SA media leaves working class on the periphery

2012-03-14 00:00

DURING his first month as editor of The Witness newspaper I met with former editor Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya in his offices at Willowton Road. Since this was our first meeting, following several e-mails, we did not know what to talk about. We spoke about his impression of his new home in Pietermaritzburg, politics, race relations and, at length, our love for Orlando Pirates.

During our conversation, Moya lamented that black readers of The Witness don’t make use of the media space available to them.

“You will see, even in the letters directed to the editor, that other people, other than black people, use this available print space,” he continued.

I could not help but agree with him on the matter, but for me, the issue of the usage of media space is much more serious than that. The issue is that South African media, in general, are not only unkind to black people, their dreams and cultures, they are particularly indifferent to the plight, aspirations and fears of the working class, who mainly happen to be black people of this country.

When listening to talk radio, whether 702, SAFM, Metro FM or any other station, you will notice that you find the same people calling and making their views known all the time. Those are the people who have time and money to call the station, and wait for minutes while other callers are still on air. I am tempted even to think that some of these daily callers receive calls from show producers asking them to air their views. All these regular callers, regardless of race, belong either to the middle class or to the higher echelons of our society.

Since calling a radio station is itself an expensive exercise, it is a barrier for the unemployed and blue-collar workers (who earn meagre salaries) to make their issues known. That is why it is often said that the liberal media in South Africa promote middle-class values. Given the way things are with our media, other than when there is a service-delivery protest or a march, it is not easy to know the mind of working-class people in this country. Essentially, our media, both print and electronic, leaves the working class on the periphery.

It also does not help that many of our mainstream national newspapers and radio stations use English as a language of communication. It is no secret that the majority of the working class are not fluent in English, so even if they have just enough to call radio stations and give their two cents’ worth (excuse the pun), language is a major barrier. As a result of that, our national discourse is determined by the few.

That is why, before Polokwane, when you read newspapers like the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and even City Press, or listened to talk radio during that time, you would have been forgiven for being convinced that you knew exactly the direction the country was going to take, because of the views that dominated the air waves and the print media.

It is now a matter of history that the outcome of Polokwane was not the one predicted and wished for by many callers, experts and analysts. That is because, through all the upheaval leading to Polokwane, as happens everyday, the mainstream media is dismissive of the wishes, aspirations and frustrations of the working class.

I can’t pretend to have all the answers, but for us to have our finger on the pulse of what our country is becoming and what South Africans are really thinking, South Africa’s media must begin to reflect the views of the man and woman on the streets.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is a deputy manager and media and citizen liaison in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education. He writes in his personal capacity.

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