Point counter point

2011-10-01 10:30

Some discussion has been generated by my assertion at the recent parliamentary indaba on the media that I did not “feel” black editors in public discourse or the media agenda.

Reaction to my statement suggested that I had been patronising and/or racist in my ­observation – none of which is the case.

My point of departure was simply the expectations I have of black editors, whose emergence and validation I commend and respect.

Many news organisations now boast more black writers and editors than during apartheid, when such writers and then potential editors felt their world views or political orientation was not accommodated in newsrooms or editorial decision-making forums.

But now, on the eve of 20 years of democracy in a country led by a government with a clear mandate, it is odd that the media agenda appears out of kilter with the popular experience.

This is despite the meteoric rise in the number of black print editors from a paltry 7% in 1994 to a surprising 65% this year.

I argue very strongly that this commendable rise in the number of black editors is not commensurate with the expected diversity of opinion.

It feels at times that the championing of progressive causes is labelled by the media as divisive.

Or is it a case of assimilation?

One is therefore not generalising that all black writers or editors are not progressive, but the expectation that a new political dispensation would provide an outlet for previously unheard voices and viewpoints appears to have been disappointed.

It is not needless to reiterate President Jacob Zuma and others’ repeated assurances that this government fundamentally supports freedom of expression – a freedom that many in power today, in fact, fought to establish.

The fact is that those who lead the current government do not stand outside the historical tradition of freedom of expression.

In many instances, they are that tradition.Government is clear that the role of the democratic watchdog is welcome as one of the checks and balances that is as entrenched and as authentic in our democracy as in long-established systems elsewhere.

One would have expected by now that the impact of black writers and editors would be felt in the form of a greater diversity of voices than we have at present.

In fact, the last time a new voice was established in the form of The New Age, it was shouted down.

“We don’t mind diverse, just not this diverse!” clamoured champions of the supposedly free market.

In spite of the promise of diverse commentary and a greater understanding of the diversity of cultural practices in our richly textured society, scorn and sarcasm is poured on cultural conventions that are near and dear to the majority.

Where is the diversity of voices – in a country where “working together” is our national call to action – when the labour movement is regularly vilified by the media as inflexible and a threat to economic growth, effectively positioning the working class (who also happen to follow the media) as public enemy number one?

Where was the diversity of voice when the African Union developed a roadmap for Libya and held this line while military solutions were sought in other quarters?

Where is the diversity of voices when a public health system that serves nearly 90% of South Africans is due for an upgrade to a national health insurance scheme and the plan is roundly shot down?

Black editors or at least their parents and relatives would no doubt know the challenges facing many of our public hospitals and the less-than-optimum and sometimes undignified experiences our people have in those ­centres – a project this government has been trying to resolve since its inception.

These instances are part of a pattern of belief and argument that posits that we have merely a veneer of integrity, that our democracy is a sham and that all of this is about to fall apart around us.

It is also a way of saying to the vast majority of citizens that they got it wrong each time they stepped into the voting booth.

We cannot expect to build a dignified, proud and prosperous nation by second-guessing ourselves.

Our Constitution issues many calls to action and implores the realisation of many complementary rights, including freedom of thought, expression and citizens’ access to information.

All these rights are there to claim in the interests of building an equitable and just South ­Africa.

The media agenda – whether crafted by white or black editors – should be seen to respond to the constitutional vision in all its facets.

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