A civil society MOOC promotes media policy literacy in Africa


Freedom of expression and the media is one of the pillars of democracy and development, dutifully referred to in countless speeches and declarations. In real life, like all pillars, it needs constant watching, checking for cracks and renovation.

This is one of the main ideas behind the online course “African media regulation in the digital age”. The programme is now entering its fifth year of operation, having reached more than 1000 people over the period.

Zoe Titus, director at the Namibia Media Trust, and one of the drivers of the MOOC, says: “This course empowers activists, students, law makers, regulators, journalists, lawyers, educators - everyone interested in supporting and working towards a free, pluralistic and independent African media.”

The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) is unique in that it engages the key policy issues facing journalism around Africa. Topics covered over a seven-week period include: legal frameworks for freedom of expression, media pluralism and content diversity, access to information, media regulation, digital rights, and media viability.

The emphasis throughout is not only on scholarly tuition but also knowledge-based activism.

The course has been a success. Studies show that, in general, only seven to ten percent of participants complete Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). In this case, nearly one third of the active learners have stayed on board throughout. According to the Witwatersrand University’s LINK Centre which originally hosted the course on the EdX platform, the programme has notched up the highest number of African participants among all its courses on the platform.

From September 2023, the course will continue to be offered, this time on EdX by the Department of Journalism at the University of Stellenbosch.

The course, currently being updated, will serve as a home for many. Feedback from participants and course instructors is that subscribers are reassured to find that there are common challenges for media activists and journalists elsewhere on the African continent, and that many of their colleagues receive – and have to cope with - similar threats.

According to Professor Justine Limpitlaw, lead instructor on the MOOC to date: “People enjoy hearing about success stories on resistance to measures curbing media freedom. They’re also able to share their experiences in forum discussions – in short, as one learner put it: ‘I am not feeling so alone’”.

Testimonies from those completing the MOOC show that their learning has made a real difference to their understanding and advocacy for improved media policies and regulation in their respective countries.

The course was created by an informal group that came together in memory of Jeanette Minnie who passed away in 2016. Minnie was a tireless and inspiring media freedom and freedom of expression activist throughout her life. She succeeded in building multiple civil society alliances and organisations all over Africa and was a role model for many activists.

The course is funded by Free Press Unlimited, Bertha Foundation, Namibia Media Trust (NMT), and fesmedia Africa.

Photo: A man holds up a placard in support of freedom of expression and social media usage during the anti hate speech protest in Lagos, Nigeria, November 28, 2019. By Oluwafemi Dawodu, Shutterstock