This South African innovation is using community radio to link people with justice solutions
By Janet Anderson
In December 2017, HiiL Innovating Justice held the 8th Annual Innovating Justice Forum at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The forum brought together the best and most promising justice entrepreneurs from all over the world. The attendees were selected from a pool of more than 600 justice innovators.
Through the Annual Innovating Justice Forum and other novel initiatives, HiiL hopes to inspire a groundswell of support and interest in justice entrepreneurship as has been witnessed in the spheres of technology and health. Justice Hub caught up with a few of the participants on the sidelines of the event.
In this interview, conducted as part of our popular #MyJustice series, Justice Hub talks to Paul McNally, the founding Director of Citizen Justice Network, a South African justice innovation which won HiiL’s Innovating Justice Challenge 2017
Justice Hub: Could you tell us a little about the Citizen and Justice Network?
It's an innovation-based in South Africa that improves legal journalism by training community paralegals to be radio journalists.
Justice Hub: Could you give us an example?
So a community paralegal is like an activist, like a community leader sort of based in an area. South Africa has got a history of community paralegals being the only source of legal advice to people especially during apartheid. Now it has sort of carried on because legal services are still so bad that people come to them for legal advice. So we partner those paralegals with a nearby radio station. I have a background in journalism and community media so the way its started was the fact that you see a community paralegal and you see a radio station like a kilometre away and they are not speaking to each other in any way.
You have a radio station that has the listeners and the transmitter and the infrastructure but they don't have the content or the journalists and you have a paralegal who has all these stories that are coming through the office every day but no ability to communicate it beyond their tiny office and they want to expand that reach. We just started with just one office and one radio station bringing those two together and seeing that we could create content. As that content got more complicated we did journalism and ethics training and expanded it into 8 areas around South Africa. From there we have now started a pilot [project] in Kenya that is trying to duplicate the whole structure again with paralegals and radio stations to sort of spread justice content.
Justice Hub: What kind of stories would the paralegals be telling?
So initially we were trying to think around enforcing which topics. I've been involved in other projects where you get funding for a certain type of topic and then you dictate that. But we from the beginning we were very clear on the idea that these must be stories that the paralegals come into contact with. They must be a representation of what's important in that area. The story I told today was about someone who had been sold as a teenager and then that captor had died. Now she's in her mid-twenties and she actually visited the paralegal office because she needed paperwork, something as simple as that.
Justice Hub: What do you mean by somebody was sold?
She had been sold by her mother to a much older man when she was a teenager. Then that guy had died. He was the father of her baby. You get an ID when you are about 16 in South Africa but she never had an ID. The baby wasn't registered. So then she went to this paralegal to just get the paperwork basically. He was able to obviously realise what had happened and kind of put better instruments in place to help her find other types of justice and we were able to expose that story on the radio.
Justice Hub: That is a hugely dramatic story. It is not obviously the typical story but it is one of the kinds of stories that your paralegals get to know that others don't?
Well, it's a good representation because it is also centred around quite menial paperwork. That's a hard thing to express [most times] because people think you trying to belittle the drama of it but people actually need basic things even when they have been through quite horrific things. I think combining those two things in a journalism context is quite exciting.
There are also other bureaucratic legal problems that come out of that which you can help people with. So it's kind of trying to combine those two things. We have other offices that are in more rural areas and they deal with a lot of farm workers so that's predominantly wall-to-wall labour disputes. We allow them to organically choose what topics to address. Other offices have links to local prisons so there is a lot of inmate advice and things like that.
We try not to dictate but then we also try to suggest cross-pollinations. So if there is a sense of we did a round of stories on gangs and inmates and there is this other office that is also near a prison then we try to suggest they do a similar thing. As a journalist you become almost blasé to the fact that you can find stories in things. But what I have found most interesting is that a paralegal can spend the whole day with gold in a journalism sense and they would say "I don't know what we are going to do this week? Maybe we should just do such and such story again because I cannot think of a topic". And you would say "okay just tell me what happened from 8 o'clock to 12 o'clock today." And they will tell you things and you'll go like "Okay we are going to do that. That's a good topic".
It's fascinating how you can do training as a journalist but actually making someone think about their work in terms of mining the stories has been really interesting to me.
Justice Hub: You have won the Innovating Justice Challenge 2017. Why do think your approach is innovative?
I think it is very interesting that we won. We are just two years old and when we started, because we were not creating an app or something like that, people weren't sure if this was an innovation. There were a lot of pushback. But what has been good about HiiL is that they have recognized that this isn't the case. You don't need an app to be innovative.
What they [HiiL] have recognised is that it is about how you orientate relationships or structures that already exist. You can recognise that here is infrastructure that would take you years and massive amounts of money to create but it is not working optimally and you can sort of tweak it with a bit of funding and a few people and maximise its potential.
I think that the justice sector especially in a place like South Africa and, it seems in Kenya as well, is full of that stuff. People not communicating with each other and tasks getting done again and again when they could have just been streamlined.
We do a lot of stuff around transport and access to courts because that's actually a huge barrier to people being able to go to court because of lack of transport. When people say innovation, that's not what they think about. But our project is also about connecting transport networks with paralegals that would connect them with their clients that will help this kind of problem. We try and do that as much as possible and create a story about that. So organisation connection is also important and can be innovative.
Justice Hub: What's next?
Next is to expand further into Kenya because we had an initial pilot in one station (Amani FM) that went to around 700,000 people in Kenya and so now the challenge would be to expand that to more stations. We've got other station managers that are keen to do it and to figure out what those challenges are going to be. I think the paralegal sector in Kenya is going to be easier to empower but the media sector going to be more difficult actually because there are not as many community radio stations, they are more broke and the culture in the whole country is more paid-for media. I think that's going to be very challenging.
Also there's the challenge of once that's done how you are going to franchise it out. It's not actually sustainable for me keep doing that but once you have done it once, you can then talk to a university and see if they would like to start something. I think that's how we would play it long term. I don't think it's doable to just trudge from one country to the next.
Photo: Janet Anderson