Newspapers still at the top of the info food chain

2011-10-29 10:01

Dear Madam Editor,

I read your editorial (“Get your voice into Voices” on October 23) with some interest. It’s very different from your original argument that my case was not very sharp, but that’s okay.

First, let me concur with you. Of course you are right. I can get my views across on a number of platforms, thanks to the communications policy put in place by the ANC government you occasionally suggest is trying to repress freedom of expression in this country.

Yes, the internet offers a hundred and one different ways – from chatrooms to blogs, to Twitter, you name it. And you can access these on a few mobile phones too.

I trust you recall that when this government came into office, telephony was something virtually unknown in most African townships; virtually unheard of in African-occupied rural areas; and just plain unobtainable to Africans living and working on white farms.

Virtually no black schools, except perhaps Indian schools in the richer communities of KwaZulu-Natal, had computer labs, and the cellphone was a rich person’s toy.

All that changed after 1994.

The teledensity in this country is very close to that of less prosperous developed countries such as Spain and Italy because of government policies that persuaded the mobile phone operators to make cellphones easily accessible and cheap.

The cellphone is the communication instrument of choice among those who never had telephones before.

If all this is true – and your editorial suggests you believe it’s true – how can you complain that the ANC government is repressing freedom of expression?

You do so because despite all these commendable advances, which both you and I agree are great for freedom of expression, the newspaper – the printed page – is still the most credible form of mass communication.

There is no such thing as a “blog of record”, not even a “TV station of record”. So, the newspaper is still at the top of the food chain.

Second (and you may refer to the copy on your PC), my piece was not about the Dalai Lama, his visit or Tutu’s invitation. In fact, Tutu’s invitation was not even news then.

So, to tell us you published pieces defending the government’s silly decision is not addressing what I raised.

What I wrote about were the dilemmas of a democratic South African government’s foreign policy in a region of the continent that is recovering from three decades of liberation wars;

in a world that hoped the end of the Cold War would bring a peace dividend, but did not; in an environment where governments often have to choose between two evils;

and of the harsh realities of a US in debt up to its eyeballs to what it once saw as its worst enemy (remember, it was the US that used its veto to keep China out of the UN for 20 years); and where China is trapped into tolerating US shenanigans because that country is also its most lucrative market.

I think you will agree that is not a defence of government’s refusal to give the Dalai Lama a visa.

Of course, anyone who had read my views would have weighed that decision rather differently, which perhaps explains your confusion.

Last, the overwhelming majority of your readers are urban Africans, close to 66% of whom support the ANC government. Most of them do not have access to the internet. And, I think you are aware of this.

To reach them, one needs the printed page. So, denying a writer access to your newspaper amounts to what you regularly accuse the government of: suppressing a viewpoint you do not like. So, please spare us the sermons on media freedom!

City Press is yours to edit as you see fit.

Accept too that, like most people, it’s not easy for newspaper editors to throw their pages open to opinions they do not like.

That is your absolute right. I will try to get my opinions published elsewhere.

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