with music, graphics, photos, animation, and video. By offering workshops and opportunities to learn media, youth media professionals amplified important messages that youth had to say about their involvement in mainstream media.
For example, DK (founder of MediaSnackers) and his team trained and prepared over 15 youth delegates to become ‘digital journalists’ who documented speakers and workshops, as well as interviewed conference delegates. In addition, MediaSnackers made vodcasts of the conference after the event. These vodcasts and insightful youth comments regarding the conference can be viewed at www.5wsmc.com/blog. TK—a twenty year old South African girl who studies film and attended the conference—posted, “I find such initiatives [as 5WSMC] very profound especially because our country is crippled by so many atrocities. If the world can come together to talk and find solutions, [I am] cool and down with that.” It seems as though the ‘world of youth media’ came together to do just that at 5WSMC.
Organizers of 5WSMC were committed to making certain that youth attendees would be recognized, have a leadership role, and be a focus at the gathering. Firdoze Bulbulia, Chairperson of 5WSMC, explained in a post-conference statement that the 5WSMC worked to incorporated youth in the conference by:
• including children as keynote presenters during each day’s plenary, which were selected and empowered through a partnership with the organization Plan International;
• creating a space for youth delegates to interact and attend workshops about diverse media strategies;
• building an electric interactive exhibition space for daily school visitors to the 5WSMC, which was broadcast live in two hour daily segments by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC);
• providing a platform for youth-participation, which began several months prior to the 5WSMC with pre-summit activities in all nine provinces in South Africa; and
• offering pre-summits to international partners four days prior to the opening of the 5WSMC.
Adding youth to 5WSMC was a new addition this year, a key ingredient to the success of the gathering. In keeping with the main goals of 5WSMC, the focus for youth media professionals, leaders, and media practitioners included:
• creating guidelines to formulate a global children’s media rights policy;
• researching production projects designed to amplify children’s voices and cultures through media created locally and shared globally;
• developing an African Media Centre for Children;
• analyzing types of training available to adults and young producers of children’s media; and
• discussing ways children participate meaningfully in the creation of their own media, research, and comparative skills.
The 5WSMC goals and focus on young people in media was very much in line with media practitioners in attendance who acknowledged the overall importance of listening and involving young people’s voices and talents in mainstream media. In addition to MediaSnackers’ vodcasts for example, UNICEF (joined with Oneminutesjr.org and the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam) ran a five-day video training session for 14 young people from South Africa, Burundi, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The young people who attended these trainings learned about camera techniques, props, and sound as well as how to edit, produce and direct their own stories in a one-minute format. As Guy Hubbard and Jabu Tugwana (co-writers of the article “Lights, camera, action! South Africa hosts 5th World Summit on Media for Children” for UNICEF) state, “the annual summit [celebrated] the power of youth and [emphasized] the role that media [plays] in shaping young minds.” Media practitioners, alongside youth media makers, helped—and continue to help—these young minds shape media through necessary skills and media-based road maps.
Other media practitioners, who wrote reflective pieces on their experience at 5WSMC, heralded the gathering for providing a space for youth to be heard in what they often experience as a “closed world.” Mike Jempson for example, Director of MediaWise and Visiting Professor in Media Ethics at Lincoln University, wrote a press release about 5WSMC entitled, “Children’s media summit reveals fresh talents.” He explains how youth at the conference put a message out to mainstream media, and that message informed: “listen to young people, and let [them] in on the closed world of mainstream media production.”
The gathering was important in providing a space for youth to have a voice and take leadership in having their voices accounted for. Youth are demanding a space to be recognized and be included in mainstream media. As a young conference blogger named Kanjanga Muwena applauds, “thanks to Firdoze [Bulbuilia, Chairperson of 5WSMC and CBFA], for organizing [an] event that has enabled to bring hundreds of children together for one purpose, to improve children’s media.” Media practitioners ought to continue to incorporate and celebrate youth voice and media making within more traditional and mainstream media.
Youth had the power to hold a mainstream audience captive at the 5WSMC by clearly and thoughtfully expressing their needs and desires to be part of media. Adults in media can offer young media leaders insight, media skills, and guidance in achieving their desires. Incorporating youth voice is already a focal point for the youth media field. It will be interesting to follow how the field, and the youth within it, work to enter and alter mainstream media locally and across the globe as a result of this conference.

The Summit website provides up to date information of all activities and papers presented including a 5WSMC blog with a picture documentary on YouTube. Go to: http://www.5wsmc.com. The next World Summit will be held in Karlstad, Sweden in 2010.