No love lost on workers or God

2010-10-31 08:40

One thing editors hate is sharing the sins of other editors.

It was therefore not surprising that at the Magaliesburg meeting of cabinet ministers and the country’s editors two weeks ago, the latter protested that they were all being tarred with the same brush.

They argued that they were not “monolithic” and held “diverse views” on many subjects. Yet, they said, when politicians criticised them, they tended to lump them together as “the media”.

I nearly burst out laughing with cynicism. Let us look at this alleged diversity of the media.

I’ll start with the media’s coverage of labour.

The first thing to note regarding labour coverage is that labour reporters and labour as a beat have disappeared.

Those of us who have been inside the belly of the beast know that there is an embedded bias against labour that flows from media corporatism.

Media owners have cut resources for labour coverage and encouraged editors to start something called “workplace” coverage – a brand of non-political reporting that presents the problems of workers as lifestyle issues.

Editors have clearly understood the circumspect language of internal communications from their bosses: We don’t like labour and all it stands for. Therefore, drop it!

Editors will argue that media owners don’t ring them up each day to discuss and decide stories. But media owners don’t have to do that because the anti-labour bias in the media comes naturally.

The point is that media bias against labour is there for all to see.

The media, without exception, needs to sincerely look at improving the quantity and quality of South Africa’s labour news.

On this charge, editors should have the intellectual honesty to plead guilty to uniformity.

The second area where the media displays homogeny of thinking is the way it covers – or doesn’t cover – religion.

Can any media outlet today (outside the public broadcaster) honestly say it does its best to help the South African public – which is predominantly religious – achieve a stronger understanding of the spiritual history, diversity, practices and values in our society?

Newsrooms in South Africa are generally full of anti-religious sniping.

The worst recipients of this attitude are African independent churches which, despite their huge following (estimated at 10 million), barely get mentioned in the media.

Generally, the mainstream media frames religious activism as a conservative endeavour.

I call this approach to religion the media’s anti-religious elitism.

This elitism, which often passes for liberal and progressive thinking, is a smug doctrine that is as rigid in its belief as the religious dogma it mocks.

In a country where the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to freedom of conscience, religion and thought, should we not be witnessing more stories and columns covering all major faith-based movements?

Yes, the media may be diverse in who owns them (though even this one would be contested), who they are targeting and how they are competing with one another.

But on the issues of labour and religion, and many others, one finds the alleged diversity missing. Instead, the script looks rather too much the same.

» ?Mona is a deputy CEO of the Government Communication and Information System

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